During the first half of the 20th century, the city of Chicago was shaped and reshaped by waves of migration and immigration as African Americans poured in from the South and newcomers arrived from Europe and Mexico. They Seek a City is the first exhibition to focus on the art produced by the wonderfully diverse communities that made Chicago their home. Over 80 works primarily by southern- and foreign-born artists—many rarely seen by the museum’s audiences—come together for this look at the city’s rich art of migration, as Chicago became the polyglot, cosmopolitan place that it remains today.
Migration and immigration were typical American experiences during the early 20th century. Over 1.6 million African Americans moved from the rural South to more industrial areas of the North and Midwest in what has become known as the Great Migration. Likewise, hundreds of thousands of European immigrants crossed the ocean, often fleeing political or religious persecution in their homelands, and thousands of Mexicans journeyed north in search of better economic opportunity, a movement that coincided with a tremendous vogue for Mexican culture among U.S. residents.
Chicago was an extremely popular destination for these various populations, an unfamiliar setting that offered challenges and excitement. The artists among them responded by mining their personal and cultural contexts for inspiration. They frequently focused on the underlying social causes of migration or immigration, including violence and persecution, and addressed common themes of exile and assimilation. Significantly, many artists from different communities formed relationships, sharing educational, institutional, political, and aesthetic affiliations that crossed ethnic, racial, and social boundaries.
Highlighting this diverse yet interwoven artistic production, They Seek a City includes paintings, works on paper, photographs, sculpture, and decorative arts from local cultural institutions and private collectors as well as from the permanent collection of the Art Institute. By examining the art of the city through the lens of migration, the exhibition not only traces Chicago’s rich and dynamic cultural development but also explores some of the most important social and artistic questions of the early 20th century, including the intersecting issues of racial and cultural identity.
Tell Us Your Story
Whether it was last year or last century, every family has a migration story to tell. Share yours with us today at theyseekacity.tumblr.com. All submissions will be automatically entered for a chance to win a They Seek a City exhibition catalogue.
Listen to three Chicagoans tell their stories.
Organizer They Seek a City is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago.
Accompanying the exhibition is a lavishly illustrated catalogue written by Sarah Kelly Oehler, exhibition curator and Henry and Gilda Buchbinder Associate Curator of American Art.
Annual support provided by the Exhibitions Trust: Goldman Sachs, Kenneth and Anne Griffin, Thomas and Margot Pritzker, the Earl and Brenda Shapiro Foundation, the Trott Family Foundation, and the Woman’s Board of the Art Institute of Chicago.
2 days 2 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Seven facts you probably didn't know about Edward Hopper’s New York Movie.
Now on view in the exhibition America after the Fall: Painting in the 1930s.
2 days 22 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago TOMORROW—A few tickets are left for our sixth annual Night Heist benefit, the event of the year for young art-loving Chicagoans!
Dress in your best 1930s-inspired cocktail attire and enjoy an evening of live music, drinks from local celebrity mixologists, amazing raffle prizes, and more. An exclusive VIP reception and dinner is also available before the evening gets started.
3 days 32 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago #TBT 1933: Two impeccably dressed visitors attending Chicago’s 100th birthday party “A Century of Progress,” the Chicago World’s Fair celebrating the city’s centennial.
Come check out the new exhibition America after the Fall to learn about the rocky time in our country’s history that was the 1930s.