Critics' Picks 2006 | Feature | Chicago Reader

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Critics' Picks 2006




My top ten choices acknowledge some exciting trends in Chicago art. One is the new emphasis on Afro-Futurism, which synthesizes traditional designs and media, psychedelic mysticism, current technology, and utopian politics. Then there are the new breeds of artists and curators exploring unusual media, staging "interventions" (often socially committed work created or displayed in public places, not galleries), and exhibiting in individuals' apartments and yards, introducing a welcome spontaneity and vulnerability.

"Pathways to Unknown Worlds" at the Hyde Park Art Center, October 1-January 14, 2007

John Corbett's collection of written and visual artifacts documents the iconography of utopian mystic/jazz auteur Sun Ra, highlighting his stunningly creative, searing artistic and political statements. The excellent auxiliary programs devoted to his legacy should go a ways toward making Afro-Futurism a household word.

Nick Cave: Soundsuits at the Chicago Cultural Center, April 22-July 9

African-inspired rococo costumes for dancers by SAIC fashion department chair Nick Cave constituted the most singularly striking collection of figurative mixed-media sculptures you were likely to see this year without going to Wisconsin to see Tom Evermore's giant scrap-metal ostriches.

D. Denenge Akpem, part of the 12 x 12 New Artists/New Work series at the Museum of Contemporary Art, June 3-July 2

Imaginative Nigerian-born performance, video, installation, and fiber artist D. Denenge Akpem explored her ancestry and femininity in an array of traditional and high-tech media, using imagery drawn from fairy tales and surrealism. Her inspiring, colorful show included fiber-optic jellyfish, chalk wall drawings referencing Italo Calvino, and flower-shaped chairs.

Undergraduate exhibition at SAIC Gallery 2, April 2-14

This annual show should never be overlooked--by dint of sheer volume and energy, there's always fantastic work to be seen. Most of the best items this year involved fake animals.

Sabrina Raaf at Wendy Cooper, April 28-June 3

Sabrina Raaf's altered digital photos of magical interiors combined a blank Ikea aesthetic--empty white rooms with blond-wood floors--and Robert Longo-style figures in gravity-defying poses. Raaf showed some ingenious robotic contraptions as well. Wendy Cooper has exhibited other sexy work this year: the scary wall art of Belgian artists Aline Bouvy and John Gillis in September was cool too.

"Propagation" and Christa Donner at Polvo, October 13-November 4

Curator Sabrina Raaf's "Propagation" consisted of video, sound, and print documentation of work created or exhibited outside the gallery system. Amy Youngs described on video, for example, her creation of sculpted shells for hermit crabs (they don't have their own and rely on castoffs). A minishow by Christa Donner showed she's branching out in her reconceptualizations of the body: she's been photographing performances in which people are wearing her drawings of cut paper, colored pencil, and other media--yarn, paint, glitter.

Version>06 at Iron Studios and elsewhere, April 20-May 7

The Version festival--just over two weeks of installations, events, exhibits, performances, talks, tours, and workshops--emphasizes video, electronics, and other new media and adds preoccupations with activism, partying, and their hybrid offspring, interventions. Signal examples were the "art shanties" originally constructed by the Soap Factory collective for Minnesota ice fishermen, offering activities from karaoke to building pinhole cameras.

"Hot and Ready" by Melinda Fries et al, in public and private spaces around Walnut and Damen, October 1

This was more a one-day street party than a proper show--the antique art term is happening. Highlights included a mobile inflated ball roughly the size of a two-story building, a semifunctional full-scale catapult, a climbing wall constructed from old stuffed jeans, scrounged trophies (including plush Japanese "husband" dolls), and a great potluck spread.

Scott Treleaven at Kavi Gupta, October 20-November 25

Founder of the legendary queer/punk/pagan zine This Is the Salivation Army, Scott Treleaven primarily showed nostalgic-erotic pieces combining picturesque flora and fauna, Victorian morbidity, and hot young satyrs in a mix of watercolor and collage.

California Occidental Museum of Art: COMA 5, July 15

This incarnation of the museum's one-night-only apartment-gallery group show offered a well-coordinated vision of messing with space. Annika Seitz's minimal orange Hello Kitty-ish Ganesh figures, Mike Wolf's Eminent Domain sawhorse legs, and Mindy Rose Schwartz's creeping macrame

lattice were all high points.

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