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Best of Chicago 2008: Art & Architecture

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ART & ARCHITECTURE

Best Gallery

Reader's Choice: Roots & Culture

Roots & Culture is noteworthy for both what it is and what it isn't. It is a centrally located storefront space with regular hours and good lighting—not to mention exceptional food at gallery openings, thanks to director and part-time chef Eric May. It's also a noninstitutional, nonprofit gallery with a community focus and a national scope. It doesn't have icky blue-chip-collector aspirations or host embarrassing shows by hack interior-design artists, but neither is it furnished with dirty couches and a keg of Old Style. Young artists create immersive installations here, featuring everything from vivid paintings and collages to huge plush animals, photocopied libraries, giant drums, and melted gelatin. There are lots of wonderful free events, including an artist-based film-and-video series curated by Alexander Stewart. With the forgivable exception of one lackluster Columbia College Book & Paper Center grad exhibit, I have yet to see a mediocre show in this space. a1034 N. Milwaukee, 773-235-8874, rootsandculturecac.org. —Bert Stabler

Readers' Choice: Intuit and Las Manos (tie)

a756 N. Milwaukee, 312-243-9088, art.org; 5220 N. Clark, 773-728-8910, lasmanosgallery.com.

Best Emerging Artist

Reader's Choice: Gabriel Mejia

At 32, Mejia is just starting to build a substantive body of work—now that he's gone half-time in his day job, teaching art at Jones College Prep in the South Loop. His raw portraits and disturbing street scenes document specific moments in his life. He paints estranged friends, agitated crowds, ex-lovers, or his wife, giving his works telling names; a portrait of his wife wearing an accusatory expression is titled I Draw Just Enough to Not Get Yelled at by My Wife, while a drawing of a downtrodden throng is called I've Been Really Hard on People Lately. Mejia explains that his works "are visual journal entries that dissect my relationships... confront my emotional baggage... and address my feelings of inadequacy." They're also visually spellbinding. Mejia is just starting to get noticed in galleries (his work was recently featured in a two-man show at Vespine Gallery) and exhibit in juried shows (including Around the Coyote this October). a gabrielmejia.com. —Lisa Skolnik

Readers' Choice: Scott Fishman

aAt the Fountain Square Art Festival, downtown Evanston, 6/28-6/29; Magnificent Mile Art Festival, Pioneer Court, south of 435 N. Michigan, 7/11-7/13; and Summer on Southport, 3700 N. Southport, 7/19-7/20; 773-225-0725, fishmanphotography.com

Best Public Artwork

Reader's Choice: Living 2007

I first saw it at night, its winding, spiraling vein of mirror shards glittering from the north wall of the Lake Shore Drive underpass at Bryn Mawr. Created last summer by Tracy Van Duinen and a team that included 29 "youth artists," this 185-foot mosaic tribute to Edgewater employs some of the usual iconography of community-made public art: the clump of characteristic buildings, the spreading tree, the el train, the noble quotes. But Edgewater's proximity to, well, the edge of the water also gave Van Duinen a chance to connect the piece to images and rhythms of Lake Michigan. A bicyclist pedals toward birds rising above a tai chi practitioner gesturing in the direction of a child with bucket and shovel, who may yet discover the trilobite in the corner. And the whole rolls like waves. That watery pulse together with a playful use of color and texture make this an extraordinary work. A companion mosaic goes up on the south wall this summer. —Tony Adler

Readers' Choice: Cloud Gate

aAT&T Plaza, Millennium Park, 312-742-1168, millenniumpark.org.

Best Art Classes for Amateurs

Readers' Choice: Lillstreet Art Center

a4401 N. Ravenswood, 773-769-4226, lillstreet.com.

Best Building

Reader's Choice: Monadnock Building

Is there a building anywhere in the world quite like Burnham and Root's 1893 Monadnock? In developer Peter Brooks, architect John Wellborn Root had a client who held tight to a dollar. Brooks wanted a skyscraper, but an all-steel frame was too expensive. Excess ornament not only cost money but accumulated dirt and pigeons. Root obliged with a vengeance. The Monadnock has no applied ornament—the building's form is the ornament. From a base of brick bearing walls more than six feet thick, the facades curve inward, then outward again at the top. The Monadnock abhors a right angle. Its bay windows don't jut but gently swell. Though the skin is brick, it's more continuous and organic than a glass curtain wall. Root created a structure both monumental and plastic; it would be a century before architects like Frank Gehry and Greg Lynn would begin to catch up with him. a 53 W. Jackson, monadnockbuilding.com. —Lynn Becker

Readers' Choice: Wrigley Building

a 400-410 N. Michigan.

Best Building Built This Century

Reader's Choice: Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies

You don't have to be Jewish to appreciate this dazzling Krueck & Sexton-designed building, which opened to the public last December. For starters, anyone can savor its glittering facade, made of 756 glass panels set in diamond-shaped projections. It brings new spirit and substance to a somber brick-and-masonry stretch of South Michigan. It also invites you to see what's behind that pretty face, and doesn't disappoint there either. The lobby features an architecturally pleasing three-story atrium, while the second-story Wolfgang Puck cafe offers panoramic views and a sky garden on the tenth floor—open weather permitting—has even better ones. a610 S. Michigan, 312-322-1700, spertus.edu, ksarch.com. —Lisa Skolnik

Readers' Choice: Pritzker Pavilion

aMillennium Park, west of Columbus Drive at Randolph, 312-742-1168, millenniumpark.org.

Best Dead Architect

Reader's Choice: Louis Sullivan

Lieber Meister (beloved master)—that's what Frank Lloyd Wright called Louis Sullivan. As a very young man working at the firm of Adler and Sullivan, Wright was present as Sullivan forged the idea of an American architecture—not phony-baloney recycled antiquity but designs for democracy, strong as steel yet as individual in character as the dense foliage of Sullivan's ornament for the Carson Pirie Scott building. The Auditorium building is Sullivan's monument, rock solid and confident, with interiors to expand the spirit and a theater whose gorgeous design and generous scale aim to draw the elite and the laborer together to bask in its golden glow. —Lynn Becker

Readers' Choice: Frank Lloyd Wright

Best Living Architect

Reader's Choice: Helmut Jahn

The splashy designs that rocketed Jahn to stardom in the 1980s (and earned him the nickname Flash Gordon) are firmly in his past, supplanted by work that shows a new kind of star quality: the brilliance to fuse exquisitely pure forms with technologically innovative engineering and materials. Though Jahn is known for his skyscrapers and for public works that incorporate dazzling public spaces, his most recent local projects are residential buildings, each serving a drastically different population. His State Street Village at IIT is spacious, open student housing; his Near North Apartments in Lincoln Park bring high design and green features (solar thermal collectors and rooftop wind turbines) to low-income housing; and the crystalline luxury condo tower receiving finishing touches at 600 N. Fairbanks in Streeterville is already a clear standout in an increasingly busy setting. a murphyjahn.com. —Lisa Skolnik

Readers' Choice: Helmut Jahn

Best Architecture Tour

Reader's Choice: Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise

The Chicago Architecture Foundation offers more than 80 tours, but the granddaddy of them all—and still flat out the best architectural tour in any city anywhere—is the famous CAF river cruise. If you've only got 90 minutes in Chicago, or 90 minutes to live, and especially if it's summer and the sky's blue, this is where you want to spend them. Board at the southeast corner of the Michigan Avenue Bridge (at Wacker, look for the blue awning) and grab a seat on the top deck. The river's a Y-shaped gallery, with the spectacular results of more than two centuries of building and design frenzy—from Fulton House to Trump Tower—on display. Volunteer guides, survivors of a docent boot camp as rigorous as some graduate programs, provide an engaging nonstop account of how a swamp on the prairie became the birthplace of the skyscraper and a canvas for many of the world's greatest architects. It runs from May to late November; book in advance (it regularly sells out) and don't confuse the CAF boat with commercial competitors. aTickets at the dock; at CAF's ArchiCenter, 224 S. Michigan; or through Ticketmaster, 312-902-1500; $28 weekdays, $30 weekends and holidays, 312-922-3432, architecture.org. —Deanna Isaacs

Readers' Choice: Chicago Architecture Foundation river cruise

Best Prairie School Structure Not Designed by Frank Lloyd Wright

Reader's Choice: The former Cornell Store and Flats

Its Grand Crossing neighborhood is rough and industrial, and Dumpsters litter the vacant lot next door (marked by a faded sign that reads, "God Loves You, Brunt Bros. Transfer.") But the former Cornell Store and Flats, a small gem designed by Walter Burley Griffin in 1908, survives. It deserves better: Ignore the tall, black, spiked metal fence and imagine an uninterrupted strip of glass where the three large glass block windows are now. Notice how the cornice seems to float over the roof line, just above a succession of strong Prairie-style piers. The rear elevation is a bonus, a rich interplay of openings and projections centered on an arched entrance that simultaneously subverts and enriches the linear bias of the building's composition. Then close your eyes. You may sense the spirit of the Chicago of a century past—a place that still seemed freshly minted, where even an unexceptional residential neighborhood like this once was might claim its share of grace. a1232 E. 75th. —Lynn Becker

Readers' Choice: Schurz High School

a3601 N. Milwaukee, schurzhs.org.

Best Building for Wandering Around in Before Security Asks What You're Doing There

Reader's Choice: Lane Technical High School

You don't have to wander very far to be bowled over by the stunning WPA and progressive-era murals at this sprawling north-side high school—66 in all. As Heather Becker, CEO of the Chicago Conservation Center and author of Art for the People, points out, "Seven of them... a particularly enchanting series celebrating Native American life done in 1913... are installed right in the first floor lobby." So just pretend you're going to the front office. And try not to miss my favorite: the showstopping 40-panel series called The States, originally produced for the General Motors Pavilion at the 1933-'34 Century of Progress Exposition. It's distributed throughout the school's first floor, and it will blow your mind. a2501 W. Addison, 773-534-5400, lanetech.org. —Lisa Skolnik

Readers' Choice: The Rookery

a209 S. LaSalle.

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