A Colossal Conversation: Alice Gray Stites On Taking Risks, Respecting the Public, and Curating for 21c Museum Hotels


#Alice Gray Stites

April 3, 2024

Grace Ebert

Installation view of ‘Pop Stars! Popular Culture and Contemporary Art.’ All images courtesy of 21c Museum Hotels, shared with permission

Walk into 21c Museum Hotel in downtown Chicago, and you might encounter a medicine cabinet filled with felted products by Lucy Sparrow, a photo from Carrie Mae Weems’s Kitchen Table series, and Angela Ellsworth’s unsettling bonnets made of pearls and pins, all within the lobby alone. The works were part of OFF-SPRING: New Generation, a traveling exhibition curated by Alice Gray Stites that considers how rituals influence identity. They were also unusual sights for a venue that welcomes guests toting unwieldy luggage and grabbing a drink at the bar.

Stites is chief curator for 21c Museum Hotels, a boutique hospitality chain across the Midwest and South that has carved a singular niche as both a space for world-renowned artworks and everyday tourism. I spoke with Stites in February 20204 via Zoom about curating for a multi-venue museum of this kind, why she values being articulate over being accessible, and the incredible trust and respect she has for the public.

Read the conversation.


a figurative sculpture with a skull on its head and a yellow pair of wings attached to its back stands in a large illuminated gallery

Installation view of ‘Refuge: Needing, Seeking, Creating Shelter’

#Alice Gray Stites