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Virtual Exhibits You Can Tour During Shelter-in-Place

Museums and galleries may be shuttered, but some are offering digital back doors into their collections.

And every woman will be a walking synthesis of the universe, a 2006 Renaissance Society show by Swiss artist Mai-Thu Perret. That exhibit and others are documented on the museum’s website.   Photo: Courtesy of the Renaissance Society

Museums are dark, galleries are quiet, and arts programming — planned months, sometimes years in advance — has been postponed, cancelled, or left in limbo. Artists and arts workers, from gallery attendants to art handlers to educators, are left struggling to work when Chicagoans are under order to stay at home.

The impact of COVID-19 on Chicago’s art scene — long driven by its scrappy, alternative ethos — will be unfathomable. But even as we practice social distancing, there are plenty of ways to continue engaging with and supporting our city’s cultural venues if you have internet connection. The sea of digital resources is vast and becoming even more so as events and exhibitions gradually migrate online.

What follows is a sample of art-related projects worth perusing — and an expression of gratitude for those who willed them into existence, whether years or days ago. We look forward to updating it as spaces and artists experiment with new platforms in uncertain times.

Temporary and special projects

Julius Caesar has postponed its show of works by Kirsten Stoltmann and Jennifer Sullivan, but you can watch six videos by the artists that the gallery has made available online. Moving between the diaristic and dreamlike, they offer warm and whimsical nourishment for life under quarantine.

Patron Gallery has extended its two current exhibitions through the end of April, and both are available to virtually visit through short videos. First, hear Kaveri Raina speak about the abstract paintings and drawings in her solo show, Partings, Swaying to the Moon. Then join local artist Noah Singer on a tour of his vivid grouping of brightly colored ceramic vessels in After All, They Sing, complex bowls and pitchers that play with balance and dimensionality.

Starting April 4th, the Japanese Arts Foundation is teaming up with AnimeChicago and Japanese Culture Center to host Tokyo House Party, a Zoom meetup to celebrate Japanese art and pop culture. Planned for every other Saturday evening, these casual events will feature programming from discussions of Japanese folklore to live-drawing sessions.

Lee Grantham’s new works will surely bring some sunshine to your day. Based in Milwaukee, the artist creates energetic, delightfully outlandish acrylic paintings that are heavily inspired by the Chicago Imagists. Although he’s been painting for decades, he’s only received mainstream attention in recent years. April 3 marks the opening of his latest show at Jean Albano Gallery, which is temporarily closed but is sharing images on its website.

If you live near the Logan Square boutique Tusk (3205 W. Armitage Ave.), walk by its storefront to see uplifting artworks in the window. Owner Mary Eleanor Wallace has started inviting local artists to embellish the space, so expect to enjoy new sights every once in a while.

One of the most alluring exhibitions installed right now is A View Without a Room at Mickey Gallery, presented in collaboration with the Toronto-based gallery Cooper Cole. Abstract gingham paintings and plaster reliefs by Michelle Grabner are in conversation with hypnotic patterned panels by Vanessa Maltese. The gallery is open by appointment only, but you can luckily still see all the works in this online viewing room.

The Art Institute is gradually rolling out new interactive online features so users can examine a famous El Greco altarpiece panel up close, learn about a West African headdress, and seek out many other stories in its collections. All this accompanies its many existing online resources, from audio tours to digital publications.

As this magazine declared last year, Jeanette Andrews is no ordinary magician. The Chicago artist has whipped up a mysterious new piece you can explore from home. Call her magic hotline (1-855-BY-MAGIC) to listen to a set of instructions that guide you through short illusions that unfold with a deck of cards, a dictionary, or your own hands. An homage to Art by Telephone, a 1969 Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition, Andrews’s whip-smart work is a perfect performance for our time: intimate, mysterious, and enthralling through its end.

Kavi Gupta Gallery invites you to get lost in Chicago Imagist Roger Brown’s world. The gallery (now open by appointment only) is hosting a magnificent exhibition of paintings by the prolific artist at its West Washington Boulevard space. Brown’s huge, multi-frame works with cryptic narratives are best absorbed in person, of course, but an online virtual tour and high-resolution images are better than missing it completely.

Enjoy the quietude of all-black art by local artist Soo Shin, whose solo show Paths Between Two Steps opened at Goldfinch Gallery on March 15. Featuring glazed stoneware marked with footprints, graphite drawings of mountains, and other evocations of place, the exhibition is filled with moments of subtle surprise and precarity that are still perceptible through its online viewing room.

Every year, local nonprofit Filter Photo presents an exhibition of lens-based works juried by an emerging curator. Intended to open in its West Town gallery on March 20, this round’s display is now online. See the world from the perspective of young photographers, who together put forth, in juror Eve Schillo’s words, “the blurred, but not confused, nature of photography in 2020.”

One of this season’s most anticipated exhibitions is The Allure of Matter, a display of contemporary Chinese art so massive it’s hosted by both the Smart Museum of Art and Wrightwood 659. While it is temporarily closed, you can explore artworks made of unexpected material — from cigarettes to human hair — on the accompanying website, which also features profiles of participating artists.

Getting cabin fever? Venture to Prairie gallery and watch an eerie, surreal video by artist Kevin Weil that is visible from across the street. Titled Demonstration (2019), it presents a matryoshka of chilling revelations, bringing viewers through a model street scene… from the interior of a homeland security training facility… based on the campus of an American college.

Or, if you live in Rogers Park, take a solo evening stroll and see a projected photograph taken by the late Chicago artist Bill Talsma. Through March 31, you can view it from the street at 1224 W. Loyola Ave. The image captures a former garden busy with activity — a scene that seems more distant than ever.

Permanent resources

One of the Newberry Library’s many incredible assets is its Curt Teich Postcard Archives Collection, a trove of more than half a million postcard pictures from around the world. Many are digitized, making for a delightful way to armchair travel by country, decade, or subject (like “fountains,” “literature,” or “novelties”). You can even roadtrip across America or cheer up a friend with an e-card.

Listen to the exceptional archives of Aubrey’s Playroom, a radio show that amplified conversations for the leather, fetish, BDSM, and alternative sexuality communities. Broadcast from Seattle between 1999 and 2004, this passion project of the late writer and activist Aubrey Hart Sparks now resides at Chicago’s own Leather Archives. Among other topics, the hourlong talks cover piercings, latex attire and care, and personal coming-out stories.

Browse a century’s worth of the artistic avant garde: Since 1915, the Renaissance Society has been at the forefront of Chicago’s art scene, presenting works by Pablo Picasso, Isamu Noguchi, Mike Kelley, Kara Walker, and more. Upwards of 2,500 images documenting the gallery’s exhibition programming are available online, from photos of individual works to installation views.

The National Museum of Mexican Art is among the many local institutions with exhibitions on Google Arts & Culture. Fall down a rabbit hole of vibrant Mexican folk art with this special collection of beadwork, ceramic figurines, and more.

Since 2014, the artist-run gallery LVL3 has been publishing casual interviews with creative makers and thinkers, many of whom are based in Chicago. Read about artists’ diverse practices on its website, where the entire archive lives and continues to grow.

Take a pause with poetry and explore the Poetry Foundation’s collection of writing of hope and resilience. Sit with Audre Lorde’s “A Litany of Survival” or read aloud Joy Harjo’s “Perhaps the World Ends Here.” With dozens to pick from, you could even host a poetry club on Zoom.

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