The Arts Club is founded following the controversial exhibition of modern art known as The Armory Show. Rue Winterbotham Carpenter becomes President in 1918 and directs the club toward international awareness and better quarters at 610 S. Michigan Ave. The exhibition program is led by Alice Roullier, the daughter of a French art dealer based in Chicago. From 1922 through 1927, the Club oversees a gallery in the Art Institute of Chicago, thereby expanding its reach and consolidating its relevance to the Chicago art community.
Moving to larger rooms in the Wrigley Building, the Arts Club takes on increasingly ambitious exhibitions of international artists. Marcel Duchamp organizes an exhibition of Brancusi sculpture in 1927. After Carpenter’s sudden death in 1931, the club reestablishes itself under the direction of Bobsy Goodspeed. She is instrumental in bringing Gertrude Stein to Chicago in 1934 and shows broad tastes in art.
Rue Shaw, niece of the first Rue, begins a long tenure as President of the Club. She is noted for inviting the then-unknown composer John Cage to perform. Close friends with artists and architects, she leaves an important material legacy at the Club. In 1942, Shaw commissions Red Petals from Alexander Calder and then, after a rough period that leads to a temporary closure, convinces Mies van der Rohe to design new rooms to house the Club. The Mies space at 109 E. Ontario St. opens in 1951 with a landmark lecture by Jean Dubuffet entitled Anti-Cultural Positions, and hosts artists including Marc Chagall and Louise Nevelson.
The next long-standing President, Stanley Freehling, oversees an era in which The Arts Club is forced to reconsider its position in the Chicago cultural scene. With the growth of the Museum of Contemporary Art and more serious attention paid to contemporary art at the Art Institute, The Arts Club’s role is redefined with an emphasis on a close community of participants. Faced with losing the Mies-designed space, Freehling oversees the sale of Golden Bird by Constantin Brancusi to the Art Institute to finance the construction of a new building. The Arts Club occupies a temporary residence at 222 W. Superior St. during construction.
Establishing a permanent home at 201 E. Ontario St. designed by John Vinci, The Arts Club focuses on presenting world class exhibitions while continuing to cultivate a society of arts professionals, collectors, artists, and critics. Under Executive Director Kathy Cottong, the exhibition program includes such highlights as Marcel Broodthaers, John Baldessari, Alighieri e Boetti, Yayoi Kusama, Paul Thek, Lawrence Weiner, and Maya Lin. Important additions to the permanent collection include paintings by Peter Doig, Alex Katz, and Sigmar Polke.
The Arts Club returns to its history and foundations, rededicating itself to its mission to inspire conversations around the arts. With expanded public programs, experimental performances, and garden installations by Chicago artists, the Club looks to support lively discussion while maintaining the ambiance for which it is celebrated. At the same time, it commissions new projects by such artists as Simon Starling and Josiah McElheny that bring attention to the specific modernist legacy of the Club. This interdisciplinary history will be celebrated on October 22nd, 2016, when the new music ensemble eighth blackbird performs a commission by Oscar-nominated composer David Lang.
Join us as we celebrate The Arts Club's history. All events are free and open to the public unless otherwise noted.
Events will be added throughout the year.