Best Of: Art & Architecture | Feature | Chicago Reader

Best Of: Art & Architecture 

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Best Art Gallery

rThe Reader's ChoiceRowley Kennerk

Peeking into Rowley Kennerk's tiny space can make me feel like most other commercial galleries in town are grotesquely provincial in their tastes. Kennerk shows the occasional Chicagoan with a national reputation, but his focus is on New York, LA, and European artists who create intimate experiences with subtle colors, expressive gestures, and humble materials. The gallery's been graced by Florian Morlat's fabric-and-newsprint wall pieces, David Lieske's light installations, Matthias Dornfeld's bright, scribbly canvases, and a group show that included postmodern masters Robert Heinecken, Richard Prince, and Cady Noland. Another recent group exhibit comprised incredible little portraits in subdued tones, handpicked from a number of collections. Next up, 4/3-5/2: Austrian sculptor Josef Strau. This place is an absolute gem. aWed-Fri 11 AM-6 PM, Sat noon-5 PM, 119 N. Peoria, 3C, 773-983-0077, rowleykennerk.com. —Bert Stabler

&Our readers' choiceIntuit

aTue-Wed and Fri-Sat 11 AM-5 PM, Thu 11 AM-7:30 PM, 756 N. Milwaukee, 312-243-9088, art.org.

Best Emerging Artists

rThe Reader's ChoiceRyan Fenchel, Isak Applin, and Lilli Carré (tie)

All three of my picks for best emerging local artist make eye-candy whose appealing surface conceals a nugget of menace—perhaps channeling aspects of our corrupt, paranoid city.

Ryan Fenchel's elegant sculptures, collages, and drawings combine contemporary iconography with the mystical hermeticist notion of God as a master of secret magical arts. For a multimedia installation at Vega Estates last fall he spent months carving an abstract sculpture out of a block of salt, a substance dense both in mass and in associations from alchemical lore. This grueling effort turned the piece into the spooky artifact of a self-mortifying performance practice, in the bold tradition of Joseph Beuys.

Isak Applin's intimate, pastoral oils are like images by Serusier or Bonnard fractured into delicate cubist shapes. Upon closer inspection they morph from visual meditations into sinister, hallucinogenic puzzles that—like David Thorpe's delicate paper-cut tableaux—can't quite be put back together again.

The free-flowing, sinuous beauty of Lilli Carré's lines and forms create an uncanny contrast with the shadowy psychological thickets through which her characters silently wander in gloomy comics, animations, and illustrations. The splatter-noir of Charles Burns seems distantly present, but Carré's recent graphic novel The Lagoon—in which ethereal music draws townspeople to a ghostly swamp—is less a nightmare than a mysterious dream. My favorite Carré animation is What Hits the Moon, a surreal, somnambulistic reverie in which death and decomposition occasion unutterable heartbreak. —Bert Stabler

&Our readers' choiceMatthew Lew

amyspace.com/mateolew

Best Emerging Architect

rThe Reader's ChoiceGordon Gill

We no longer butcher many hogs or make much steel, but Chicago can still turn out talented architects—and Gordon Gill is one to keep an eye on.

Gill, 45, specializes in environmentally sustainable large-scale buildings. His designs have a machine-like aesthetic, looking—and functioning—as much like devices as buildings. While an associate partner at the Chicago office of architectural powerhouse Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, Gill led the design of China's Pearl River Tower, a 71-story building (set for completion next year) that harnesses wind and sun to produce as much energy as it uses. Now at Smith + Gill Architecture, the firm he formed in 2006 with fellow SOM expat Adrian Smith, Gill has upped the ante with Masdar Headquarters, an eight-story mixed-use project under construction in the United Arab Emirates. The complex is billed as the world's first positive-energy building—meaning it will produce more energy than it consumes.

Gill hasn't snagged a groundbreaking Chicago project yet, but his firm's got the next best thing: a major green updating of the Sears—er, Willis—Tower that may include painting the black 110-story behemoth silver. —Lee Bey

&Our readers' choiceJeanne Gang

astudiogang.net

Best Building to Show Out of Town Guests

rThe Reader's ChoiceChicago Cultural Center

Any selection in this category will be arbitrary, but the Chicago Cultural Center recently tipped the scales for me by releasing its crowning glory, the world's largest Tiffany dome, from 70 years of encasement in concrete and copper. This 1,000-square-foot rooftop masterpiece again has sun streaming through its 30,000 cut-glass "fish scales" to light up the jeweled mosaics and white Carrara marble lining Preston Bradley Hall—just as it did when the building opened in 1897. Inspired by the White City at the 1893 World's Fair and designed by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, who also did the Art Institute, the Cultural Center is a people's palace with a split personality reflecting its original functions: public library on the south side and Civil War museum on the north. Besides the Tiffany (and an exquisite smaller sibling on the opposite side of the building), mind the ceilings and staircases—this is late 19th century decorative art at its most sumptuous. aMon-Thu 8 AM-7 PM, Fri 8 AM-6 PM, Sat 9 AM-6 PM, Sun 10 AM-6 PM, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630, chicagoculturalcenter.org. —Deanna Isaacs

&Our readers' choiceJohn Hancock Center

aObservatory open Mon-Sun 9 AM-11 PM, 875 N. Michigan, 1-888-875-8439, hancock-observatory.com, $9-$25, kids under 4 free.

Best Endangered Building

rThe Reader's ChoiceMichael Reese Modern

In the late 1940s Michael Reese Hospital undertook a major, multibuilding expansion intended to set a trend for institutional design and stimulate redevelopment of the hospital's south-side neighborhood. Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett were the primary local architects, but numerous others participated, and the project was inspired by the ideas of Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius. It was supervised by my uncle, Reginald Isaacs, Michael Reese's head of planning—so when Preservation Chicago put these graceful, humanely scaled buildings on their list of the city's most endangered treasures, I took notice. The threat is serious: the buildings stand on the proposed site of the Olympic Village. Chicago Modernism student Grahm Balkany and Preservation Chicago say about eight structures—roughly a third of the total on the Michael Reese campus—could be adapted for housing and other uses during the games and after, leaving the city with a functional cluster of "pioneering humanistic modern architecture." a29th to 31st and Ellis, preservationchicago.org/chicago7/2009/6_michael_reese.pdf. —Deanna Isaacs

&Our readers' choiceUptown Theatre

a4816 N. Broadway, uptowntheatre.org.

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