Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott

Saturday, Dec 4, 2021 – May 29, 2022

78 E. Washington
Chicago, IL 60602

This FREE exhibition brings together 55 paintings and works on paper spanning 50 years of Colescott’s prolific career. Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott has been extended through May 29, 2022.

The Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) is pleased to announce the first comprehensive retrospective of Robert Colescott (1925-2009), one of America’s most compelling and provocative artists, opening at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St., on Saturday, December 4.

In his large-scale paintings, Colescott confronted deeply embedded cultural hierarchies involving race, gender and social inequality in America with fearless wit and irony. 

Art and Race Matters invites a renewed examination of the artist, whose work is still as challenging, provocative and relevant now as it was when he burst onto the art scene over five decades ago. Presenting works from across Colescott’s career, the exhibition traces the progression of his stylistic development and the impact of place on his practice, revealing the diversity and range of his oeuvre: from his adaptations of Bay Area Figuration in the 1950s and 60s, to his signature graphic style of the 1970s, and the dense, painterly figuration of his later work. Art and Race Matters also explores prevalent themes in Colescott’s work, including the complexities of identity, societal standards of beauty, the reality of the American Dream and the role of the artist as arbiter and witness in contemporary life.

Art and Race Matters: The Career of Robert Colescott is co-curated by Lowery Stokes Sims and Matthew Weseley, and organized by Raphaela Platow, the Contemporary Arts Center’s Alice & Harris Weston Director and Chief Curator. Following its debut in Cincinnati, the exhibition traveled to the Portland Art Museum, Sarasota Museum of Art and Chicago Cultural Center.

Major support of the exhibition has been provided by the Henry Luce Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Richard Rosenthal; the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts for the research phase of the exhibition and the exhibition itself; and the Harold & Arlene Schnitzer CARE Foundation for its support of the catalog. The exhibition was awarded a Sotheby's Prize in 2018 in recognition of curatorial excellence and its exploration of an overlooked and under-represented area of art history.

The exhibition is made possible by the Terra Foundation for American Art.


Advisory: This exhibition contains mature content including nudity — and uses the language of visual and verbal stereotype to critique and expose racism and sexism in American culture.


The Wreckage of the Medusa, 1978, acrylic on canvas, 66 x 84 inches © 2021 The Robert H. Colescott Separate Property Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Private Collection. Photo Credit: Ray Litman