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The World in Our Hands: Chicago Art in 2006

By Justin Sondak in Arts & Entertainment on Dec 26, 2006 8:30PM

In an interview last month, veteran West Loop gallery owner Rhona Hoffman reflected on how art collection has evolved throughout her career, how the internet has supersized the art fair and made the global scene more accessible than ever. But this interview came not from Art in America or an academic panel but from a Bad At Sports podcast event at ThreeWalls gallery.

Art enthusiasts have access to more information, images and, thanks to last minute discount travel, destinations than ever before. But 2006’s most engaging stories were right in our backyard, Chicago events run by Chicago curators featuring Chicago artists (or students) for Chicago audiences (and tourists). Our six favorite stories barely scratch the surface of the past 12 months, so let us know what stories moved you this year.

The art fairs realign
The new kid has arrived. The grey lady has moved into an assisted living community. Art Chicago lost their Butler Field home due to a management-labor dispute and, at the eleventh hour, was rescued by Merchandise Mart Properties. The chastened show went on while, four miles north, the remarkable Nova Art Fair commandeered the City Suites Hotel, held fashion shows on the el, and kept East Lakeview entertained.

2006_12_tomatoesg400.jpgIncredible one night stands
Any gallery can throw a party or book a concert. Some took clever gimmickry to new heights. Samantha’s Amazing Acro-Cats/Rock Cats knocked ‘em dead at Caro d’offay and Reversible Eye, walking the tightrope, riding skateboards, and rocking-n-rolling. The Spareroom read our minds and put on a carnival. But few could rival Gallery 400, where Death By Design filmed your custom-made demise, William Pope.L’s Black Factory got us thinking, and UIC students played with tomatoes.

silklogo_200612.jpgThe road to understanding
In a year when peace in the Middle East and Afghanistan seemed more elusive than ever, the City of Chicago, local cultural organizations, and Yo Yo Ma reminded us of our shared values via Silk Road Chicago, a celebration of a massive mosaic and an amazing artistic legacy. Temporarily renamed the “Silk Road Oasis,” The Chicago Tourism Building’s exhibits actually kept the locals entertained. Free and reasonably priced entertainment abounds, and we’re only halfway through the schedule.

Museum outreach reaches further
That collective head smack you heard was museum executives realizing they’re not doing enough to attract minority and low-income patrons. We did the math and discovered admission is prohibitively expensive for many families of 4 or more. This year, a few institutions met us halfway. The Field Museum, The Shedd and The Museum of Science and Industry offered more summer free days and the Art Institute replaced free Tuesdays with free, extended summer hours on Thursdays and Fridays and free Thursday nights year-round.

Friendly neighborhood art galleries
River North continues to sell its big ticket items and the River West scene continues to spread further west. But the real action happened in neighborhood art galleries which resisted or exploited gentrification’s inevitable progress, from Bronzeville’s Gallery Guichard to Ravenswood’s Gillock Gallery. The next new scene could happen anywhere. Two new spaces even opened near the Kennedy exit ramps in West Town: Lloyd Dobler Gallery and Gosia Koscielak Studio. Cheap real estate or an easy escape route? Time will tell.

harvey_200612.jpgMr. Adler, Mr. Sullivan, meet the blowtorch
Louis Sullivan’s 150th anniversary was very very bad indeed. Three structures he built with his partner, Dankmar Adler, went up in flames. In January, an errant blowtorch met the Pilgrim Baptist Church. The celebrated birth of gospel music will rise again, say its congregants, as its exterior appears to be structurally sound, but a piece of history was lost. In October, another blowtorch smoldered the South Loop’s Wirt Dexter Building and in November, the George Harvey House in Lakeview burned through the night. The cause of that fire is unknown, the circumstances are rather suspicious, and Richard Nickel’s meditations on our “Lost City” seem more poignant than ever.

Images via Gallery 400, DCA, and Lynn Becker