Chicago Avant-Garde tells the story of five women who took radical risks in their lives and in their art: artist Gertrude Abercrombie, poet Gwendolyn Brooks, choreographers Katherine Dunham and Ruth Page, and dealer-curator Katharine Kuh. Inspired and challenged by Chicago, they helped transform the city into a hub of avant-garde experimentation.
Focusing on the 1930s through the 1950s—a time when Americans endured the Great Depression, ongoing racial segregation and violence, World War II, and repressive accusations of Communist influence—Chicago Avant-Garde examines how these five women subverted convention and found freedom in art.
Abercrombie, Brooks, Dunham, Kuh, and Page were all ahead of their times. Seeing beyond the limitations imposed on their lives, they were committed to making and supporting provocative art that would activate social change and pave the way for the next generation of the avant-garde.
Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time is made possible through the generous support of the Terra Foundation for American Art, the Walter E. Heller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the History Channel.
Public programs related to the exhibition are supported by a grant from the Paul M. Angell Family Foundation.
The exhibition is accompanied by a catalog designed by graphic artists Nick Butcher and Nadine Nakanishi of Sonnenzimmer and letterpress printer Ben Blount. It includes more than 100 photographs, an essay by Liesl Olson (Director of Chicago Studies at the Newberry and curator of the exhibition), and new poems dedicated to each of the five avant-gardists by Chicago-based poet and educator Eve L. Ewing.