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Best new improvisational dance performance

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Hope Goldman’s “Pussy Willow”

At once magisterial and intimate, Hope Goldman’s performance of “Pussy Willow,” showcased as part of the City of Chicago’s “In The Works” residency program at the Chicago Cultural Center, was a standout among otherwise lackluster offerings this year. As a dance effort reflecting concerns with intentionality and the construction of selfhood through movement, Goldman’s ability to transform her body into near-contortionist forms elevated the performance beyond the confines of physicality alone. Accompanied by a harrowing soundtrack of cathedral-like audio, we look for more great things from Ms. Goldman’s considerable talents.

Best of Chicago 2015

Best retrospective exhibition of a Chicago artist in the last year

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Archibald Motley at the Chicago Cultural Center

The Chicago Cultural Center took first prize in asserting Chicago’s artistic legacy by booking the traveling retrospective exhibition of Archibald Motley, who was among the first of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s African-American students and one of the most prominent painters of the Harlem Renaissance, despite the fact that he called Chicago home for most of his life. Gathering more than forty paintings from public and (mostly) private collections, the exhibition paid triumphant homage to Motley’s singular vision of black life in the first half of the twentieth century.

78 E. Washington, 312.744.6630,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best collaborative multimedia dance performance

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Mitsu Salmon’s “Tsuchi” at the Chicago Cultural Center

Combining a variety of multimedia elements and object manipulations, Japanese American dancer Mitsu Salmon’s “Tsuchi,” a collaborative performance with sound artist Alyssa Moxley, musician Kevin Carey and Mike Hero, as part of the Chicago Cultural Center’s “In the Works” program, was ambitious in the scale of its narrative sweep and in the challenge of balancing all of its many moving parts. Relating aspects of her heritage and cultural identity channeled Proust-like through her recent experience working as a server in a sushi restaurant, and combining space-composition techniques that incorporate unusual interactions, including balancing a pineapple on her head as she moves, for instance, or baptismally dousing her head with alcohol as a statement of immersion. Simultaneously moving, informative and at times heart-wrenching, the ambitious scale of Salmon’s work continues to impress.

Best of Chicago 2015

Best sound art

Culture & Nightlife, Loop No Comments »

Shawn Decker’s “Prairie”
“Prairie” at the Chicago Cultural Center emulated the sounds of a Midwestern prairie—especially its insects—using hundreds of tiny speakers attached to rods, poking up in a field like tall grass. These speakers generated random clicking rhythms according to a computer program. It was simultaneously meditative and surprising, just like nature itself.

Best of Chicago 2013

Best new art gallery

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Project Onward
On the first floor of the Chicago Cultural Center is Project Onward, which houses art studios and a gallery for the work made onsite by the resident artists, with one always on duty for on-the-spot self-portrait commissions (how can you resist?). That Project Onward supports the creative work of artists with mental disabilities makes it all the better. With artworks as low as $10.

Project Onward, 78 East Washington, (312)744-8032,

Best of Chicago 2012

Best underground gallery

Culture & Nightlife, Loop No Comments »

Open Studio Program, Pedway

While the labyrinthine walkways that connect the basements of many Loop buildings are publicly accessible, they seem more like a best-kept secret than an urban convenience. It may be this mystery that attracts so many artists to consider the Pedway as a setting and subject for art projects. The Public Art Program, an arm of the Department of Cultural Affairs, has operated a gallery space in the Pedway beneath the Cultural Center for several years. Organized by curator Nathan Mason, the gallery is a changeable space, at times serving as a fishbowl artist studio and other times a home for site-specific installations.

Beneath the Chicago Cultural Center, 77 East Randolph

Best of Chicago 2009

Best art exhibit (in the last year or so)

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Hyde Park, Loop No Comments »

Karl Wirsum, “Winsome Works(some),” Chicago Cultural Center

The seminal Chicago artist finally received his due with a lush full-scale retrospective. Wirsum’s bold, graphic paintings, quirky sculptures and puppets of robots, superheroes, villains, snakes and voluptuous women filled the galleries of the Cultural Center with a blaze of color, like a psychedelic freak-show dance party. Opportunities to experience the history of a Chicago art legend shouldn’t be this rare.

Audience Choice
“Speaker Project”
Hyde Park Art Center

Best of Chicago 2007

Best of the Best: Chicago Cultural Center

Culture & Nightlife, Loop No Comments »

Chicago Cultural Center
In a city rich with cultural treasures, you might think we wouldn’t need a city-operation cultural center, but we do. We really do. Start with the building, and its spectacular interiors, including amazing mosaics and the world’s largest Tiffany stained-glass dome. But move onto its contemporary treasures, from the galleries of rotating art exhibits to the singular Museum of Broadcast Communications. Then take in its programming motherlode, from the Dame Myra Hess concerts held upstairs in the Preston Bradley Hall to the International Dinner and a Movie series. And best of all, most exhibits and programs are free.

78 East Washington (312)744-6630

Best of Chicago 2002