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Best dance show about a presidential administration

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The Seldoms, “Power Goes”

Some choreographers make movement for movement’s sake, some are inspired by music or an image, some turn to traditional narrative and folklore as subject matter. And then there’s Carrie Hanson. The artistic director of The Seldoms finds her muse in the headlines, history and the pressing issues of the times. Hanson’s new work at the MCA in March sprang from her reading of Robert Caro’s definitive four-volume biography of Lyndon B. Johnson. Hanson collaborated with a team of writers, visual artists, designers and a historian on an evening-length dance theater work on the unlikely subject of a president who used questionable means to achieve noble ends. The result was a fascinating exploration of physicality, language, dominance and power: between individuals, between the individual and the state, between groups and the state. Hanson continues her study of the 1960s American body politic next season with “RockCitizen.”

Best of Chicago 2015

Best curatorial hire of the year

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MCA’s Omar Kholeif

The past year was one of many exits and entrances in Chicago’s professional art world. Among those who arrived, Omar Kholeif rises to the top of new cultural appointments, coming to the Museum of Contemporary Art with an international reputation and an impressive CV of curatorial pursuits. Formerly at Whitechapel Gallery in London, Kholeif has also distinguished himself as a film curator (he founded the UK Arab Film Festival) and a writer (he is the senior editor of Ibraaz, a journal of North African and Middle Eastern visual culture). Suffice it to say, Kholeif will bring a much needed Mideast perspective to the cultural capital of the Midwest.

220 E. Chicago, 312.280.2660,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best exhibition in the last year

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Doris Salcedo at the MCA

Colombian artist Doris Salcedo had been practicing the art of repair for more than thirty years before the MCA’s Madeleine Grynsztejn and Julie Rodrigues Widholm took the curatorial lead in crafting the haunting retrospective that gathered works from 1990 to the very present. Large-scale installations of coffin-sized tables, cement-filled wardrobes and abandoned shoes sewn into the walls conveyed the disturbing trauma of decades of political violence aggressively silenced. Salcedo’s show was a powerful reminder that political art can manifest in formal beauty.

220 E. Chicago, 312.280.2660,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best celebrity art show to bring to Chicago after Bowie at the MCA

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife No Comments »

John Lennon

What’s compelling about the “David Bowie Is” exhibition at the MCA is not necessarily his music, as relevant as it remains these many years later, nor, dear god, his paintings, which rise at times to the level of derivative. Rather it is the entirety of his expression of himself as a public figure, as a pop artist who both absorbed cultural influences and created them simultaneously. But Bowie’s not even in the same league as the late Beatle John Lennon—who was known to doodle an artwork himself (he dropped out of art school for rock ‘n’ roll). No need for us to attempt to make our case for Lennon’s artistry beyond his songcraft; just let a few images play: “More popular than Jesus,” “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” Yoko Ono, John and Yoko’s full frontal nudity on the album cover of “Unfinished Music No. 1:  Two Virgins,” Mark David Chapman. Now imagine.

Audience Choice: Mick Jagger, Bjork (TIE)

Best of Chicago 2014

Best marching-band documentary by the best Chicago artist who is not a Chicago artist

Culture & Nightlife, Streeterville No Comments »

Cauleen Smith at the MCA
For the last two years, Cauleen Smith has been everywhere in Chicago: with teaching gigs at UIC and SAIC, visiting-artist events at Northwestern and UofC, group exhibits at SHoP, and solo shows at Threewalls and the MCA. In her Afrofuturist-inspired installation at the MCA this summer Smith presented a spatially disorienting hall of mirrors and a suite of videos shot in Chicago. One favorite involved a multi-camera shoot that elegantly captured a flashmob-esque intervention on a rainy day in new Chinatown Square where onlookers slowly found the space filled with members of the suburban Rich South High School marching band in full uniform playing a Sun Ra song.

Best of Chicago 2012

Best crowd-sourced event in a museum

Culture & Nightlife, Near North, Pilsen No Comments »

Bring Your Own Beamer at the MCA

BYOB is a potluck for video artists, who contribute to this one-night group show by bringing art and a projector (beamer). Although it first debuted in Chicago at Pilsen’s Kunsthalle New in March, the BYOB event at the MCA in October was meaningful because artists chose the art exhibited in the museum, at least temporarily.

Bring Your Own Beamer

Best of Chicago 2011

Best art exhibit (in the last year or so)

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife, Hyde Park 1 Comment »

Heartland, Smart Museum of Art

If you think Midwestern art is all barn-scapes and hayfork-wielding farmer portraits, “Heartland” is happy to correct the misperception. The exhibition’s curators road-tripped across the flyover states to discover a contemporary Midwestern style, uncovering gender-bending, politics-spewing, concept-driven artists at every turn. “Heartland” was first presented at a Netherlands museum last year in the hopes of spreading the good word about the Midwest.

5550 South Greenwood

Audience choice:
“Take Your Time”
Olafur Eliasson, MCA

Best of Chicago 2009

Best art exhibit (in the last year or so)

Audience Choice, Culture & Nightlife 4 Comments »

“Big Picture: A New View of Painting in Chicago” at Chicago History Museum

The Chicago History Museum was an unlikely venue for hosting the best art exhibit this year, but the museum’s context hammered home the show’s theme—paintings can tell the history of Chicago, from urban planning and political satire, in styles realist, Imagist and all points in between. Curators John Corbett and Jim Dempsey dug deep into the historical archive, exhibiting such rarely seen gems as a mural from the glory-hole days at Gold Coast—one of the city’s earliest gay leather bars—and gave privileged views to the backs of some paintings, revealing secret inscriptions.

Audience choice:
Jeff Koons at MCA

Best of Chicago 2008

Best proof that we’re not in Kansas anymore

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Jeff Koons at the MCA

This year’s Koons retrospective was a major coup for the MCA, generating attendance records while gaining the near-universal respect of the New York media, who had to travel to Chicago to see this important show, since it was not traveling. But it wowed more than the art cognoscenti, as visitors got to duck behind a warning sign to view a “peep show” of sorts in the brazenly graphic work Koons made for his “Made in Heaven” series, which featured the artist and his porn-star then-wife in various states of hard-core action.

Best of Chicago 2008