We are thrilled to share the announcement for 21c Chicago's newest exhibition with OFF-SPRING: New Generations. The exhibition presents a thematic group exhibition of 100 multi-media artworks by 60 artists from across the globe highlighting how religious, cultural, familial, and personal rituals shape who we are and how and where we live, love, and learn.

‍OFF-SPRING features works by artists Gehard Demetz, Angela Ellsworth, Lalla Essaydi, Anthony Goicolea, Rachel Lee Hovnanian, Li Hongbo, Ragnar Kjartansson, Kelly Kristin Jones, Deana Lawson, Hans Op de Beeck, Chiaru Shiota, Vee Speers, Carrie Mae Weems, and others. On view through January 2024.

Lalla Essaydi, Les Femmes du Maroc, Harem Women Writing, 2008. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

Rituals—religious and cultural, institutional and domestic—provide the thematic infrastructure for OFF-SPRING: New Generations. These sculptures, paintings, photographs, and videos employ iconographic imagery to explore the development of both personal and group identity, childhood, family, history, and gender politics. “At the wedding altar, in the family home, or in the classroom, within the fantasy of childhood play or the familiarity of grown-up habit, these new, old narratives generate a spectrum of meditations on the contemporary construction of self and society,” says 21c Chief Curator Alice Gray Stites, “In OFF-SPRING, transformations of iconic imagery from spheres both sacred and profane generate a new power, the power of potential and change.”

Deana Lawson, Oath, 2013. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

Images of daily domesticity—the rituals of habit and intimacy—reveal a persistent conflict between self and social norms. In Deana Lawson’s intimate, staged photograph, Oath, two strangers become an eternal couple of mythological status. Like Ren Hang’s photographs of his friends in moments of human desire, Lawson’s images capture the ways that sexuality, violence, family, religion, economic and social status, and community mark the human body. Rachel Lee Hovnanian’s virtual wedding couple and Filippa Barkman’s vision of motherhood in Twine I, all enact the complex synchronicity of the ties that bind: we seek to be together but alone, alike but unique, longing for intimacy and autonomy at once. As demonstrated by the couple riding nowhere on leonardogillesfleur’s Irreconcilable Differences, individual drive may conflict with the demands of relationships, both chosen and inherited.

Rachel Lee Hovnanian, Dinner for Two, 2013. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

Reimagining history and myth creates opportunities for identity to transcend the constraints of ritual and role-play, especially within the crucible of childhood wherein the self is first formed. Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table series presents domestic drama as the central stage for re-envisioning gender and family roles, with the artist cast in the center, empowered to embody, represent, and speak for a breadth of humanity. Weems adopts and updates Classical Greek mythology in May Flowers, a trio of beribboned African American girls, framed in tondo, Renaissance-style as three contemporary graces. The central figure’s gaze is direct and frontal: their roles—as muses and more—are neither imposed nor fixed, but self-asserting, reframing, reclaiming the stage of art history.  

Carrie Mae Weems, Untitled (Woman and Daughter with Make Up), 1990. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

A trio of muses also animates Ragnar Kjartansson’s immersive video installation, Song. Performed by the artist’s young nieces over the course of six hours, “The weight of the world is love,” is the featured lyric, both metaphoric and melancholy, extrapolated from Kjartansson’s memory of an Allen Ginsberg poem, which they sing and strum, as daylight gives way to dusk, in real time. By ritualizing everyday activities—singing, reading, sleeping—within the museum, Kjartansson’s vision also challenges the authority of the institution and its canonical collection to determine what and who is beautiful or true.

Laetitia Soulier, Fractal Architectures, Matryoshka Dolls. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

The weight of both the future and the past encumbers many of the variously angelic, endangered, and enigmatic figures featured in photographs, paintings, drawings, video, and sculptures by Anthony Goicolea, Vee Speers, Laetitia Soulier, Sofie Muller, and Hendrik Kerstens. In both Gottfried Helnwein’s haunting portraits of children and in the sculptures by Gehard Demetz, children are literally saddled with the sadness and guilt of their elders, unconsenting conscripts into adulthood, while the white plastered children’s dresses floating in Chiharu Shiota’s State of Being (Dress) allude to personal and collective memories of childhood, dreams, oblivion, and to death.

Chiharu Shiota, State of Being (Dress), 2016. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

The domestic ritual of the family portrait is repurposed in works by Ruth Owens, Julie Nord, Lauren Argo, and Sam Taylor-Johnson; its conventional documentarian function transformed into illustrations of fantasy, memory, and newly emerging family structures. Staged in rural, often bleak settings, Christa Parravani’s photographs of herself and her twin illustrate the complex synchronicity of the ties that bind: we seek to be together but alone, alike but unique, intimate and independent at once. Elena Dorfman’s photographic series, Still Lovers, documents the everyday lives of people who choose life-like plastic dolls as their companions and family members, bringing them from the bedroom to the yard to the family breakfast table. Both humor and pathos are present in these vivid tableaux of contemporary cultural and social practices, imbuing the everyday with the import of history, of mythology.

Elena Dorfman, Azra 1, from the series Still Lovers. Courtesy of 21c Chicago.

The experiences of and voices of women featured in OFF-SPRING raise questions about tradition, representation, inclusion, and value. Wedding rituals serve as material and metaphor in works by Asya Reznikov and Beth MoysĂ©s, referencing what individuals have worn and carried to and from the altar, in search of a blessing, a partner, a new self, or different life, while Lalla Essaydi’s photographs of Moroccan women assert the value of female expression from within a patriarchal culture.

The women invoked in Angela Ellsworth’s sculpture, Seer Bonnet XXI (Eliza) and Seer Bonnet XX (Emily), are bound to each other: the pin-sharp straps of these 19th-century-style bonnets, fashioned from thousands of pearl corsage pins, are continuous, holding them forever in place, opposing and supporting one another, as “sister-wives”. A descendant of Mormon prophet Lorenzo Snow, Ellsworth examines women in the context of fundamentalist Mormonism, and the ritual, symbolism, and constraint inherent in trappings such as Seer Bonnets. The circular designs on Ellsworth’s bonnets are, says the artist, “my idea of giving the women wearing the bonnets their own vision and the possibility of seeing and translating things”: of generating new power and potential through both reimagined ritual and reality.