Chicago’s 2020 Arts Scene: What To See In the New Year | WBEZ
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Chicago Culture In 2020: Art, Music And Theater For The New Year

The cultural landscape of Chicago and the surrounding suburbs is vast — sometimes too vast for a reporter tasked with visiting hidden places, finding creators who make change and keeping track of the policies that keep the arts engine moving.

But, it’s a very fun challenge.

Here are some exhibitions and performances that are scheduled in 2020 that I’m looking forward to not just as a reporter, but as a culture consumer.

Of course, the list below is by no means comprehensive, and I’m always looking for new and unique happenings in and around Chicago. My email is below, so drop me a line!

Now, to the list.

Year of Chicago music

Since 2017, Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) has curated some of its programming around one central theme. Previous topics have been public art, creative youth, theater and now, for 2020, Chicago music.

Some of the events planned include a music festival focused on local acts and a searchable database of musicians and performers that work in the Chicago area. DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly said last year that local artists need to feel they are part of a thriving industry in Chicago and don’t need to move away to find work. Kelly also said there will be a grants program that will provide support for live music venues on the city’s South and West sides. 

DCASE’s Year of Chicago Music runs from January-December, 2020.

The Allure of Matter”

This exhibition of works by contemporary Chinese artists is coming to the Smart Museum of Art in Hyde Park, freshly off a run at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA). It features two- and three-dimensional works made from a unique range of materials, like melted plastic, precious wood and human hair.

1st Class
Carrie Shepherd/WBEZ
'1st Class' by Chinese artist Xu Bing.

I just saw this exhibit at LACMA and took the above photo of Xu Bing’s “rug” made of 501,300 cigarettes. Like many of the works, it’s monumental in scale. The show features leading artists including Ai WeiWei.

The Allure of Matter” runs Feb. 7-May 3 at the Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave., Chicago. The exhibit will also be presented at Wrightwood 659, 659 W. Wrightwood Ave., Chicago

Congo Square Theatre celebrates 20 years

Congo Square Theatre Company was founded in 1999 by Derrick Sanders and Reginald Nelson with a mission to bring more stories to the stage that represent African American life.

In February, the theater is staging the 1965 satirical fantasy, Day of Absence, by Douglas Turner Ward, at Victory Gardens Theater, which is located in the Biograph Theater in Lincoln Park. The plot is described as the “emergencies that occur when a Southern town is faced with the sudden and inexplicable disappearance of all its black and brown citizens.” It’s also traditionally performed as a “reverse minstrel show,” with black actors in whiteface.

Day of Absence’ runs Feb. 27-March 22 at Victory Gardens Biograph Theater, 2433 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago.

“Frida Kahlo 2020”

The Chicago area’s most comprehensive exhibition of Kahlo’s work since 1978 is coming to suburban Glen Ellyn. The display of 26 works will be at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art at the McAninch Arts Center at the College of DuPage.

In addition to more than 20 works on loan from the Museo Dolores Olmedo collection in Mexico City, there will be more than 100 photographic images from the painter’s life. According to the Cleve Carney Museum, the show will explore “the role of Mexico City as a center of international art and culture in the early and middle 20th century, as well as Kahlo’s lifelong refusal to allow illness to restrict her diverse and intense passions.”

“Frida Kahlo 2020” will also be the first time visitors can see the expansion of the Cleve Carney Museum, which is currently closed for construction that will double its size.

Frida Kahlo 2020” will be June 1-Aug. 31 at the Cleve Carney Museum of Art, 425 Fawell Blvd., Glen Ellyn.

Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park

Chicago has a rich tradition of embracing public art. This “gallery” of public art is in south suburban University Park, on the campus of Governors State University. The 30 sculptures on 100 acres led the school to call the sculpture park a “museum in the prairie.” Nathan Manilow was one of the founders of suburban Park Forest, which he then expanded to Park Forest South, later renamed University Park. Governors State opened in 1971.

The first sculpture the school acquired was Phoenix, by Edvins Strautmanis. According to a history of the park, that work was originally commissioned for a Hyde Park apartment building, but was rejected by the residents. They found “its monumental size and abstract design inappropriate.”

One of the building’s residents was Lewis Manilow, son of Nathan, and he acquired the work for the sculpture park. According to Governors State, sculptures are still being restored and relocated around the campus.

Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park is at Governors State University, 1 University Parkway Dr., University Park.

Barbara Kruger: Thinking of you, I mean me, I mean you

The exhibition at the Art Institute of Chicago, created with Kruger, is a major collaboration with institutions including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and New York’s Museum of Modern Art to examine the artist’s more than 40-year career.

Kruger is known as a critic of popular culture, using images and messages from the media to examine consumerism, power dynamics and identity. Kruger presents her work in three-dimensional environments, often combining large-scale room wraps, multichannel videos and installations on building facades. The Art Institute says the artist has created new videos that “replay her renowned imagery in the midst of recent and newly produced vinyl works.”

BARBARA KRUGER: THINKING OF YOU, I MEAN ME, I MEAN YOU runs Nov. 1–Feb. 7, 2021, at the Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago (Check here for updates on the exhibit)

Carrie Shepherd is a reporter for WBEZ. Her email is: Follow her @cshepherd.

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