Best of Chicago 2011: Arts & Culture

Our favorite street artist, design fest, film series, new gallery, improv group, and more

Downtown Sound at Millennium Park
Downtown Sound at Millennium Park
 

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FREE MUSIC SERIES DOWNTOWN SOUND Last June, Downtown Sound, the free summer series on Mondays in Millennium Park, exploded when more than 11,000 people showed up to hear folk-rock duo She & Him. Emboldened, the series’ producers went whole hog this year: The adventuresome, top-notch lineup included the high-energy blues-gospel group the Campbell Brothers; the Milwaukee ten-piece soul outfit Kings Go Forth; the Minnesota lo-fi trio Low, with Glen Hansard of the Irish folk-rock band the Frames; and the instrumental experimentation of Delicate Steve. There’s still time to catch the last act of the series, pop-rock auteur Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, on July 25. Go.

NEW IMPROV GROUP INKLING AT IO In the toy chest of Chicago improv teams, Inkling is the Erector Set. With a couple of chairs, these nine players contort themselves into any contraption invoked onstage—including, recently, a lunch box, a bus, and a fountain-of-youth sprinkler. Formed last year by Molly Emmons, Andrew Graves, Jared Jeffries, Sara Kap-lan, Morgan Lord, Jeff Rukes, Tyler Samples, Marty Schousboe, and Mary Cait Walthall, Inkling quickly became the house team at iO and now regularly opens for the comedy theatre’s established big-draw ensembles. “Inkling is not just another vehicle [on which] they are hitchhiking on the vague journey to comedic glory,” says the troupe’s coach, George McAuliffe. “Their ability to live in the moment gives every show the potential to be great.” 3541 N. Clark St.; 773-880-0199, chicago.ioimprov.com

WEB RADIO STATION CHIRP In the face of vanishing bandwidth for truly local radio, Shawn Campbell, an industry veteran, launched the Chicago Independent Radio Project—or CHIRP—under the principle that stations should be controlled by their workers. Operating since January 2010 from a factory building in North Center, CHIRP, run by volunteers and dependent on donations, is as grass-roots as it gets and as eclectic as you would expect: Campbell says the DJs sometimes pull from their own collections and may not focus, ever, on a particular decade or genre. The resulting playlists can be wonderful or weird—and often both. chirpradio.org

Jessica LabatteARTIST TO COLLECT NOW JESSICA LABATTE Last year, Jessica Labatte’s work could be seen all over town, as part of the group show Ps and Qs at the Hyde Park Art Center and in a well-received solo show at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which led to a coveted slot in the museum’s UBS 12 x 12 series featuring emerging artists. In her studio, Labatte assembles foil, blankets, boxes, mirrors, and household objects into precarious arrangements and captures them in large-format color photographs. The results are both alluring and utterly ordinary and at times can look like Photoshop creations, probably because you’re never sure if what you’re looking at is real. At last year’s Miami art fair NADA, Labatte’s gallery sponsor, Golden (3319 N. Broadway; goldengallery.co), devoted an entire booth to her Surface Effects series, which featured glimmering crushed-foil forms with the crystalline appearance of geodes. Labatte refines and tightens her innately playful aesthetic with each new series, and therein lies her staying power.

NEW GALLERY NEW CAPITAL Since launching New Capital last fall, Chelsea Culp and Ben Foch, recent graduates from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, have made live events and two-person shows the focus of their split-level warehouse space, located along an industrial corridor down the street from several other artist-run venues. The arrival of Culp and Foch has turned this strip of West Carroll Street into a lively art and performance nexus—a recent event featured a motorcycle-and-synthesizer-based musical composition followed by an all-night bacon fry. The gallery tends to feature works with a minimalist and/or architectural bent and offers an illuminating study in contrasts by exhibiting the work of one artist in a “white cube” space upstairs and that of the other in the rougher brick-walled space below. 3114 W. Carroll St.; newcapitalprojects.com

Street artist Ray Noland's workSTREET ARTIST RAY NOLAND Ray Noland doesn’t call himself a street artist. For starters, the 39-year-old Chicago native and graduate of the School of the Art Institute doesn’t work exclusively in cement and brick: Last year, his screen prints hung in solo shows, and he keeps one hand in commercial design as well. But if you’ve ever seen Blago in a tracksuit gazing sheepishly from a spare chunk of wall, Obama shaking hands with the United States, Daley practicing his golf swing, or Qaddafi carrying a sign that reads “Out of Work Dictator,” then you’re familiar with the stop-you-in-your-tracks power of Noland’s stenciled graffiti. All that dirt we try to sweep into the sewer? Noland has a knack for making it graphic, funny, and public—the most democratic art there is, visible to everyone. creativerescue.org

NEW ART FAIR MDW FAIR Naked people were the first things we saw at the inaugural MDW art fair in April (they were part of a performance installation), and that element of the unexpected turned out to be the order of the weekend. The fair charged just $5 to see the works of more than 500 artists in the huge Geolofts space in Bridgeport—a hike if you don’t live nearby or own a car—and the venue will be the same for the fair’s second outing in October. “We wanted to highlight the fantastic art community based in our region and make it affordable and diverse,” says Ed Marszewski of Public Media Institute, one of the organizing groups, along with Threewalls and Roots & Culture. “We’ll never be in the Loop or a convention center.” midwayfair.org

Golden AgeART BOOKSTORE GOLDEN AGE Golden Age’s petite and austerely sparse room is not a traditional bookstore—it’s more like a curated space with things to read, look at, and listen to. The owners, Martine Syms and Marco Kane Braunschweiler, host live readings and performances and seem happiest when they are able to turn visitors on to something new. Currently topping their list of recommendations are the latest in Paul Haworth’s wryly funny Alone, Desperate, and Going Nowhere book series, an album of site recordings by the ecologically minded artist Dan Peterman, and a boxed DVD set by the cult film director George Kuchar. 119 N. Peoria St., #2D; 312-288-8535, shopgoldenage.com

NEIGHBORHOOD MUSIC FESTIVAL HYDE PARK JAZZ FESTIVAL This precocious five-year-old festival swings like mad: The staggering lineup is almost completely homegrown, including notables such as veteran tenor saxman Ari Brown, thundering pianist Willie Pickens, and harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy with the Latin powerhouse group Chevere. Performances ring out day and night from landmark venues of every shape and size throughout the neighborhood, and admission to the two-day event (this year, September 24 and 25) is—unbelievably—free. 773-324-8614, hydeparkjazzfestival.org

NEW FILM SERIES SATURDAY SILENT CINEMA AT THE MUSIC BOX THEATRE Silent movies shown today can be poorly handled, a fact not lost on the cinephiles at the Music Box Theatre when they launched a bimonthly silent film series earlier this year: Movies run at the right speed, thanks to an investment in new equipment; organist Dennis Scott plays live; and the 82-year-old movie palace is an ideal venue. Upcoming: The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (September 10 at noon) and Peter Pan (November 12 at noon). 3733 N. Southport Ave.; 773-871-6607

AD HOC JAZZ CLUB SPACE Overshadowed by the fancy pizza restaurant next door, this suburban rec room could easily escape the notice of even the most astute jazz fan, given the venue’s penchant for booking mostly singer-songwriter and indie-rock types. But look at that schedule a bit more closely: the sublime pianist Brad Mehldau, the rock-solid bassist Christian McBride, the lyrical trumpeter Terence Blanchard. Really? Those are Symphony Center bookings in a room the size of a large walk-in closet. Forget the “A” Train—we’ll take the Purple Line. 1245 Chicago Ave., Evanston; 847-492-8860, evanstonspace.com

Guerrilla Furniture and Art ShowDESIGN FEST GUERRILLA FURNITURE AND ART TRUCK SHOW For seven years, Morlen Sinoway has been organizing the Guerrilla Furniture and Art Truck Show during NeoCon, a large annual trade show at the Merchandise Mart, as a sort of antidote to mainstream corporate design. Sinoway, whose contemporary furniture store is in the Fulton Market District, invites local independent designers and a smattering of out-of-towners to display their wares in truck containers that have been backed into nearby loading docks. This instant collective pop-up shop, with free drinks and music, is a reliably great evening every June. At this year’s show, we loved the furniture from Object Society and Greta de Parry, as well as Craighton Berman’s crazy coil lamps. The event has grown steadily (more than 40 trucks this year), and yet somehow it remains largely under the radar. Don’t say we didn’t tell you. morlensinoway.com

 

Photograph: (Millennium Park) Joshua Mellin; (Labatte) Lisa Predko; Photo Assistant: Sarah Crump; (inset) Jessica Labatte, Imitators, 2010; (Space) Natalie White; (Guerrilla Truck Show) Travis Roozee

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3 years ago
Posted by s___l

Please correct the link for the Midway Fair! It's http://mdwfair.org/

3 years ago
Posted by K_M

The coat rack in the lower right hand corner is designed by Merkled Studio.

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