“OFF-SPRING: New Generations” at 21c Museum Hotel Chicago

On view until early next year, this show includes 100 works by 60 artists and is open to guests and locals alike

The gallery space at Chicago’s 21c Museum Hotel spans the first two floors of the property, ensuring easy access to exhibitions for visitors, passers-by and locals. The building—originally a gathering spot for vaudeville actors before becoming the Croydon Hotel—was also once The James Hotel, a place known for championing the work of local artists. Today, the 297-room property—part of the art-focused 21c Museum Hotel portfolio—is currently hosting OFF-Spring: New Generations, a show that is comprised of 100 works by 60 artists from Chicago, across the US and around the globe. Curated by Alice Gray Stites, the exhibition includes 20 works never shown publicly before, some that exist in the private collections of 21c owners Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson, as well as new acquisitions and loans by artists exploring themes of ritual, family, identity and gender.

Courtesy of Nigel Barker and 21c Museum Hotels

During a tour of OFF-SPRING (which will be on view until January 2024), 21c Chicago Museum Manager, Juli Lowe, tells us, “We’re looking at things like institutions, religious, cultural, domestic—and how those rituals that we do collectively or individually create our identity.”

Angela Ellsworth “Seer-Bonnet XXI Eliza” and “Seer Bonnet XX Emily” (2011) courtesy of the artist and and 21c Museum Hotels

On view are two exquisite pieces from Angela Ellsworth‘s ongoing Seer Bonnets series, wherein each hat represents one of the 35 wives of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith. Ellsworth’s work explores the Mormon faith and the effects of polygamy within society, and her own family. “Seer Bonnet XXI (Eliza)” and “Seer Bonney XX (Emily)” are made from corsage pins embellished with pearls. The beautiful, decadent pieces are juxtaposed from the inside, where the sharp end of the pins are visible.

Carrie Mae Weems “May Flowers” (2002), image courtesy of the artist and 21c Museum Hotels

Born and raised in Portland, Oregon, influential Black multidisciplinary artist Carrie Mae Weems crafts works that span from photography to textiles and audio. On show at 21c are some of her beautiful black and white photos. Both “Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make Up)” and “May Flowers”  illustrate rituals, relationships, intimacy and connection.

Lucy Sparrow “His N Hers” courtesy of the artist and 21c Museum Hotels

Lucy Sparrow’s “His N Hers” medicine cabinets are stocked with everyday items reimagined and crafted from felt and wool. One is filled with products marketed to men, while the other contains items that traditionally target women. The men’s products include razors, deodorant and anti-fungal cream, while the women’s spans anti-aging serums and hair-removal cream. These recreated images of domesticity make a poignant note about consumerism and the way that the gender binary exists in design and marketing.

While gazing upon Sparrow’s medicine cabinets, viewers can overhear Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson‘s “Song” which inhabits a small room draped in blue fabric. Filmed in the Hall of Sculpture at the Carnegie Museum of Art in Pittsburgh, this six-hour long video features Kjartansson’s three nieces singing a mantra-like song he created from his memory of an Allen Ginsberg poem.

Deana Lawson “Oath” (2013), image courtesy of the artist and 21c Museum Hotels

Deana Lawson’s photography explores Blackness and identity through private moments that are depicted with somewhat mythical elements. Often the people she is photographing have not met before, and the artist has constructed a sense of intimacy between them. In “Oath” she poses a two people in a tender moment surrounded by lush foliage giving the impression they could be Adam and Eve in Eden.

At the top of the staircase sits Gehard Demetz’s wood sculpture “Dirt on My Shoulders” (named for Jay-Z’s 2003 track, “Dirt Off Your Shoulder”) which portrays two children. The girl’s eyes are closed and the boy’s are open with a blue tear dripping down. “Demetz is interested in how generationally we are handed down the problems and the woes of what was before us,” explains Lowe.

Chiharu Shiota “State of Being (Dress)” (2016) courtesy of the artist and 21c Museum Hotels

Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota‘s 2016 piece “State of Being (Dress)” is a large box wrapped in white string with two small, white dresses suspended inside. “Shiota creates immersive installations in which memories are suspended,” Lowe says. “In this case, she is looking at children’s clothing and how they’re containers for memories, this idea of what these objects for these traditional religious rituals mean and how it helps people become who they are.” Of note, white is also the color of mourning in Japan, potentially adding grief to the nostalgia.

Swiss artist Nina Rodin took almost 12,000 self-portraits—one each time she changed an article of clothing for an entire year—for The Clothes Project. A screen flashing these images shows her quickly changing, along with items of clothing, adding to an outfit and taking off garments to reveal herself in underwear. As the transformations keep going, a suitcase appears, winter sports apparel, yoga gear and more. After amassing her collection of images, Rodin assembled them into this presentation; massive framed stills drawn from it also hang along the hallway.

Lalla Essaydi “Bullets Revisited #20” (2013), image courtesy of the artist and 21c Museum Hotels

Artist Lalla Essaydi explores the duality of her life as an Arab woman who moved from Morocco to the US in “Bullets Revisited #20” (2013). At first it appears to be a decadent dream, with the subject’s golden dress and ornately decorated walls, but upon closer inspection it’s clear that the beads are actually bullets. In the image, Essaydi’s face isn’t visible but her hands are and they are covered in illegible Arabic text written with henna.

With so many pieces of art throughout the bottom two floors of the hotel and a new mural in the gym by Natalie Clare Shugailo, the 21c museum hotel concept feels right at home in Chicago. “The magic is that 21c brings art to people who don’t have the opportunity to go to a gallery, especially if their trip is for business travel,” says Lowe. “We bring the art to them.”

Hero image: “Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make Up)” by Carrie Mae Weems, courtesy of the artist and 21c Museum Hotels