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.
Plan Your Visit
- The galleries are open Tuesday – Saturday, 10 am – 4 pm (closed December 24 and 25).
- A face mask is required, regardless of vaccination status.
- No appointments or advance tickets required. Newberry exhibitions are free and open to all.
- The exhibition is accompanied by an audio guide accessible via QR codes in the galleries. Feel free to BYO-headphones or use a disposable pair provided by the Newberry.
Tour the Exhibition
Docent-led tours of Chicago Avant-Garde are free and open to all every Wednesday and Saturday at 1 pm (no tour will be offered on Saturday, December 25).
We’re happy to accommodate larger groups. If you have five people or more, consider booking a private tour. We ask that you book your tour two weeks in advance by contacting Rebecca Haynes at email@example.com. Private tours are free, but donations are encouraged.