Balloons fill the room in Martin Creed's Half the air in a given space, the best new public art this year.

This year was one of the best for contemporary art in recent memory. In Chicago, the local art scene blossomed, and exhibitions were both profound and fun. Judging by what I saw in the past 12 months, 2013 looks to be a boom year for art in the city.

Best Retrospective Exhibition
1979:1–2012:21, Museum of Contemporary Photography
How does a museum hold a retrospective of its own permanent collection? Ask an artist like Jan Tichy, who turned the whole place inside out. Tichy created a compendium video animation of the museum’s 11,000 artworks, polled the staff for their favorites, and dusted off the classic Changing Chicago photo-documentary project.

Best New Art Space
The Franklin
Located in the backyard of artist Edra Soto and designer Dan Sullivan, The Franklin (named for the Humboldt Park boulevard) is a shed designed by the couple and populated with fascinating artwork interventions by the likes of Alberto Aguilar and Regin Igloria. If you’ve driven down Franklin recently you’ve seen the new plop-art sculptures. Those ugly, ineffective things are a perfect contrast to the real new public art displayed in The Franklin.

Best Art Exhibition You May Have Missed
Ramón Miranda Beltrán, Julius Caesar Gallery
Historic headlines of violence printed onto raw concrete slabs were displayed stacked in the gallery and later distributed throughout the city, to the original sites of violence and crime, deposited like makeshift tombs, lest we forget.

Best Art Book  
Blisner, Ill., by Daniel Shea
This artist book was produced with the assistance of Columbia College’s digital printing lab, which supports just one artist project per year. Shea’s book combines archival research with original photography to tell the story of a small Midwestern town’s post-industrial decline. Turns out the town is fictional, but the story rings true.

Best New Public Art
Half the air in a given space by Martin Creed
The artist replaced half the air in a given space with balloons, installed in several locations throughout Chicago, including the Water Tower and empty storefronts all over the city. Visitors were free to enter the balloon-filled rooms and smush their bodies within the thickets colorful plastic.


Jason Foumberg is a contributing art critic for Chicago magazine.


Photograph: Nathan Keay