Six things you didn’t know you missed in Gapers Block

I love writing for Gapers Block. It gives me an excuse to view, think and write about some of the things I love—like theater, art, architecture and design. So here are some things I’ve been writing about recently. You can still catch some of them.

Six Corners dedication of Portage sculpture

The Six Corners Association partnered with the American Indian Center to create a piece of art to celebrate the contributions of Native Americans to the history of the community, which is part of the larger area known as Portage Park. The sculpture titled Portage by artist Ted Sitting Crow Garner is being dedicated at 12 noon Saturday, October 12, at the Six Corners Sears store at the intersection of Cicero, Irving Park and Milwaukee.


Here’s a photo from a slideshow charting the progress of the sculpture.  Garner is shown putting it into position on the west side of the Sears store.  Image courtesy Six Corners Association. 

See my preview here, which includes some of the history of the neighborhood.

In my high school years, I worked at a chain woman’s clothing store on Cicero Avenue across from the Sears store, so I feel a pride of ownership in my old neighborhood.

Even if you miss the dedication, you can drive by and check out the sculpture later.

Hebru Brantley’s The Watch at Pioneer Court

Hebru-TheWatch-GBA collection of brightly colored figures has taken up residence at Pioneer Court Plaza, formerly the site of the Marilyn Monroe figure. They’re part of Chicago Ideas Week and created by Chicago artist Hebru Brantley, who is the Chicago Ideas Week 2013 Artist in Residence. Read about them here. They’ll be in place at least until October 20.

Photo by Kristie Kahns, courtesy Chicago Ideas Week. 

Ukrainian Institute Artists Respond to Genocide exhibit

I wrote recently about the excellent Bauhaus exhibit at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art.  The institute recently unveiled its new exhibit, Artists Respond to Genocide, which enables artists to take a broad look at genocide over the last century. The exhibit is made up of paintings, drawings, photography, sculpture and assemblages by 20 local and international artists. Many of them are really gripping, such as the large brightly colored painting by Mary Porterfield titled Engraved, or the woodcut and intaglio prints by Harold Cohen titled Auschwitz, Baba Yar and Genocide. The exhibit recognizes the Holodomor or secret holocaust in the Ukraine in 1932-33 as well as the appalling list of genocides over time. A chilling list in the back of the exhibit program enumerates 13 of them, with the number of fatalities in each.

UIMA Facade--GB

I wrote a preview of this exhibit for Gapers Block. You can see the exhibit until December 1 at this excellent small museum at 2320 W Chicago Ave.

The image is the Stanley Tigerman-designed facade of the building.

Image courtesy Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art. 

You can tour Wright’s Unity Temple

UnityTempleFront-GBIt’s been some time since formal tours of the landmark Frank Lloyd Wright structure, Unity Temple in Oak Park, have been available. Up until now, the only way to see the interior of this innovative building was if you knew someone or by chance went to a program there. (I’ve done both and even happily went to several services with friends. Even an avowed atheist will do anything to see the interior of a famous religious structure.)

But now the FLW Preservation Trust is offering docent-led tours again. Get more information here.

Image courtesy Frank Lloyd Wright Preservation Trust. 

Terminus at Interrobang Theatre Project

I’ve seen and reviewed many plays in the last month, but one of the very best was this amazing three-actor blend of monologues produced by Interrobang Theatre Project at the Athenaeum.  Here’s how my Gapers Block review started:

“Mark O’Rowe is one of the new generation of Irish playwrights whose work was first seen in the 1990s. In Terminus, being presented by Interrobang Theatre Project, he displays his fascination with language and his passion for words. Terminus isn’t so much a play as a series of stories, intertwined in monologues by three characters, known only as A, B and C. Their stories, set in the streets of Dublin, begin separately, and gradually become more connected, until they are finally merged in a glorious fantasy of blood, sweat, tears and sex.”

Truly, this was one of the finest nights of theater I’ve seen lately. Unfortunately, the play closed last week.

 The Benchmark at Step Up Productions

I also reviewed this play about a well-read homeless man and although the lead actor’s performance is excellent, the play as a whole was somewhat flat.  I wanted desperately to love it, but couldn’t. But tastes vary and other viewers might well enjoy it. Read my review here and then check out other reviews here.


Gapers Block recap: Art and a little more

Here are a few events I’ve been writing about recently on Gapers Block to pique your interest in current and future art events in Chicago.

Art Around Town

 Borders, 26 Icelandic Sculptures, in Solti Park


Next time you’re near the Art Institute, meander south to Solti Park at the southeast corner of Jackson and Michigan. You’ll find these pairs of figures – one iron, one steel – that seem to want to talk to you or make you sit down and reflect. And you can sit down next to one of them and look into his eyes. My friend Linnea and I had a conversation with one of them. The Icelandic artist, Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir, modeled the figures after her oldest son. Read my article.

Expo Chicago to Display Art from 120 Galleries

The massive annual art exhibition known as Expo Chicago will return next month with displays from 120 galleries at the Festival Hall at Navy Pier. There will also be contributions from other organizations and a citywide week of arts and culture called Expo Art Week. Included in the week’s activities will be museum and gallery exhibits, music, theater and dance performances. The exhibition is open for public viewing September 20-22. See my Gapers Block story for more info.

Constantly Consuming Culture to Showcase Work of Little-Known Chicago Artists

It may not attract curators and collectors from around the world, but this exhibit September 7-13 at 222 N. DesPlaines St. should be very intriguing. It will show the work of eight local artists, who work in painting, sculpture, found art and video art. Who knows? You may fall in love with a piece of art that you can actually afford to buy. Because the expenses of mounting the show are funded by crowdfunding, the artists will receive 100 percent of any sales at the show. Read about it here.


Strange Bedfellows Theatre Invents Van Gogh

Strange Bedfellows, another one of our creatively crazy storefront theaters, just finished a run of Inventing Van Gogh, an imperfect but intriguing story about Vincent Van Gogh’s rumored last painting, another of his self-portraits. Strange Bedfellows’ motto is “Redefining mischief,” which makes me want to see what their next play promises. See my Inventing Van Gogh review.

And a movie 

American Made Movie Tells Story of Manufacturing Decline, Revival


This 82-minute documentary opens this Friday and runs for a week at AMC Loew’s 600 N Michigan. It repeats the familiar story of US manufacturing’s decline over the last 30-40 years and suggests a rather naïve solution:  Buy local, buy American and that will build a new domestic manufacturing base. The story is told with some compelling personal stories and anecdotes about half a dozen businesses, large and small, that changed their practices to survive. Buy local and buy American are practices that some of us can follow. But the big-box stores sell lowest-cost products made overseas and those are the products that many American families can afford. So this film, while well made, is “preaching to the choir.” Read my review.

Image of stars and stripes jewelry by Merrily Made Jewelry, courtesy of the producers; see review for the jewelry story. 

The art of fashion: Punk, Impressionism, Ebony

Three important exhibits this summer are threading art, fashion and social issues into fascinating museum experiences. I keep trying to decide that one or another is my favorite but each one is equally discerning and compelling in its own way.

Punk rules

I wrote recently about seeing the exhibit Punk: Chaos to Couture at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Of course, I’m tempted to say this is my favorite of the three because I love punk rock and its alienated, disruptive, DIY and disheveled nature. Punk, especially Brit punk, was critiquing the evils of society in the 1970s—the ones that we see even more vividly today. Poverty, economic and educational inequality, and the evils of the establishment.

cbgbbathroom2Most especially, one of my favorite bands of all time, The Clash, is represented in the exhibit by a quote from its late lamented frontman Joe Strummer, explaining what the band wore: “We didn’t have the backing of the Sex boutique (like the Sex Pistols) so we rented a warehouse in Camden Town and painted it. We got all covered in paint….”

Some of my favorite things about the exhibit were the facsimile of the bathroom at CBGB, the famous punk club on the Bowery; and the DIY Bricolage section, which used trash materials in costuming. The exhibit was intended as an immersive experience with almost-loud music, music videos and other multimedia examples of the period. (Photo copyright Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

From punk to Paris

Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity at the Art Institute of Chicago is an elegant tour of the fashions and social customs of the late 19th century as displayed in impressionist paintings from the collections of the Art Institute, the Metropolitan Museum and Musée d’Orsay in Paris, the three museums that organized the exhibit. The exhibit is highlighted with gowns similar to those worn in the paintings displayed and properly accessorized with footwear, gloves and chapeaus. The exhibit takes us from the elaborate, fussy, long-trained gowns that required corsets and cautious walking to day gowns and walking ensembles that freed the 19th-century woman from some of the strictures of corset, bustle and fabric. (Photo courtesy Art Institute of Chicago.)

The-Parisienne_360Museum legends and signage describe the changes in styles and social customs that accompanied and, indeed, enabled the fashion changes. Other displays show period examples of accessories such as fans, lorgnettes, jewelry, hats and footwear.

We can also see examples of fashion magazines and catalogs with announcements of the openings of important new fashion emporiums in Paris, including Le Bon Marché, La Samaritaine and Printemps.

The Art Institute has an ongoing series of lectures (some are members-only) about the exhibit and the period. They are free and provide invaluable insights to enhance your enjoyment of the exhibit. See the Art Institute calendar for information.

The world’s largest traveling fashion show

Chicago has another stunning exhibit of art and fashion at the Chicago History Museum. Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of the Ebony Fashion Fair runs until January 5, 2014.

feature-exhibitionI reviewed this exhibit for Gapers Block and you can read my article here. The exhibit is a gorgeous display of almost 70 of the 8,000 gowns and ensembles from the costume collection of the Johnson Publishing Company.

The Ebony Fashion Fair exhibit presents the history and style of the traveling fashion show that began in 1958, brought visibility to African-American designers and models, and helped Chicago-based Johnson Publishing Company reach larger audiences.

It’s a stunning exhibit of fashion and history and shows how the fashion fair recognized and encouraged changes in socioeconomic and elite status for African-American women. The fashion fair was produced and directed by Eunice Johnson, whose husband was John H Johnson, the visionary founder of Johnson Publishing, publisher of Ebony and Jet magazines.

The exhibit shows the original garments by designers such as Yves St. Laurent, Oscar de la Renta, Pierre Cardin, Emanuel Ungaro, Christian Lacroix, and Patrick Kelly, on stunning African-American mannequins. The garments are sleek, dramatic, vibrantly colorful and often exotic. The exhibit also tells the story of Eunice Johnson’s persistence in gaining access to the fashions she wanted to show (cash helps) and how she brought high fashion events to African-American audiences. More than 5,000 fashion shows in 180 cities all over the US were produced as charitable events, raising more than $55 million for civil rights projects and scholarships.

While you’re at the history museum, you can also still see the Vivian Maier exhibit that I wrote about here. It runs through January 5, 2014.

Two theater reviews, one inspired by Bruce Springsteen

Two new theater reviews for your consideration. Both are excellent examples of why Chicago is such a great theater town.  Homecoming 1972 only runs through this weekend but you can see Mine until August 11.

Homecoming 1972 at Chicago Dramatists

Chicago Dramatists is a fine, playwright-oriented theater company with a comfy small space at 1105 W Chicago Ave.  Homecoming 1972 is a riveting play about the after-effects of the Vietnam war and its impact on those who served and those who stayed at home.  As I note in my Gapers Block review, about halfway into the play I realized that it was based on the Bruce Springsteen song, “Highway Patrolman,” from the acoustic 1982 album, Nebraska.  Frank, Joe and Maria? Those are the characters in the story Springsteen tells in that amazing song. Here are the lyrics, a summary of the play.

You’re probably thinking, “She’s obsessing again. Nancy thinks everything in life links back to Bruce Springsteen.” Well, I do think that. But in fact, the playwright Robert Koon is known to be a Springsteen fan too. I talked to some cast and crew members after the show and they confirmed that.

SPRINGSTEEN_NEBRASKA_5X5_site-500x500The Nebraska album is  a mournful record of  life in the late 1970s. Except for a few songs like “Atlantic City” and “Open All Night,” the album is basically a series of stories about downtrodden, lonely characters.  Springsteen recorded it in his bedroom on a tape recorder, intending it to be a demo to be released with a full E Street Band treatment. But his manager convinced him to release it as his first acoustic album. Its initial reception was lukewarm but in the years since, it has been acknowledged as one of his finest albums.

Chicago’s Tympanic Theatre Company produced Deliver Us From Nowhere last year, a series of 10 short plays based on the 10 songs on Nebraska. It was an interesting attempt but less than successful theatrically.

You can read my review of Homecoming 1972 here. I strongly recommend it.

Mine at The Gift Theatre

The Gift Theatre performs in a tiny storefront on the northwest side.  It’s a theater that I’ve been meaning to go to, since its work always gets outstanding reviews. I finally did that this week and reviewed a play called Mine that combines contemporary fears about parenting with reversion to medieval folklore.  It’s a very intense and haunting play, made more intense by the small performance space.  I often think when i see a play like this in a tiny space how much different it would seem if performed on a proscenium stage with a great deal of distance between players and viewers.

Read my review and try to see Mine — you have about six weeks to get there.

Moving north: A theater director’s odyssey

My newest article on is about a theater director who moved to Chicago from Charlotte, NC, to find a more challenging and dynamic theater scene.  As you may know, I have a strong North Carolina connection. I’ve been there many times to spend time with my son, his beautiful lawyer wife and their two darling cherubs. I’ve spent  time mostly in Greensboro but also in Winston-Salem, Durham, Raleigh and Charlotte. I know a little about the arts scene in Charlotte from my time with the giant law firm that has an office there. And I’ve been to a whole bunch of Bruce Springsteen concerts in North Carolina since 2002. (Greensboro is one of my favorite places to see Bruce; the audiences there are great!)

jimyost BareBones2I met Jim Yost, the director, when I attended his current production, Orange Flower Water, at the Raven Theatre a few weeks ago.  (The play is a co-production of Jim’s company, Barebones Theatre Group, with his new Chicago company, Interrobang Theatre Project.) You can see a link to my review on the right.  I thought his move to Chicago from Charlotte might make an interesting feature for Gapers Block, the website about everything Chicago.  So Jim and I had a good conversation recently in my office away from my home office, a Panera Cafe, and the story, in interview form, went up today.

It’s been years since I recorded an interview, transcribed it and turned it into a story. (I did that a lot earlier in my career.) It’s not a quick process, as any writer will tell you. But it’s a rewarding one — and getting the subject’s voice and style just right in the interview is important.

So here’s the story of Jim Yost and his move north to Chicago.  His closing remark, which I didn’t put in the story? “I really love Chicago, except for the winter.” I told him he would get used to it. That’s why stores sell mittens, earmuffs, scarves and big puffy jackets.

(Photo courtesy of Interrobang Theatre Project.)

Smudge, a parent’s bad dream

Ka-Tet Theatre is presenting a very interesting, dark and challenging play at the Athenaeum. Smudge by Rachel Axler is a 90-minute odyssey from ultrasound to reality. Here’s the beginning of my review at

It’s a prospective parent’s worst nightmare: Will our baby be perfect? A missing finger or toe and many congenital diseases can be adapted to or treated, but in Smudge, Ka-Tet Theatre asks us to think about how we would deal with an even more dramatic birth–an infant that may not be quite human.

smudge-Ka-Tet-GB“This thing doesn’t need a mother,” Colby (Stevie Chadwick Lambert) says midway through this one-act, 90-minute play. “It’s got tubes.”

— *** —

Please read the review here.  And check out this play for a rewarding evening of theater from one of our interesting small theater companies.

Stevie Chadwick Lambert (with Mr Limbs) and Scott Allen Luke. Photo by Andrew Cioffi