Susanne Ghez, the curator of the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, was invited to organize an exhibition at Artists Space that would represent Chicago's contemporary art scene. Ghez selected eleven Chicago artists of various ages invested in representations of the figure in painting and sculpture. Joseph Hilton's painting, Beside the Sleeping Guards (of Cairo) Night and Day (1986) resuscitates the aesthetic of 19th century Orientalist painting, repurposed in service of queer narratives. Reaching even further into the history of the figure's representation in Western art, Deven Golden photographs classical Greek torsos in scenes constructed with an almost filmic logic. In a piece touching on figurative concerns more obliquely, Tarra-Din (1983), Michael Paha installed an aquarium containing birds, plants, crickets, and frogs in the gallery, positing the work as a "microcosm," or an environment which would sustain the life cycles of several organisms indefinitely. By including Paha's work in a survey of figurative practices, Ghez opened up the possibility of seeing Tarra-Din as its own representation of the human body – itself an ecosystem supporting and sustaining the lives of other organisms.
Recent Art from Chicago was one of several exhibitions Artists Space had organized over the years to present cross-sections of the contemporary art scene in other cities, which in the past had included Buffalo, Toronto, and Los Angeles.