Street Smart Chicago

Fall Forward: Museum exhibit previews 2008

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Twisted Into Recognition: Clichés of Jews and Others
Historical artifacts, material culture and modern art and film can reveal the existence and perseverance of stereotypes. Stereotypes and clichés comfort us in facing the unknown, but can also have ugly side effects. Explore how these images and objects represent us and affect us and how we respond to their resolve in this progressive multimedia exhibition. Opens September 26 at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies

Chic Chicago: Couture Treasures
Take the opportunity to look deep into the chests of some of Chicago’s most notorious women in history. The Chicago History Museum will have more than sixty significant couture pieces on display providing an intimate glance into Chicago’s elite past, from 1861-2008. Opens September 27 at the Chicago History Museum

Fast Forward … Inventing the Future
Join in on the celebration of the Museum of Science and Industry’s seventy-fifth anniversary by looking to the future. The museum’s newest rotating exhibit displays cutting-edge technologies and innovations developed by the world’s brainiest inventors and scientists. Opens September 3 at The Museum of Science and Industry

The Aztec World: A Unique View of a Mighty Empire
After centuries of investigation, experts are finally beginning to understand the culture and history of the Aztecan people. Take this opportunity to enter into the everyday lives of their compelling Mesoamerican culture. Observe rare Aztecan artifacts, such as sacrificial altars and royal treasures, amassed for the first time in history. Opens October 31 at The Field Museum

Boom Towns!
With a thick influx of immigrants, industrial advance and social regulation, Chicago underwent a colossal, unprecedented population boom at the end of the nineteenth century. Discover how Chicago’s experience compares to the modern day booms in China and the Middle East by evaluating iconic works of architecture in each region and era. Opens September 23 at the Chicago Architecture Foundation

Cranes and Conversations
Sandhill cranes, the oldest birds on Earth, follow a similar route from north to south each year. Two avid admirers and good friends, Jill Metcoff and Diane Farris, also pursued the route. Jill, of Wisconsin, trailed the birds in the north and Diane welcomed their arrival in Florida. Metcoff and Farris, thirty years later, have reunited in Chicago to compile their inspiring migration photographs, collages and film montages. The exhibit may even inspire you to get outside and admire as the fleet soars along our lakefront from mid-October to mid-November. Notebaert Nature Museum starting October 17

Review: Lizards and the Komodo King

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The Shedd Aquarium, bastion of Chicago’s Beluga whales and Moray eels, has played host over the last two years to the fork-tongued, cold-blooded and scaled. After an extended stay, “Lizards and the Komodo King,” which opened in 2006, is in its final weeks. The exhibit spotlights more than twenty-five species of lizard, most of which ignore the glass-tapping of the museum’s younger guests with unflappable aplomb. Much like a colorful carnival freak-show, the exhibit focuses on the amazing feats of these reptiles. Some lizards change color for camouflage, some clone themselves, others use their tails like prehensile arms and still others do away with their tails all together. The exhibit’s headliner is Faust, a 120-pound Komodo dragon. Guests gawk at the enormous creature; this dangerous, carnivorous inhabitant of Indonesia is the world’s largest lizard and has the distinction of being able to eat a pig in twenty minutes. Faust, the lizard king, takes his final bow Labor Day. (Laura Hawbaker)

“Lizards and the Komodo King” shows at the Shedd Aquarium, 1200 South Lake Shore Drive (312)939-2438) through September 1.

Review: Nature Unleashed

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Nature Unleashed

The Field Museum’s “Nature Unleashed” opens with a tree cracked in half and stripped of bark. It is just one of many extraordinary visuals from the planet’s most destructive natural phenomenon: earthquakes, tsunamis, volcanoes, hurricanes and tornados. The exhibit juxtaposes Earth’s callous meteorological and seismic forces with the poignant human stories affected by its disasters. Visuals mimic the colossal power of nature while smaller artifacts, such as handwritten letters from Hurricane Katrina survivors, tug at heartstrings. The recorded sounds of seismic activity (alien-like pops and scrapes) lend the space an omnipresent sense of doom, as if at any moment the floor might rupture. The exhibit’s most impressive offering is the invention of stormchaser Tim Samaras, a digital recording device which allows guests to stand in a 360-degree video-viewing area that places them in an approaching tornado’s path. For several heart-stopping seconds, visitors are encircled by the eye of the storm. (Laura Hawbaker)

“Nature Unleashed: Inside Natural Disasters” shows at the Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore, (312)665-7683, through January 4, 2009.

Pride 2008: Out of the Closet and into the Museum, CHM shines a spotlight on Chicago’s gay history

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By Sam Feldman

In 1924, German immigrant Henry Gerber founded the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. It was the first known gay-rights organization in America, and among the most short-lived. Seven months later, the police raided Gerber’s Old Town home without a warrant, putting an end to the organization and arresting its officers. “Strange Sex Cult Exposed,” blared the headline in the Herald-Examiner the next day.
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Museum preview: Smart Home: Green + Wired

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The Museum of Science and Industry’s latest exhibit is a fully functioning three-story house, the “Smart Home,” an ecologically sound building built on the foundation of material, energy and water efficiency. This is green living gone haywire. Museum guests are ushered through a twenty-minute eye-opening (if somewhat rushed) tour of the house. Every aspect of the building is environmentally friendly, from the recycled construction material, to the organic food, to the to LED lights. An ethanol-burning fireplace. A “raw” wood kitchen table. And of course, in the garage, a hybrid car. The house is called “smart” for a reason. Even the houseplants are clever. When a plant needs watering, a call is placed to your phone. That’s right—your plant is calling to say it’s thirsty. A black obelisk with blinking blue lights (that calls to mind HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey”) is the “brains and guts” of the “Smart Home”; it’s an automated system that controls the heating, cooling and lighting of the entire house. A module of the house’s network charts not only the amount of energy being used, but also the amount being produced. Guests are given a “Resource Guide” which, like a shopping catalogue, details each gadget and piece of furniture, and where everything can be purchased. We all might not be able to live in technologically advanced, self-sustainable houses, but we can live green by bringing aspects of the “Smart Home” into our own. (Laura Hawbaker)

“Smart Home: Green + Wired” runs at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th Street and Lake Shore Drive, (773)684-1414, through January 4, 2009.

Museum review: Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era

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In 1969, Curt Standifer, a U.S. soldier stationed in Vietnam, wrote in his journal, “Why should I, a brother of soul, whose war is on the streets in the States, be here?” Standifer’s entry perfectly encapsulates the mission of the DuSable Museum’s latest exhibit, “Soul Soldiers: African Americans and the Vietnam Era.” Read the rest of this entry »

Museum review: Melting Ice

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This small exhibit off the Field’s main lobby is easy to walk past. “Melting Ice” occupies a sparse two-room alcove, darkly lit with the muted, cool tones of the arctic tundra. It’s a “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” set-up, which is unfortunate, given the project’s big, world-changing aspirations. Organized as part of the “Art of the Environment” initiative by the Natural World Museum and the United Nations Environment Program, the exhibit consists of twenty-three pieces from an international cast of artists. Using modern sculpture, video installation, choreography and frank point-and-click photography, the exhibit documents the effects of climate change. Subject matter focuses on the arctic: endangered penguins in Antarctica, Alaskan villages cobbled away by a rising sea, fresh water depletion and collapsing icebergs. Here and there are odd men out, such as Free Range Studios contribution: an idealistic, fictional documentary from fifty years in the future in which massive protests, bio-fuel and a laughable “Obama-McCain” ticket change the course of human history. Saturating the vibe of the entire exhibit is a driving urgency to fire up visitor’s attitudes about global warming. This is art-meets-environmental activism, and one can’t help but leave feeling invigorated with a renewed desire for change. (Laura Hawbaker)

Melting Ice runs at the Field Museum, 1400 South Lake Shore, through September 1.

Museum review: The Glass Experience

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Vases edged in filigree, windows like Japanese shoji screens, vibrant sculpture pods… one wouldn’t expect an exhibit at the Museum of Science and Industry to feature galleries flaunting Tiffany lamps, Frank Lloyd Wright windows and a Chihuly Macchia sculpture garden, but “The Glass Experience” does just that. The exhibit celebrates the collaboration between glassblowing and science, a relationship in which the artisans of Venice and Murano jumpstart technological leaps forward in LCD and fiber optics. The scientific specifics are only touched on in favor of a more all-inclusive look at the glass world. The exhibit opens with a dark “Industry & Invention” bunker, which offers a hodgepodge of glass facts: radioactive dishware, microscopes, windshields and witchglobes linked by one common thread—the material from which they’re made. The “Invention” room offers tidbits and the various galleries present pretty things to look at, but what really makes “The Glass Experience” an event worth the trip comes near its end. Pathways gradually wind into larger spaces that culminate in two immense workshops peopled by real, live glass workers. Visitors can watch stained-glass artisans from the Botti Studio restore the Chicago Cultural Center’s fragile, 120-year-old Tiffany Dome. Meanwhile, in-house master gaffers spinout glassblowing demonstrations during the Corning Hot Glass Show. The glassblowing show perfectly encapsulates the aim of “The Glass Experience”—a hypnotic merging of art and science. (Laura Hawbaker)

“The Glass Experience” runs at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th and Lake Shore Drive, (773)684-1414, through September 1.

Museum review: Mythic Creatures

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This latest exhibit at the Field Museum should unleash the imagination of everyone who attends, as “Mythic Creatures: Dragons, Unicorns & Mermaids” delves into the realm of the relative unknown. The exhibit’s divided into four sections: land, sea, air and dragons. Every room is beautifully crafted, with a quintessential creature recreated to match each room. Read the rest of this entry »

Museum review: Catholic Chicago

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Nestled on the second floor of the Chicago History Museum, the “Catholic Chicago” exhibit graces with a superb twelve-foot painting of “Our Lady of Guadalupe,” which was created on Mexican paper and done using gold leaf and pigmented dye. This large piece is flanked with an array of photos showing kids in Catholic school and finally footage from the International Eucharistic Congress of 1926—the first and largest pilgrimage event in America. Despite the airy feel of the building, these striking images alone could appear intimidating, particularly those not necessarily affiliated with the Catholicism. Despite this, expect to be greeted with an exhibit that intertwines the very roots of Chicago with the Catholic Church to a dizzying degree—creating a very personable approach to a incredibly broad topic. “Catholic Chicago” goes beyond the common facts and pertinent Catholic local figures; instead, the exhibit once again attempts to engross the audience—going so far as to feature a short film on Catholic school in front of two school desks (from a real Catholic school mind you), and offers a replica of the church experience, complete with pews, altar and piped-in music from different services and congregations. Perhaps most telling is that the exhibit strives to exemplify the diverse notions of what it means to be Catholic by covering a number of denominations and cultures (there’s an audio tour in both Spanish and Polish). Because of this widespread approach, “Catholic Chicago” is approachable by not only those who are themselves Catholic but really for anyone curious about both the religion and how it guides a person’s way of life. (Thomas Barbee)
“Catholic Chicago” through January 4, 2009, at the Chicago History Museum, 1601 North Clark, (312)642-4600.