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Our top six visual arts picks for fall

Son of Blaque Lyte, SOFA Chicago, National Hellenic Museum, and more

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"Son of Blaque Lyte"

For years I've had a Keith Herzik screen-printed poster on my wall—an image of a tiny toilet defecating on a nude, booted torso sweating yellow droplets and attached by a mottled pipe-thing to a kidney-shaped colostomy bag containing a pack of cigarettes. It's drawn in Herzik's signature style, all wavery lines and fucked-up rendering. The toilet seat seems to be floating a half inch above a pile of shit while the torso extends up impossibly. And where's the guy's other leg? Even after a decade, I get a sense of sublime, vertiginous nausea every time I look at it.

All of which is to say that Herzik is one of Chicago's hidden wonders. A little Gary Panter, a little Fort Thunder, a little Hairy Who, and a lot punk rock, Herzik's woozy seventh-grader-repeatedly-dropped-on-his-head-while-tripping-on-acid drawing style has many neighbors but no real peers. With Chris Kerr, Paul Nudd—another local treasure—is curating a retrospective of more than 300 Herzik works spanning over 15 years. Titled "Son of Blaque Lyte," it includes prints, posters, record sleeves, drawings, and an apocalyptically overcooked pizza.

Lots of negative things have been said about the Chicago arts scene, but a city that can celebrate an artist as gloriously bizarre as Herzik can't be all bad. —Noah Berlatsky 10/2-1/9, Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell, 773-324-5520, hydeparkart.org. Free

SOFA Chicago

This will make it 18 years for the big crafts fair on Navy Pier. SOFA (aka the Sculptural Objects and Functional Art show) has come down in size from the good old days before the economy crashed, when the number of participating galleries reportedly topped 100. As we go to press, the fair's website lists a comparatively modest 58 exhibitors, with another 11 joining in under the aegis of SOFA's sister event, the Intuit Show of Folk & Outsider Art. But that may be an advantage from a visitor's point of view, making it less exhausting to negotiate the aisles of blown glass, metalwork, ceramics, turned wood, jewelry, and sui generis items like Big Foot by sculptor Beverly Mayeri (represented by Chicago's Perimeter Gallery)—an outsize clay foot and shin, sans body, with simple, hallucinatory images etched into its black coating. More that's hard to classify, like drawings by outsider artist Joseph Yoakum, can be found among the Intuit galleries. There'll be special, thematic exhibits and lectures, too. Of course, the main business of SOFA is to put dealers in touch with collectors. The truly best part, though, may be walking around collecting sights. —Tony Adler Preview Thu 11/3, 7-9 PM, $50. Then Fri-Sun 11/4-11/6, Festival Hall, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand, sofaexpo.com, $15, three-day pass $25.

"Somewhere Between Right and Wrong There Is Nothing Left"

This spring's MDW Fair in Bridgeport was the most exciting survey of independent galleries and projects since the Stray Shows of the early aughts (and there's another coming up October 21-23, at the Geolofts, 3636 S. Iron). Among the dizzying array of works there, the one that stuck out for me was Matias Cuevas's small square of beige carpet framed by golden metallic adhesive strips—a swatch of exactly the sort of thing we had at the house I grew up in. With beer can rings impressed into it and a variety of stains, it made a quick equivalence between desiccated suburban floor coverings and a Jackson Pollock canvas. That piece caused me to reflect that the truest repository of aesthetic experiences may be the traces of our private spaces that come to reflect our inner world. Cuevas's fall show, "Somewhere Between Right and Wrong There Is Nothing Left," features more pieces of stained, torched, and texturized carpet. —Bert Stabler 11/4-12/23, Alderman Exhibitions, 350 N. Ogden, #450E, 312-208-9001, aldermanexhibitions.com. Free

National Hellenic Museum

The grand opening of the National Hellenic Museum is scheduled for December 8, but you can get an early peek inside the new $15 million, 40,000-square-foot facility. "Soft opening" events are open to the public, and the museum will begin holding regular hours November 8. Pre-opening-day visitors will be able to glimpse two major exhibits taking shape in the building's 10,000 square feet of gallery space. The temporary show "Gods, Myths, and Mortals" will offer a taste of life in ancient Greece, complete with cyclops cave and a 12-foot Trojan horse; a permanent exhibit, "In Search of Home: From Myth to Modern Day," is designed to answer the question, "How did we get from there to Chicago?" The museum will also have a research library, oral-history center, and rooftop event space with sweeping views of the city. Director of external affairs Toula Georgakopoulos notes that despite all those Greek treasures in major art institutions, this will be "the first museum of its kind outside of Greece." —Deanna Isaacs Beginning 11/8: Tue 10 AM-8 PM, Wed-Fri 10 AM-5 PM, Sat-Sun 11 AM-5 PM, National Hellenic Museum, 333 S. Halsted, 312-655-1234, nationalhellenicmuseum.org, $7-$10.

Iain Baxter&: Works 1958-2011

The name "Iain Baxter&" begs the question, "& what?" And that seems to be how 74-year-old, Ontario-based conceptual artist Iain Baxter wanted people to respond when he affixed an ampersand to the end of his name in 2005. Inspired by another Canadian known for big concepts, Marshall McLuhan, Baxter& has made a career out of being both medium and message for an ongoing exploration of artistic identity. At one point, Baxter& and his then-wife Ingrid made art as N.E. Thing Company—a functioning artwork/business corporation that sent an expedition to the Arctic and sponsored a youth hockey team. (Were the Baxters "intentionally corrupting the profitable business of hockey into a conceptual art project," as one curator suggested?)

The Museum of Contemporary Art's "Iain Baxter&: Works 1958-2011" will try to pin down what he's been up to with his wide-ranging projects. One common thread is a fascination with found objects. "When I go to Value Village it's like being at an art and design show," Baxter& told the Calgary Herald in 2009. His appropriated objects aren't always as meaning-averse as, say, Marcel Duchamp's urinal—an array of stuffed animals impaled on auto mufflers is called Zero Emissions. But more often than not, you get the feeling that the thing Baxter& is trying to say is only that he's saying it. —Robert Loerzel 11/5-1/15, Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago, 312-280-2660, mcachicago.org, free with admission.

A Golden Spider-Silk Textile

Are humans masters of the universe or merely one species among equals? Just because we can harness and control, should we? These thoughts came to mind as I pondered a yellow piece of fabric at the Art Institute. Twelve feet long and four-and-a-half feet wide, the material was hand woven from silken threads produced by the Golden Orb spider of Madagascar. Starting in 2003, female spiders were collected with long poles. Then their legs were bound as they were placed in cones and "silked" as a cow is milked. The effort, led by textile experts Simon Peers and Nicholas Godley, required five years, 80 people, and the silk of a million Golden Orbs. At the AIC one evening in August, visitors called the fringed gossamer result "beautiful," perhaps because of its unlikely origin. Why was I uneasy? Because it was an unnatural use of another animal's means of survival? The spiders were released after silking; I'm sure they tolerated their encounter with humans better than the pig whose heart valve sits inside the body of a friend or the bovine creature whose hide became my fanny pack. —S.L. Wisenberg Through 11/6, Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan, 312-443-3600, artic.edu, free with museum admission.

Read our profile of artist John Preus or check out the rest of our Fall Arts coverage

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