Living in Chicago often means talking about it near-constantly—a grand, if not always consistent, tradition. One layer of the conversation is the trumpeting of glorious public accomplishments: the tallest skyscrapers, epic lakefront public works projects, no little plans being made. By the same token, Chicagoans seem to take some pleasure in public failure—the more grandiose and conspicuous the better—whether watching a gangster, a governor, or a sports franchise take the proverbial L. It’s a sacred local activity: if an outsider (usually a New Yorker) tries to get in on the action, Chicagoans circle the wagons.
Between four horn players, a dancing woman throws up her hands and closes her eyes. The performers are in a crowd in the middle of a street illuminated by streetlights, golden shopfront windows, and the stars overhead. Faces look out from windows. A white police officer casts a shifty glance.
Just in time for Día de los Muertos, a colorful exhibition named “Not Forgotten” has opened at East Side art gallery Under the Bridge, featuring the work both of artists who have passed away, and living artists painting their ofrendas—ritual altars honoring deceased people with objects from their lives. Many of the artists, whose mediums include painting, photography, and printmaking, are Chicagoans, and some died as recently as a few months ago.
In his art gallery, which inhabits a small brick house at 64th and Dorchester, originally purchased by his grandfather in 1946, artist William Hill, a co-curator of the Experimental Station showcase “Environmental Concerns,” explained the project’s concept.
The installation “70 Days Behind Inventory” is a jigsaw puzzle of brown and beige vinyl tiles arranged on a raised wooden platform to represent the floor from a corner store in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood. The floor is stained and the image of what appears to be a beverage can is printed on the tiles. A yellow bulb overhead creates a pool of light in the center of this piece by multidisciplinary artist Shadi Habib Allah. This 750-square-foot installation is part of an exhibit entitled “Put To Rights” at the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society gallery (The Ren, colloquially).
When we last profiled Ciera Mckissick, she was putting on fashion shows as part of her residency at the Chicago Art Department and editing AMFM, her online culture magazine, while harboring ambitions of opening an artist collective space in Pilsen. In the two and three-quarter years since then, she made that dream a reality, opening an AMFM storefront gallery on 21st Street that quickly garnered city-wide acclaim. Shortly after this interview aired on SSW Radio in August, Mckissick announced in a Facebook post that disputes with AMFM’s neighbors and landlords have resulted in the gallery being booted out of its space. True to form, it celebrated its tenure with a closing party, and has continued to put on outside events, like the close of its three-part West Side food and music festival FEAST. It has also raised over $1,400 in a fundraiser to secure a new physical space for the collective. This interview has been edited for length and clarity; listen to the full version of this interview that aired on SSW Radio, the Weekly’s radio show and podcast.
On a sunny day in West Englewood, cars zoomed past as a new mural was being laid out on the side of 15th Ward Alderman Raymond Lopez’s office. What started out as a simple blue background took on layers of vibrant blue and purple tones, with dashes of yellow and white for contrast. Every now and then, artists Sam Kirk and Jenny Q. stood back to admire their work and gain perspective on what needed to be added next.
Early in the afternoon on the day of her installation’s opening, Stella Brown is standing by the end of one of the mammoth concrete walls at the site of U.S. Steel’s former South Works plant, on the lakefront at 87th Street. Two local residents approach by bike; they say they’re frustrated that the park district decided to spend money on an artist—from outside of the neighborhood, no less—rather than on other much-needed facilities, like restrooms. Brown acknowledges the problem, says it’s indicative of bureaucracy, and offers that she tried to get a Porta Potty for the opening event. A temporary fix, though, is not what they want.
Once the home of Ebony and Jet magazines, the historic Johnson Publishing Building on South Michigan Avenue is currently being transformed into rental apartments. Meanwhile, the building’s iconic interior fixtures are being shipped out across the city to keep the Black publishing house’s legacy alive.
From the traditional dances to the colorful murals, Little Village is all about art, says Omar Magana. The self-taught sculptor has long been a figure in the neighborhood’s art community. His building on 22nd and Sacramento was home to the grassroots art collective Expresiones Artisticas from 2004 until a fire burnt down the building in 2008. Today, he runs the OPEN Center for the Arts, a space where artists can come together to showcase, refine, and develop their talents. Magana took some time to speak to 90 Days, 90 Voices about the art of La Villita.