Fall Arts Guide 2009 Best Bets: Heartland 

Curators from the Smart and the Netherlands' Van Abbemuseum trekked out to backwaters like Detroit and Kansas City to find out what sort of art those crazy middle Americans are up to; the resulting exhibit opens October 1 at the Smart.

Heartland Machine (digital sketch of a work in progress), by Design 99

Heartland Machine (digital sketch of a work in progress), by Design 99

The Smart Museum's upcoming show "Heartland" is based on a cheesy stunt. Curators from the Smart and the Netherlands' Van Abbemuseum trekked out to backwaters like Detroit and Kansas City to find out what sort of art those crazy middle Americans are up to. (Leave it to a Chicago institution to package its neighbors as outsider artists.) What they discovered is what a lot of us already knew: that the region has a strong tradition of collective and communal art making. Detroit-based Design 99, for example, is represented by a boat sculpture assembled with the help of independent art spaces throughout the midwest, and Kansas City's Whoop Dee Doo—known for its live events featuring local talent and lots of audience participation—will perform a kid-friendly dance and variety show (10/2, 5 PM-10 PM) at Hyde Park's own venerable community art space, Experimental Station. I'm particularly looking forward to seeing the installation by Carnal Torpor, a KC art collective that makes klutzy, burpy grindcore music when they're not creating collages indebted equally to Pushead and Day of the Dead ofrendas. The group—which will build the installation, Purifications of the CalmDome, and also conduct performance workshops during a residency at Chicago's InCUBATE (9/6-9/27)—has an aesthetic I appreciate not so much because it's weird as because it seems familiar and right. But then, I live here.  Opens Thu 10/1. Through 1/17, Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago, 5550 S. Greenwood, 773-702-0200, smartmuseum.uchicago.edu. —Noah Berlatsky

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