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Best visiting artist

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Agnès Varda at Logan Center Exhibitions

This year, the small and relatively new gallery venue at the University of Chicago’s Logan Center snagged a major victory with the weeklong visit of Agnès Varda, a central figure of the French New Wave whose experimental film, photography and installations have inspired generations of image-makers worldwide. Varda gave a public lecture and attended screenings of her work throughout the week, offering unprecedented access to students and the public. Other Chicago institutions would do well to follow the Logan’s example of pooling resources to bring important influencers for extended engagements.

915 E. 60th, 773.702.2787,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best South Side artist lecture series

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Open Practice Committee, DOVA at the University of Chicago

Not to be outdone by their North Side counterpart, the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts runs the powerhouse Open Practice Committee, which brings artists, curators and other intellectuals to the South Side. This year, international guests like Jan Verwoert, Thomas Hirschhorn, Ariella Azoulay and Hito Steyerl joined the OPC roster alongside impressive local names like William Pope.L, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung and Jessica Stockholder.

Best of Chicago 2015

Best new University of Chicago art space

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Neubauer Collegium Exhibitions

The amount of money the University of Chicago spends on its arts programming might total more than the GDP of some developing nations, but that hasn’t stopped the South Side institution from creating yet another art space inside its pre-existing Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society. Headed up by former Aspen Art Museum curator Jacob Proctor, the Neubauer’s exhibitions take place in the very ungalleryesque parlor of a former seminary, lending its very formal exhibitions the charmingly displaced feel of an alternative art space.

5701 S. Woodlawn, 773.702.6030,

Best of Chicago 2015

Best location for the Obama Presidential Library

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University of Chicago

Eliminate the finalist  locations in New York—why’s it even on the list?—and Hawaii—who would hang out in a library when the beach is right there?—leaving two spots in Chicago. The egalitarian argument for UIC, as a public school versus the elite UChicago is compelling but, if that was the driving factor, Chicago State University should not have been eliminated. For above all else, this thing belongs on the South Side, where the Obamas live and work (when not doing, you know, that presidency thing), where Michelle grew up, and where the need for economic development and a locus of African-American pride is most imperative.

Audience Choice: University of Chicago

Best of Chicago 2014

Best new venue for experimental arts

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The Gray Center Lab
The former studio of powerhouse Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft has been converted into the Gray Center Lab on the campus of the University of Chicago. The venue is a think tank for artists and scholars to produce small exhibitions or performances. It is like a studio for collaborations. So far, many of the programs have focused on Chicago-specific topics, making the Gray Center Lab a much-needed incubator of the local creative culture.
929 East 60th, (773)834-1936,

Best of Chicago 2013

Best quiet museum space with a striking collection of contemporary art

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The Smart Museum of the University of Chicago

One problem with world-class museums is that they are tourist destinations and crammed with people. The Smart Museum has an exquisite small contemporary collection including a Nancy Spero, a Sylvia Sleigh and H.C. Westermann’s illustrated letters. Asian and European objects, drawings, prints and paintings, modern American and European works and traveling exhibitions are their forte. There is usually almost no one around; you can hear yourself think as you contemplate the work. A tiny bookstore/coffee bar with a case full of jewelry (no pressure from museum merchandising) sits across the foyer from a huge abstracted black-and-white landscape.

5550 South Greenwood

Best of Chicago 2010

Best place to live out “A River Runs Through It”

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Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters

The late University of Chicago professor Norman Maclean’s masterful semi-autobiographical novella depicted a spiritual euphoria in fly fishing the waters of the West, almost enough to make you want to pick up and head out there. Except you’d have to live in Montana. But you don’t need to, thanks to Chicago Fly Fishing Outfitters, a large store selling apparel, tackle, flies and all the other gear needed to hit the waters. Plus they arrange destination travel, either nearby or far off, and even offer lessons in how to tie a fly. “In my family, there was no clear division between religion and fly fishing,” Maclean wrote. And now there’s no excuse not to go to “church.”

1279 North Clybourn

Best of Chicago 2009

Best bar to pick up a molecular biologist (with patents)

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Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap
This is a tough call since the city has become one of the world’s centers for biotech research. Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap is near the site of the University of Chicago’s $100-million-plus nanotechnology laboratory now rising near 55th Street. Practice your opening lines before you head in. We suggest something like this: “Let’s build a relationship atom by atom and self-replicate.” Or not.

1172 East 55th (773)643-5516

Best of Chicago 2002

Best of the Best: Aruns

Albany Park, Food & Drink No Comments »

Arun Sampanthavivat came to Chicago for graduate study at the University of Chicago; he stayed to create America’s finest Thai restaurant, a must-stop on every culinary tour of town. No menu will be presented; instead your waiter will quiz you on your preferences, and then bring you twelve courses prepared accordingly. With a fixed-price of $85, expect to spend more than $100 a head after wine, tips and taxes. But the sensuous decadence and endless flow of dishes will leave your taste buds in a state of euphoric stupor for weeks to follow.

4156 North Kedzie (773)539-1909

Best of Chicago 2002

Best of the Best: Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap & Liquor Store

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Jimmy’s Woodlawn Tap & Liquor Store
Where else can a Nobel laureate in economics hoist a few with both a University of Chicago student studying Marx and a blue-collar South Sider? Since 1948, this 55th Street institution has served both the likes of Saul Bellow and Margaret Mead as well as Hyde Park lifers who come to soak up the stimulating atmosphere that can mirror a populist Algonquin Round Table. Although shined up a bit when renovated in 2000 after owner Jimmy Wilson’s death a year earlier, “Jimmy’s” is still the smoky sticky hole-in-the-wall of legend.

1172 East 55th (773)643-5516

Best of Chicago 2002