While the Art Institute and the MCA prepare new installations, the next month is a good time to venture off Michigan Avenue and head in new directions for one’s art fix. There are noteworthy exhibits at less prominent venues on the South Side and Evanston.
The Art Institute and MCA are the city’s marquee museums but, in past years, some of my most satisfying outings have been at art venues off-the-beaten path. I am thinking of the “1968” exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum, “Heartland” at the Smart Museum or the Jim Dine and Gordon Parks shows at
the Block Museum.
Those venues and others are listed in the Tribune, the Reader and TimeOut Chicago but so many people I meet have never strayed beyond the Magnificent Mile to those museums. Such timid behavior gives loyalty a bad name.
Chicagoans tend to be creatures of habit. They find a favorite restaurant, club, sports team or museum and stick with it for years. Loyalty is an admirable quality but not in Art. Art favors the new, the pushing past present boundaries.
The best place to view the new around town, in fact, is not museums but the galleries in River North or West Loop as well as the Hyde Park and Evanston Art Centers. Paying tribute to the valuable contributions made by Catherine Edelman, Carrie Secrist, Tom McCormick, John Corbett, Jim Dempsey and Kavi Gupta, however, is perhaps a future blog post.
Thus, here’s a selective run-down of what’s on view now at some places I visit regularly with apologies for other worthy sites I’ve left out.
Smart Museum of Art in Hyde Park has, in recent years, expanded its reach beyond the University of Chicago campus and added a more contemporary slant to its collection and programs. Opening February 10th is “The Tragic Muse: Art and Emotion, 1700-1900” which explores the visual representation of tragedy over two centuries to answer how and why does art move us. Always a thought-provoking outing.
The Renaissance Society has been seeking out the new since 1915. Over the past quarter-century, under the direction of Susanne Ghez, it has built an international reputation as a resource for, Ghez claims, “the finest vanguard art in the nation”. It has showcased artists at an early stage who have gone on to major careers. Its current exhibit features the work of video artist, Gerard Byrne. I must confess that I often leave Ren exhibitions bewildered but, most times, more knowledgeable about the issues and artistic practices of the moment.
Before heading north to Evanston, let me bestow three hearty cheers on the Chicago Cultural Center, which is a museum by any other name and consistently features outstanding exhibits. Last year’s “Jazz Loft Project”, which I wrote about for the blog, was a highlight of my 2010 museum-going.
Currently on view are newly-discovered works of an unrecognized Chicago street photographer while she was alive, Vivian Maier. And don’t miss the stunning, second floor exhibit on architect Louis Sullivan, curated by city historian Tim Samuelson and graphic designer Chris Ware. You’ll learn new things about Sullivan’s designs and his tragic final years. It’s a beautiful, loving tribute to one of Chicago and America’s master builders. www.chicagoculturalcenter.org
Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is on the Northwestern campus in Evanston. Like the Smart Museum, this venue began primarily as a teaching resource students. While both museums continue that mission, the Block too has expanded to museum status and mounted high quality shows of wider appeal over the past decade.
The current exhibit, which just opened, examines a historical theme through the work of a Georgian-era artist. “Thomas Rowlandson: Pleasures and Pursuits in Georgian England.” Rowlandson lived from 1757-1827. His masterful, detailed drawings depict the colorful and often bawdy aspects of everyday life of that era in and around London. Also, check its website for details about Block Cinema, an excellent series of classic and contemporary films. www.blockmuseum.northwestern.edu.
DePaul University Museum is currently closed until September when it reopens in new, much larger, quarters. And Loyola Museum of Art (LUMA) across from Water Tower, features exhibits that explore spiritual themes. Its next exhibit, opening February 12th will highlight works by typographer and iconographer, Eric Gill.
While the current historical shows at Smart and Block are ones I normally might skip, I’ll take them in since these venues have delighted me in the past with the care and scholarship of their presentations so that I always leave pleased that I made the effort. After all, the art of the 19th and 20th centuries that I favor were built on a foundation that one needs to explore more deeply. Give some of these current shows a try. See if they don’t provide a worthwhile afternoon of viewing far from the standard Michigan Avenue fare.