By Grant Rindner
Too Much Light Makes the Baby Go Blind has been a mainstay of Chicago’s underground theater scene and the most visible performance of the city’s Neo-Futurist movement for 28 years since the play debuted on Dec. 2, 1988. The long-standing show made new headlines this fall as its creator, Greg Allen, abruptly decided to pull its rights, ending the run with a final sold-out performance on New Year’s Eve.
Allen claimed in a press statement that he was spurred by the election of Donald Trump to remodel the show as a “machine to fight Fascism” that would feature a cast “comprised entirely of people of color, LBTQ+, artist/activist women, and other disenfranchised voices in order to combat the tyranny of censorship and oppression.” Some Neo-Futurists have expressed skepticism about Allen’s motives, but regardless the abrupt decision came as a serious shock to the troupe and their many supporters.
The Neo-Futurists initially came together for a single performance but have grown to be one of the most prominent contemporary theater groups in the country. Their theater, the Neo-Futurariam, 5153 N. Ashland, holds varied performances throughout the year. Despite the closure of the group’s calling card show, there’s significant optimism among the Neo-Futurists for not only their future as an artistic collective but also their overarching goals as artists.
“I think it’s the death of a name of a show, of a brand. It’s like if you find out tomorrow that Coca-Cola is going to change its name to something else, even if you’re not into Coca-Cola you’ll still be like, ‘Oh, Coca-Cola is going away,” said Kurt Chiang, the Neo-Futurists’ artistic director. “I think the art form will actually be stronger than ever. I think it’ll empower even more people to do neo-futurism, which has always been the mission of the company.”
The group is re-opening a fundraising campaign from this fall and continuing to perform its innovative, thought-provoking work in tune with their regular schedule.
By Grant Rindner
When Rae Bees came to Chicago from Tallahassee, she already had deep roots in Florida’s DIY culture that went back to her college days. When she arrived in the Windy City, she became involved with Hostel Earphoria, a house and creative space that hosts artists traveling through Chicago and looking for an authentic understanding of the city’s musical culture.
Hostel Earphoria in Logan Square also hosts shows and serves as a recording space. It is one of a number of renowned DIY (do-it-yourself) musical spaces in town that provide an alternative to the mainstream music and arts scenes. Recently, the tragic fire at Oakland’s Ghost Ship venue resulted in the loss of more than 30 lives, and put DIY culture at the forefront of media discussions in the United States. Continue reading
By Grant Rindner
Laszlo Moholy-Nagy brought the Bauhaus movement from to Chicago from Germany in the 1930s, launching a revolution in arts and design as one of Chicago’s most influential and iconic innovators. The Renaissance man comes through is the sprawling new exhibit and even the exhibit title “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present,” on display at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 3.
The Renaissance man comes through is the sprawling new exhibit – and even the exhibit title “Moholy-Nagy: Future Present” – on display at the Art Institute of Chicago through January 3.
Among the exhibit’s highlights are Moholy-Nagy’s vertigo-inducing photos taken from the Berlin Radio Tower and a selection of the kinetic Plexiglas sculptures he created late in his career, which hang suspended from the ceiling and walls.
“Moholy was arguably the most versatile artist of the 20th century. He worked in painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, film, typography, product design, exhibition design, as well as writing influential treatises on art and design,” said Liz Siegel, associate curator of photography at the Art Institute. “Thus it was especially important to demonstrate the many facets of his wide-ranging career over the years.”
By Grant Rindner
Ahead of the January release of his second album, Heartbreak Hits, singer and funk-rock free spirit Theo Katzman took the stage at Evanston’s SPACE this month. Katzman plays guitar and drums in the successful band Vulfpeck and was joined onstage by bassist Joe Dart of Vulfpeck and independent singer-pianist Joey Dosik and Evanston native Julian Allen on the drums.
Even without the full Vulfpeck family, they kept the crowd rockin’ with Katzman’s songs. Clad in aviators and a denim jacket, he deftly juggled lead vocal duty while switching between the guitar and drums. He ripped through a handful of tracks from his upcoming record, including “My Heart is Dead” and “Plain Jane Heroin,” While Dosik also played selections from his recent Game Winner EP.
(From left) Joey Dosik, Joe Dart, Theo Katzman and Julian Allen brought infectious funk to SPACE with Katzman’s music. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
Katzman and Joe Dart showed off the musical chemistry they’ve honed in Vulfpeck and as music students before that. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
Joey Dosik accompanied Katzman and played several of his own tracks, including an extended version of “Game Winner.” (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
Katzman peels off a mesmerizing solo. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
The versatile Katzman relinquished lead vocalist duties to Dosik for a turn on the drums later in his set. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
Katzman gave listeners a thorough taste of what they should expect from his forthcoming second solo album. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
Katzman cut his teeth and honed his licks at the University of Michigan’s School of Music, Theatre & Dance, where Vulfpeck formed. The band’s sound bears more of a jazz and soul influence than Katzman’s solo work, but both share a rich musicality and powerful arrangements – heavy in horns, rich in piano chords and infectious with fretwork.
In addition to producing two albums and four EPs since 2011, the band made headlines with Sleepify, a completely silent album that Vulfpeck fans streamed while they slept. They used the reported $20,000 worth of royalties to finance an admission-free tour in late 2014.
You can pre-order Katzman’s upcoming record on Kickstarter and buy Vulfpeck’s The Beautiful Game, which was released on October 17, via Bandcamp.
Photo at top: Theo Katzman playing a rollicking solo set at Evanston SPACE. (Grant Rindner/MEDILL)
By Grant Rindner
You could be forgiven for thinking that the Chicago Cubs’ World Series cliffhanger and subsequent Game 7 victory marked the city’s signature cultural event of the past few weeks.
But in nooks of the city such as Francis W. Parker School in Lincoln Park or Northwestern University’s Cahn Auditorium, crowds of local literary enthusiasts gathered, many clad in Cubbie blue, to hear their heroes like authors Jonathan Lethem (Fortress of Solitude) and Grant Faulkner (100 Word Story) extol the virtues of writing fast and for yourself.
“Baseball is suffering. You have a distinction here [in Chicago] and you might not want to let go of it,” said Lethem, teasing the crowd before his talk on October 29 – and before that historic Game 7.
Spanning dozens of similar venues, and more than a 100 events, the Chicago Humanities Festival (CHF) is thriving in its 27th fall program. The festival runs through November 12. In addition to Faulkner and Lethem, the festival includes the likes of Gloria Steinem, Marshall Brown, Trevor Noah, and Melissa Harris-Perry in the literati lineup. CHF boasts more than 1,500 members whose contributions pay for roughly 80 percent of the festival’s finances.
By Grant Rindner
A massive, majestic bison dominates two new exhibits in the Field Museum’s Hall of Native North Americans. The bison, a familiar icon in the hall, is now incorporated as part of the pair of exhibits that glimpse into Native American art today and re-contextualize the past. Detailed illustrations by Chris Pappan, attached to the bison’s case, highlight the grandeur of the animal’s movement in contrast to the taxidermied specimen.
Drawing on Tradition: Kanza Artist Chris Pappan. and Full Circle/Omani Wakan: Lakota Artist Rhonda Holy Bear are on exhibit through Jan. 13, 2019, with both artists presenting a 2016 iteration of their ancestral art.
Though they share a physical space, the two artists differ quite greatly in terms of their materials, intentions, and even their relationship with the Field Museum itself.
By Grant Rindner
The air of protest is undeniable in Rick Valicenti’s newly opened (maybe) This Time exhibit at Loyola University’s Ralph Arnold Fine Arts Annex, on view through Nov. 26. But the veteran graphic designer and current Loyola Artist in Residence uses his collection to do much more than revisit the same statistics and imagery that we constantly see associated with contemporary issues such as gun violence. His works on exhibit are both subtly transformative and viscerally biting. They include everything from a red, white and blue table with dangerously pointed legs to a collection of blurry portraits pulled from the background figures in New York Times photos.
“I have purposely no responses to gun violence in the exhibit. The exhibit is a handful of issues that are in the environment we live in, this polarized messy environment,” Valicenti says. “As a designer, not a politician, not an activist, I wanted to respond to them and give the students an example of how to move their responses to these issues to a place that transcends the normal world of graphic design intervention, i.e. infographics, public service announcements, protest posters.”
To accomplish this, Valicenti created more than a dozen pieces in a variety of media, ranging from 3D prints to polyurethane resin to found objects that encompass a variety of reactions including sarcasm, frustration, and detachment. He wanted to explore an alternative to the traditional methods of graphic design activism and dedicated the exhibit to the Loyola students who he will be working with on capstone projects related to gun violence in the coming year.
By Grant Rindner
Chicago is a music festival mecca with everyone covered, from hip-hop heads (AAHH Fest) to jazz aficionados (Hyde Park Jazz Festival) to EDM junkies (Spring Awakening). But vaunted composer Augusta Read Thomas wanted to highlight a vibrant, edgy music community that has yet to receive its due on that same scale – the contemporary classical scene.
“Hopefully people will realize that we have the most vibrant contemporary classical music scene in Chicago. It’s right here. Hopefully putting Ear Taxi together will call attention to all these great artists and amazing composers,” said Thomas, who partnered with a wealth of institutions from Northwestern University to WBEZ to the Chicago Symphony to make the festival happen. “I think it’s a great city story. We have the whole city involved in this, literally.”
Ear Taxi, runs through Oct. 10, a sprawling testament to the city’s talent featuring more than 300 musicians, 88 composers and 53 world premieres. It opened on Oct. 5 with performances from the Fulcrum Point New Music Project conducted by Stephen Burns, who helped Thomas plan the festival, along with the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, who also took the stage on opening night. The performances are stunning – cerebral one moment and emotional the next, joyously cacophonous in one measure, and solemnly restrained in the next.
By Grant Rindner
Though the term hovered decades away from its place in the lexicon of pop culture, the first retrospective of New York photographer and performance artist Tseng Kwong Chi elevates the selfie beyond something to kill time or send to friends in self-revealing five-second bursts.
Tseng Kwong Chi: Performing for the Camera, is a collection of portraits and performance works culled from Tseng’s portfolio, including many of the iconic shots taken for his East Meets West series in the late 1970s and ‘80s. It’s all on display at Northwestern University’s Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art through Dec. 11. To commemorate the life and witty, thought-provoking work Tseng created throughout his career, the exhibit includes a tour guided by his sister, the choreographer and dancer Muna Tseng on Oct. 26.
Tseng died of AIDS in 1990 at just 39 years old. He is most renowned for the humorous and surreal shots he took as part of East Meets West, a collection of self-portraits he took clad in dark sunglasses and a Mao Zedong suit in front of iconic American and international settings. The idea came when Tseng wore a Mao style suit to dinner with his family at the Windows on the World restaurant in the World Trade Center – it was the only formal garment he owned, said Block curator Janet Dees explained during her presentation as part of the exhibit opening of “Five Takes on Tseng Kwong Chi.” Tseng’s parents were embarrassed, but he was mistaken for some sort of high-ranking official and treated with reverence.