Art you don’t want to miss: Archibald Motley, Jazz Age Modernist

The Chicago Cultural Center at 78 E. Washington St. is an under-appreciated gem of our city. The building is home to many interesting and often spectacular exhibits and events. Like concerts under the beautifully restored dome of Preston Bradley Hall. Art exhibits in the Sidney Yates Gallery and in smaller galleries around the building. There’s a comfortable seating area with tables in case you need a spot to rest or get some work done on the Randolph Street side of the building. Too bad the coffee bar is gone, but you can bring your own coffee in.

Motley, Blues, 1929

Motley, Blues, 1929

Right now the Sidney Yates Gallery is home to a fabulous exhibit of the art of Archibald Motley Jr., an African-American artist who studied painting at the School of the Art Institute from 1914 to 1918, whose work was exhibited all over the world and who won many honors. He lived in Paris for a time and traveled widely but he always called Chicago home.

The exhibit–Archibald Motley, Jazz Age Modernist—is here through August 31, then it moves to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, opening October 2. That will be the new Whitney, which opens next month. (The new building in the meatpacking district at 99 Gansevoort St. replaces the Marcel Breuer-designed building on the Upper East Side at 75th and Madison. (The Metropolitan Museum will take over the old Whitney, which is good news for preservationists. Some people don’t like the Brutalist-style Breuer building, but I do.)


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The exhibit at the Cultural Center is informative and well-organized and includes a substantial section on Motley’s early work. He’s best known for colorful urban scenes but his early portraits (like the one titled Mulatress with Figurine) are insightful glimpses into African-American life of the time. You’ll see portraits of his grandmother and of his wife, Edith Granzo. Motley was born in New Orleans in 1891 and his family moved to Chicago in 1894. He grew up in Englewood, then a German/Irish/Swedish neighborhood, but his social life and artistic inspiration was in Bronzeville. You’ll find exhibits on Motley, his life, thoughts and art in the corridor leading into the Yates gallery.

See my review in Gapers Block for more descriptions of the exhibit and of Motley’s work.



2 Comments on “Art you don’t want to miss: Archibald Motley, Jazz Age Modernist”

  1. Marge says:

    Thank you for publicizing this! I just saw it on Friday and thought it was phenomenal. The lead in copy is very insightful and the exhibit is very engaging. I love the color and movement and the old timey feel of the work. My favorite was Tongues (Holy Rollers). You are also right on about the Cultural Center. When I have guests from out of town, I will take them there instead of the Art Institute. Their rotating exhibits are more interesting. IMHO.


    • nancysbishop says:

      Glad you agree. I think it’s a great place and has fascinating exhibits. The exhibit last year on the Mecca apartment building and its history was amazing. I’ve also had SCORE client meetings in that seating area I mentioned.


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