Duro Olowu: Seeing Chicago
Duro Olowu works at the crossroads of fashion, art, and culture and is internationally recognised for his womenswear label launched in 2004. Characterized by unique fabrics, evocative patterns, and impeccable construction, the London-based designer’s garments are informed by his international background and curator’s eye. Olowu’s multinational and multicultural viewpoint has translated into wildly popular platforms and projects from his dynamic Instagram account to his revelatory curatorial projects in London and New York.
Now Olowu turns his cosmopolitan eye to Chicago. Drawing from the city’s public and private art collections including works in the MCA’s collection, Olowu curates a show that reimagines relationships between artists and objects across time, media, and geography. Moving away from traditional exhibition formats, Olowu combines photographs, paintings, sculptures, and films in dense and textural scenes that incorporate his own work.
It all began one fall morning during Frieze London when MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn asked the Nigerian-born British designer if he’d like to collaborate on a show. Olowu balked at the suggestion of a fashion retrospective—“It’s the reality of being driven by the possibilities of the future, not the things you’ve done in the past,” he says—but then Grynsztejn made him an offer he couldn’t refuse: the whole of the main museum space to work in, and carte blanche to “do what you want.”
Seeing Chicago represents the first time the MCA has invited a non–art professional to guest-curate, but for Olowu, it’s only the latest in a series of increasingly ambitious curatorial projects. Decades ago, fresh out of university, he ran a small gallery in Lagos showcasing the work of artists like Prince Twins Seven-Seven. Later he drew upon that experience to design his London boutique, where he displays his raucously patterned and patchworked dresses and jackets against a backdrop of aesthetic touchstones: vintage Indian studio photographs; Malian Bambara masks; artwork by Stanley Whitney, Glenn Ligon, and Deborah Roberts. Olowu considered that mix “an assemblage,” but his wife, Studio Museum in Harlem director Thelma Golden, saw the makings of a show. When Olowu installed a fashion pop-up and art exhibition at Jeanne Greenberg Rohatyn’s Manhattan gallery Salon 94 Freemans in 2012, the critics agreed with Golden, bestowing glowing reviews. A second outing at Salon 94 Bowery followed. But it wasn’t until 2016 when Olowu mounted his blockbuster exhibition Making & Unmaking at London’s Camden Arts Centre, that he finally began to see his side hustle in a more serious light.
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