José Esparza Chong Cuy
Esparza Chong Cuy at the Madlener House. Topman suit, $450. Vans sneakers, $55. Photos: Petya Shalamandova

When José Esparza Chong Cuy took a job as a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art last year, he came with a mission: to spotlight artists from south of the border. The Mexico City transplant, 32, had made a name for himself back home with shows like Pasajeros, about the influence of artistic visitors from abroad on Mexico. I Am You, his second curatorial project at the MCA, runs through April. Here, he shares some favorite things.

Hidden local gem

The young galleries in West Town: Volume, Document, and Western Exhibitions, which are a block from my home. Efrain Lopez and Anastasia Tinari Projects, too.

Best Chicago meal

Carnitas Uruapan in Pilsen is superauthentic.

My signature garb

Guayabera shirts by Mexican designer Carla Fernández.

Chicago icons

Marina City and the Mies buildings on Lake Shore—I’m a trained architect. I was about to sign a lease in the Mies towers but thought I shouldn’t live so close to the MCA if I wanted a social life.

Fashion item I’ll never retire

Vans Old Skool low-tops. They’re timeless. Eight-year-old kids and 70-year-old men can wear them.

Favorite institution

The Graham Foundation. The Madlener House it occupies is incredible; everything it presents is impeccable.

Favorite scent

The Architects Club by Carlos Huber. He re-creates historic spaces through scents. This one’s based on a real 1900s architects’ club: leather and tobacco.

Kiehl’s Oil Eliminator

Kiehl’s Oil Eliminator

“My entire medicine cabinet is Kiehl’s products—shampoo, this oil eliminator.”
$27, Kiehl’s, 520 N. Michigan Ave.


El Taller Torres-García catalog

El Taller Torres-García catalog

“I found this gem at Myopic Books—it’s for the 1992 School of the South exhibit curated by Mari Carmen Ramírez.”




“I’m trying to revive this trend, but I’m not sure I can wear them to work yet.”