Imagine if high-end design store Luminaire (301 W Superior St) were clearing out its warehouse, selling prototypes and out-of-production furniture at deeply discounted prices. You better come quick, because this is actually happening at the under-the-radar pop-up shop Luminaire X. Located on the second floor of Luminaire's River North showroom, it hosts a reception Thursday 21, 5–8pm, with Madison and Rayne, a specialized, chef-based grocery delivery service, and Popcorn Asylum, an offbeat popcorn vendor and outsider art gallery. Read more after the jump.
"Welcome to the Ebony Fashion Fair…Audrey is my name and fashion is my game," greets Audrey Smaltz, the show's legendary commentator from 1970–1977, via a recording at the entrance to "Inspiring Beauty: 50 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair." The Chicago History Museum's latest exhibition is a tribute to the Johnson Publishing Company's traveling charity fashion show established in 1958 by director-producer Eunice W. Johnson, wife of publisher John H. Johnson, who founded Ebony and Jet magazines. The iconic city-trotting event introduced the world of haute couture to everyday black people in the U.S. and raised millions of dollars for various organizations.
Much like Parisian designer Tilmann Grawe's featured cocktail dress of bead-capped rods covered in fabric and attached to a hand-carved buffalo harness, Smaltz's address is dramatic and spunky. Her prelude is a good precursor for what lies ahead inside the 7,000-square-foot space, and matches the Fair's well-known theatrics—exaggerated hip-swaying catwalk routines from models strutting in over-the-top costumes. Scenes of this unique runway choreography are viewable on a colossal flat-screen monitor at the exhibit's admission.
On display are nearly 70 high-fashion and ready-to-wear garments and accessories from high-profile U.S., European and Japanese fashion houses including standout glittering bold ensembles, like the Emanuel Ungaro rainbow-colored crochet outfit with hot pants and matching knee socks and Pierre Cardin's five-tiered-sequined turquoise gown, to subtly-chic designs—a royal blue day dress by Pauline Trigere and Fausto Sarli's beaded yellow cocktail skirt. All knockouts. All luxurious. But perhaps most significant, all purchased by Johnson for a couple reasons: She could afford to buy the outfits and many designers wouldn't donate their clothing to the black fashion fund-raiser.
As curator Joy Bivins has reiterated lately and in this article, "They are more than pretty things."
You'd be hard pressed to not gush and rave over the pieces. On opening day this past weekend, I found myself oohing and ahhing at the flamboyant men's apparel, exotic-feathered headdresses and floor-length furs and gowns on the custom-made mannequins. By the way, these life-size dolls are impressive representations highlighting different skin complexions, hair textures and styles, and shapes (There's one with a curvy full figure). But to fully comprehend how the game-changing fashion show empowered blacks and opened doors for many including black fashion models, hairstylists and designers, visitors must pause from gawking and watch the exhibit's three video presentations featuring firsthand accounts and commentary from ground-breaking fashion model Pat Cleveland, Fair hairstylist Johnny Wright and Audrey Smaltz.
One of the most profound video excerpts to capture the Ebony Fashion Fair's revolutionary impact within black culture and the fashion industry comes from Johnson's daughter, Linda Johnson Rice, who concludes an interview segment with, "Long before the '60s, my mother coined the phrase 'Black is beautiful.'"
Inspiring Beauty is open through January 4, 2014.
Preservation Chicago announced the 2013 Chicago Seven this morning. Every year, the organization compiles the list to call public attention to notable local architecture made vulnerable by economic, geographic or planning problems. Past Chicago Seven lists have catalogued individual structures, groups of buildings or even neighborhoods worth saving from demolition and destruction. Follow the links to read Preservation Chicago's explanations for its choices this year:
The Museum of Contemporary Photography (600 S Michigan Ave) isn't huge and it doesn't want to be—but it has decided to expand. "We want to stay true to who we are," MoCP director Natasha Egan told me during an interview last week, explaining that renovations will focus on the museum's layout rather than its size, though it will increase upon its current 7,500 sq footage spread over two floors and a mezzanine. "We’re not trying to explode," she adds. "We’re trying to just match our strong programming to a stronger, more flexible space that works."
Egan's wish list includes a new front door. Located within a Columbia College building, the MoCP has no direct street entrance. "Our issue is visibility within our space," Egan says. "I think that more strangers would walk into a museum rather than into the hallway of a college."
As the MoCP’s parent, Columbia College has promised the museum additional room. Egan hopes for a more adaptable space and handicap accessibility. Right now, she works in a windowless office on the mezzanine while three other staffers share an equal-sized room upstairs. On the museum’s first floor, a wall dividing the east and west galleries limits the ways photographs, videos and other artworks can be displayed. Egan also contemplates a bigger vault for the MoCP's 11,000-piece collection. "There’s things I want, but I’m not an architect," she says. A yet-to-be-named architectural firm will soon translate her thoughts into a design plan, complete with conceptual drawings that the museum will use to begin fund-raising over the next few months.
Egan predicts construction will have to be completed in stages. "It’s fund-raising and timing," she says. Fund-raising goals depend in turn on whether the museum decides to remain free to the public. While there’s an appeal to remaining completely accessible to everyone, Egan says many insist they’re willing to pay. The MoCP currently suggests guests donate $5, but options ranging from free days, to remaining complimentary only to Columbia students and faculty, are on the table.
The Chicago Loop Alliance won't commission an outdoor Art Loop project in 2013, CLA executive director Michael Edwards confirmed this afternoon. The CLA's Pop-Up Art Loop program, which brings temporary exhibitions to indoor spaces downtown—mostly vacant storefronts—continues, though Edwards tells me it will operate in only six locations this year, down from 15 in 2012, because many former venues have been rented. Find out why Art Loop is on hiatus after the jump.
Visiting Kara Walker's new installation at the Art Institute of Chicago, Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!, is like stepping onto a battlefield.
Walker, 43, is famous for exploring race, sexuality and power in large-scale tableaux made out of cut-paper silhouettes. While her images and medium evoke the antebellum South, the violent, sexually explicit interactions between her black and white characters would never have been publicly exposed to a 19th-century audience. Inspired by popular texts like Gone With the Wind and Uncle Tom's Cabin, Walker's narratives reflect Americans' collective imagination, rather than a straightforward retelling of history.
In her Art Institute installation, the artist juxtaposes cut-paper silhouettes with large-scale graphite drawings and small-scale gouache sketches. She describes this new work as an "opening salvo" against white supremacist texts like William Luther Pierce's 1978 novel The Turner Diaries and their predictions of an impending brutal race war.
"In that type of writing," Walker said February 20 at an Art Institute lecture, "there's no room for ambiguity. There's no room for nuance or for art.... My work is so much about ambiguity that to try and enter into a space that's all about certainty and about clarity is equally troubling and challenging."
Even the title, Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!, is ambiguous. Which race is being called to action: black or white? Walker's drawings and silhouettes offer no direct answer. (The artist lifted the title from a Marcus Garvey quote that President Barack Obama cites, tongue in cheek, when he comments on the challenges of community organizing in his 1995 memoir Dreams from My Father.)
Walker's graphite drawings, which are the size of traditional American history paintings, seem to portray epic battles between white and black stereotypes. But why does Foxy Brown tend to a wounded white soldier, and why does Aunt Jemima carry a white body off the battlefield?
On Wednesday, Walker asked her audience, "In what ways, in a race-based society, are we codependent—not just independent, but codependent—and in need of 'the other' to justify our ideology? The author of The Turner Diaries ends up needing black bodies to clean up the mess. [The white supremacists] end up needing a constant presence of 'the other' [to define themselves]."
Rise Up Ye Mighty Race! represents both a new direction in Walker's ongoing investigation of race in America, and an evolution of her practice. The installation relies more on her drawings and sketches than her signature silhouettes. "You always have to stretch a little bit as an artist," she says.
"Despite the reputation built up by their name, stingrays are actually gentle, soft creatures that are safe for guests to touch," said Bill Van Bonn, Shedd Aquarium vice president of animal health, in an official news release.
His statement should ease any qualms about sticking your hands inside an 18,000-gallon pool to pet the 40 cownose and yellow rays that'll be on display at the Shedd Aquarium's upcoming outdoor exhibit, "Stingray Touch," opening on April 27. If you need more assurance, Dr. Bonn added, the ray's barbs have been "painlessly trimmed." Without the barb—a sharp pointed stinger used in acts of self-defense against predators—stingrays are harmless.
The cost has yet to be determined for this 15-minute experience, which is one of several interactive attractions at the Shedd including the Beluga Encounter, Penguin Encounter and Polar Play Zone's Sea Stars.
The Museum of Contemporary Art opens "Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949–62" to the public Saturday 16. Curated by Paul Schimmel for MOCA in Los Angeles, the exhibition examines how Lee Bontecou, Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein and other artists redefined painting after World War II, ripping, burning, shooting and otherwise altering their canvases as well as incorporating performance and collage into the medium.
This morning, Gutai artist Saburo Murakami's (1925–96) son re-created his father's 1955 performance-painting Entrance, which you can see in our slideshow. It will greet visitors to "Destroy the Picture" for the duration of the exhibition.
This week, TOC previews the new Art Institute of Chicago exhibition "Picasso and Chicago," which opens to the public Wednesday 20. (The Member Preview begins Saturday 16.) I got a sneak peek this morning and found the show fascinating: Many of Pablo Picasso's (1881–1973) works on view are amazing prints and drawings from the museum's collection, such as Minotaur and Wounded Horse (1935, above), which I had never seen before.
When I interviewed Art Institute curator Stephanie D'Alessandro about "Picasso and Chicago," she told me, "When we decided to do this exhibition, we felt like it was much bigger than the Art Institute." The Art Institute's prescient support of Picasso made this show possible: It was the first American museum to exhibit his work. But D'Alessandro's excellent exhibition catalog reveals that the Arts Club of Chicago and the Renaissance Society were also crucial early promoters of the artist. Read more after the jump.