“A Johnson Publishing Story,” an exhibition that opened in Chicago last week, memorializes the iconic tastes of the late John and Eunice Johnson, pioneers in African-American publishing, fashion and cosmetics. Chicago artist/developer Theaster Gates has installed select furnishings from the Johnson Publishing Co. offices in the Ebony/Jet building that opened in 1972.
Besides a stylish desk, credenza and sofa, there’s an IBM Selectric typewriter custom-clad in red alligator leather. Autographed copies of books by Richard Wright and Langston Hughes are on view too. Cards inform visitors: “These objects are sacred, please be respectful.”
It’s all at the Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave., site of the former Stony Island Trust and Savings Bank Building built in 1923.
The three-story neo-classical structure was repurposed in 2015 by the Rebuild Foundation as “a hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center.” At the exhibition’s opening last Thursday, Rebuild founder and executive director Gates welcomed visitors: “We’re on Stony Island between 67th and Blackness” in a “space to explore black spatial imagination.”
“A Johnson Publishing Story” salutes “the role of the JPC [Johnson Publishing Co.] in defining and disseminating a black aesthetic and culture to national and international audiences in the mid-20th century.” The exhibition is aligned with Art Design Chicago, a Terra Foundation for American Art project to showcase Chicago “as a catalyst and incubator for innovations in art and design.”