Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Ballad of Etc.

Thursday, Sep 12 – Dec 21, 2019

201 E. Ontario
Chicago, IL 60611

The Arts Club of Chicago is pleased to announce an exhibition of work by Abraham Cruzvillegas, an artist of Mexican descent, whose expansive oeuvre foregrounds the current conditions of movement, survival, dwelling, and home. In The Ballad of Etc., opening at The Arts Club of Chicago on September 12th, Cruzvillegas highlights how collaborative, improvisational assemblages of found materials echo the experiences of the people whose lives they touch. He specifically points toward the deep and durable connections between Chicago and the indigenous people of his ancestral home Michoacán, a state in the West of Mexico. The exhibition is curated by Janine Mileaf, Executive Director and Chief Curator of The Arts Club of Chicago.

For more than thirty years, Cruzvillegas has refined a method of inquiry under the rubric of autoconstrucción, or self-construction. Autoconstrucción at once refers to the provisional building techniques that he knew as a child and the ongoing attempts of individuals to actualize themselves. In fabricating his sculpture, Cruzvillegas summons this capacity to make do–taking whatever is at hand and adding basic carpentry and construction methods to transform the gallery space. 

The strategies of autoconstrucción specifically address the need to provide shelter for the dispossessed­–in Mexico and in the United States–and the shame of failures in that regard. “Constructing a simple shack, a cardboard duplex of bed and ceiling, a plastic supermarket bag mattress, a hat made of garbage bags, all of these compose a beautiful and problematic aesthetic discussion about borders, intolerance, and society-splitting.” The current situation at the Mexican-American border brings untold urgency to Cruzvillegas’s long-held concerns. Cruzvillegas considers these aspects of the exhibition, although not readily visible, to be an opportunity for conceptual resonance.

The exhibition will take its form through an installation of several sculptures by Cruzvillegas sourced from materials native to Chicago and Michoacàn. The scavenged gatherings from Chicago–native plants, industrial scraps, lumber, décor–point toward both personal and institutional narratives, as well as the socio-political conditions of this nineteenth-century, post-industrial city. This collaboration not only draws out Cruzvillegas’s personal history, but it points toward the dependence of Chicago on the people of Michoacán, who were among the earliest Mexican immigrants to the area. Coming to work on the railroads and in agriculture and the steel industry, they forged an important pathway from south to north beginning in the earliest decades of the twentieth century. 

Amid the foraged elements in this exhibition, Cruzvillegas will incorporate examples of the traditional Mexican lacquer technique known as maque. He commissioned the artisans Erandine and Irepani de Saint Phalle, also of Michoacán, to produce these elements. Cruzvillegas turned to maque to learn something of his indigenous heritage and to activate those relations. To further highlight the connection, he has engaged others with roots in Michoacán to work on the exhibition, including a native plant specialist and a Chicago-based carpenter. 

Though Cruzvillegas wants such moves to be interpreted loosely, the decisions he made for the exhibition were quite deliberate. He consciously honors the resourcefulness and creativity of his extended family and ancestors while invoking the ongoing crisis around migration. In titling this exhibition The Ballad of Etc., Cruzvillegas gestures toward the possibility of respectful recognition of cultural interdependence and the need for structural change. He incorporates song both in the process of producing the exhibition and at the opening celebration in a poetic and healing manner.

Performance of original music based on the lyrics of Cruzvillegas by avant-garde jazz ensemble Restroy, including Chriss Danmann on bass, Avereeyal Ra on drums, and Mabel Kwan on keyboards: September 12 intermittently from 6:00-8:00 pm.

A beautifully illustrated brochure with bilingual essay by writer Gabriela Juaregui, designed and printed by Fata Morgana Press, will accompany the exhibition. Available on-site at no cost until supplies last.

The artist will be available for press interviews September 9-12. For more information and photography requests, contact curatorial assistant H. Daly Arnett at (312) 787-3997 or press@artsclubchicago.org.


Abraham Cruzvillegas (b. 1968) studied Pedagogy from 1986 to 1990 at UNAM (Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México) in Mexico City while simultaneously attending Gabriel Orozco’s workshop Taller de los viernes. In 2012, he was the 5th laureate of the Yanghyun Prize and in 2006 he received the Prix Altadis d' arts plastiques. 

His most important projects and exhibitions include: Autorreconstrucción: Social Tissue, Kunsthaus Zürich, Switzerland (2018); Sensory Spaces 12: Abraham Cruzvillegas, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands (2017); The Water Trilogy 2: Autodefensión Microtonal Obrera Campesina Estudiantil Metabolista Descalza, Ginza Maison Hermès: Le Forum, Tokyo (2017); Autoconstriction approximante vibrante rétroflexe, Carré d'Art - musée d'art contemporain de Nîmes, France (2016); Empty Lot, Tate Modern, London (2015); Autodestrucción 7: Deshaciendo el nudo, Museo de Arte de Lima – MALI, Peru (2015); Abraham Cruzvillegas: Autoconstrucción, Museo Jumex, Mexico City and Museo Amparo, Puebla, Mexico (2014); Abraham Cruzvillegas: The Autoconstrucción Suites, Haus der Kunst, Munich, Germany (2014) and The Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, United States (2013); Self Builder’s Groove, Final Project for the Berliner Künstlerprogramm residency, Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), Berlin (2011); Autoconstrucción: The Film, REDCAT CalArts' downtown center for contemporary arts (2009); The Magnificent Seven: Abraham Cruzvillegas, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (2009); Autoconstrucción: The Soundtrack, CCA: Centre for Contemporary Arts, Glasgow, United Kingdom (2008), among others.

His work has also a part of the following biennials: 21st Biennale of Sydney, Australia (2018); X Bienal de Nicaragua - Fundación Ortíz Gurdián, Managua (2016); Sharjah Biennial 12, United Arab Emirates (2015); 12 Bienal de la Habana, Cuba (2015); 9th Shanghai Biennale, China (2012); dOCUMENTA (13), Kassel, Germany (2012); 12. İstanbul Bienali, Turkey (2011); 6th SeMA Biennale Mediacity Seoul, South Korea (2010); 10 Bienal de la Habana, Cuba (2009); 54th Venice Biennial (2003).

Abraham Cruzvillegas lives and works in Mexico City and Paris. He is represented by galería kurimanzutto in Mexico City, Thomas Dane Gallery in London, Regan Projects in Los Angeles, and Galerie Chantal Crousel in Paris.