Pilsen artist is ‘Here’ with new exhibit

Esther Bell
Candida Alvarez poses in front of her painting “Buena Vista” (2002) at The Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. washington St. on May 4.

By Kendrah Villiesse

Vibrant colors and textures illustrate the life story of Pilsen-based artist Candida Alvarez in a new exhibit at the   Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.

Scheduled through August 6,  “Candida Alvarez: Here,” which opened April 29, includes works from Alvarez’s career depicting her life in Brooklyn, New York, in 1975, her move to Chicago in 1998 and career throughout.  The 60 paintings include political pieces, a dog and her collaboration with avant-garde fashion luxury brand Comme des Garçon. 

“When you are a young artist, you start to track the things you know like your family, your memories and things close to you,” Alvarez said. “As [I got] older, I started to track the things outside of the living room, outside of the home, the things in the world that I am meeting for the first time.”

Alvarez said the exhibit wasn’t assembled chronologically but rather aesthetically. 

Viewers should be able to see the work through their own eyes and not be told what they should be seeing, said curator Terry Myers.

“There aren’t labels that describe her work,” Myers said. “Her work is about making something that initiates the work. She doesn’t want that to be the place where you stay. She wants it to transform, that is why she plays with this abstraction versus representation.”

After working with Alvarez at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago as an art professor and spending time in her Pilsen studio, Myers said he realized he wanted to showcase her work in an exhibit.

After 40 years, Alvarez’s career started to gain recognition when Rei Kawakubo, the founder of fashion brand Comme des Garçon, noticed her paintings and drawings and wanted to use them for her 2017 fall menswear collections. 

“It was different, it was exciting,” she said. “It was great to have the work on bodies moving. Often, I used spaces that have bodies in them, so it felt like it was full circle.”

To commemorate her collaboration with the fashion brand, Alvarez conceived a new wood painting that made its debut at the exhibit. “Comme des Amigos forever” is a black, white and yellow camouflage baseboard that outlines the exhibit. 

“The Comme des Garçon brand really gave me a way out of the studio and into the public realm again,” Alvarez said. “I worked on a painting that was used for the textiles of Comme des Garçon. I reconfigured the painting to create the pattern and added that as a way to hold the whole show together.”

Cultural Center visitor Cat Hall, an opera singer from Chicago, stumbled upon the exhibit and was intrigued by Alvarez’s work.

“It is pretty cool that [there is] an evolution of an artist here,” Hall said. “You have a lot of different styles, starting from the ‘70s to today, and I am finding myself more drawn to the modern art.”

The exhibit’s goal is to have the audience create its own experience while looking at work, Alvarez said.

“It makes me happy when people are looking at the work, and there is joy in the room,” Alvarez said. “It is a reflection of 40 years of looking and thinking about being in the world. [The exhibit] gives [the audience] an opportunity to flirt with their own imaginations, and it allows them to see how an artist evolves over 40 years.”