Category Archives: Visual Arts

Michael Abramson: Pulse of the Night.

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all photos by Michael L. Abramson

What goes on at small clubs is ephemeral by nature: society created and dismantled night after night. A delicate hierarchy composed of drifters, dreamers, and those simply longing to escape. In the mid 1970s, a young white student, Michael Abramson, worked his way into the world of largely black South Side Chicago clubs. He brought his camera along for the ride, capturing images that otherwise would’ve vanished like smoke from a languishing cigarette.

The photos were taken at famous spots, such as Perv’s House (owned by Pervis Staples of the Staple Singers fame), the Patio Lounge, and Pepper’s Hideout. These clubs hosted live music that was a heady mix of blues, funk, and soul by artists like Bobby Rush, Hi-Fi White, Little Mac Simmons, and much more. The current South Side Chicago club scene (in terms of live, homegrown entertainment) is a shell of its former self. That fact makes these photos that much more valuable.

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Currently, dozens of Abramson’s photos from this period are on display through Columbia College’s Museum of Contemporary Photography. According to the Museum, “this work earned Abramson a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1978 and launched his successful career as a portraiture photographer and photojournalist. Abramson’s photographs can be found in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian, the Art Institute of Chicago, the Chicago History Museum, the Milwaukee Art Museum, Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and the California Museum of Photography.”

These photos of grit and gold lamé, born amidst midnight debauchery, are displayed between reference materials at the Columbia College Library. The juxtaposition is not lost on me. Despite their stoic surroundings, they simply hum with electricity.

LadyFanPervs10776The Michael L. Abramson: Pulse of the Night exhibition is located on the second floor of the Columbia College Chicago Library, 624 S. Michigan Avenue. It is on display until December 19th, 2014.

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Join Ayana Contreras: Monkey Hustlin’ in Chicago.

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I will be hosting a film screening of 1976’s Monkey Hustle at the Black Cinema House on Sunday, June 9th at 6pm. We will watch the film (which was shot mere blocks from where we’ll be watching it), and then discuss it.

Monkey Hustle – hosted by Ayana Contreras

Black Cinema House
6901 S. Dorchester Ave., Chicago

Sunday, June 9th at 6pm

Seating is limited, so please RSVP by emailing blackcinemahouse@rebuild-foundation.org to reserve your seats.

For more on the film, see my review below.

Monkey Hustle is a black film shot in Chicago in the 1970s (a rarity, in that regard), around the same time as Cooley High.  Mainly shot around 63rd Street, East of the Dan Ryan (the Woodlawn Neighborhood), and various West Side locations, the city figures prominently in the overall vibe of the film.  Starring in Monkey Hustle are (among others): Yaphet Kotto as a small-time hustler/love interest of the lovely Rosalind Cash, and a very young Debbi Morgan as Cash’s daughter.

Cash runs the local teenage hangout.  As the neighborhood hero/big-time hustler, we have Rudy Ray Moore (who is also Cash’s alternate love interest).  The other major character is Win, Debbi Morgan’s love interest who, despite showing promise for bigger things, dips deeper and deeper into the “Monkey Hustle” with Kotto.

The overlying plot is fairly pointed:  The city government is pushing ahead on plans to construct an expressway on land currently occupied by the neighborhood (which was actually happening in real-life Chicago… remember the plans for that “Crosstown Expressway“?).  Ultimately, the set-up becomes ‘the hustle must go on to save the community (by any means necessary)’.  Overall, a message movie with too many competing angles.  But fun for the shots of Chicago (and the girl fight).


Opera-Matic’s New Moon on the Lagoon

Opera-Matic's New Moon on the Lagoon


In this audio piece, I eavesdrop on rehearsals for Opera-matic’s very cool New Moon on the Lagoon, an “evening lullaby parade”, featuring a 15 foot tall giant moon that will be lit up from within by projections of facial expressions.

It’ll be happening Friday May 10th and 11th, 2013 at the Humboldt Park Lagoon in Chicago. For more info, visit: opera-matic.org/upcoming-events/

This piece originally aired on Reclaimed Soul on Vocalo. Reclaimed Soul features music spun on original vinyl records, and stories of people making our world better (artistically, economically, etc) with old materials.

You can tune in to Reclaimed Soul live at 8pm CST on vocalo.org, 89.5fm (NWI/CHI) and 90.7fm (CHI)


Dreams in Jay-Z Minor: The Intersection of Visual Art + Excess + Lyrics

Krista Franklin, (Roc)oco, 2012

Visual Artists Amanda Williams + Krista Franklin have collaborated on “Dreams in Jay-Z Minor”, a new exhibition at Blanc Gallery in Bronzeville running October 5, 2012 – December 29, 2012.

Connected by dual recurring dreams of Jay-Z, Williams and Franklin explore the natures of upward mobility, excess, fantasy, and hip-hop luxury. In their works they utilize a variety of mediums including handformed paper, altered books, and collage.

Tonight on Reclaimed Soul, in anticipation of tomorrow’s opening, you can listen to the artists talk about their work and the Societal cravings for Fabulousness and Upward Mobility that inspired it.

We’ll also listen to loads of samples and feature other audio surprises.
OPENING RECEPTION: Friday, October 5th, 2012, 6pm-9pm
Featuring Sounds by Jamal “JayToo” Jefferies

Blanc Gallery
4445 S. Martin L. King Dr.
Chicago, IL 60653
773-952-4394
www.blancchicago.com

Of course, this wouldn’t be Darkjive without a throwback Chicago hook, so without further ado:

One of Jay-Z’s most memorable collabos (that recently begat a wife and baby makes three) was his verse on Beyonce’s 2003 hit “Crazy In Love”. The song samples Chicago legends the Chi-Lites, and their single, “Are You My Woman (Tell Me So)”.

Perhaps the lesson learned is that if you are “Crazy in Love” but unsure if she is “Your Woman”, maybe you ought to “Put a Ring On It”, lest she be a “Single Lady”. Jive on.

UPDATE: In case you missed the Reclaimed Soul broadcast mentioned above, below is the link to the podcast version. Also, there will be a Curator/Artist Coffee Talk on Saturday October 20th at Blanc Gallery from 2pm-4pm.


Sundown in K-Town: North Lawndale Documentary Festival

Sundown in K-Town Teaser from BetterBoys Foundation on Vimeo.

Better Boys Foundation (BBF) and Facets Multi-Media announce a film festival comprised of a series of social documentaries screened outside in the inner courtyard of the BBF Center at 1512 S. Pulaski Road . These groundbreaking documentaries such as The Murder of Fred Hampton (pictured at left), And This is Free, American Revolution 2, and others exemplify the role of independent, particularly documentary, filmmaking in reporting about and shaping Chicago. Discussion panels of film professionals, journalists and individuals relevant to the films will follow the screenings. Two of the films will be accompanied by shorts produced in house at BBF by FilmLAB@1512, BBF’s youth filmmaking apprenticeship. A local production company, Kartemquin Films, has generously donated two of the screenings.

I caught the first installment of this Film Festival, which is going on until July 27th. I really enjoyed the experience and the setup (a large projector screen and speakers set up outdoors inside the Better Boys Foundation’s Courtyard). Great for the community (the neighborhood that Martin Luther King, Jr. came to in 1966 to fight for open housing). Also notable is the Better Boys Foundation itself, which has been around for some 50 years and collaborated with the Black Panthers for Chicago’s edition of the Free Breakfast Program. The idea of the Program was later appropriated by the US Government for the Head Start program. Jive on.

More Info: facets.org/sundown


Record Store: where you can’t buy anything, but you can listen to everything.

I’ll be spinning for the opening of this… The record store is completely modular and made to encourage the kind of listening-based cultural interchange that makes record stores awesome. Over 4,000 records on loan from community members’ collections. None of them are for sale, but visitors can listen to them all: from “Belly Dancing Favorites” to the Moody Blues to Earth, Wind, & Fire.

Record Store — an installation presented by Seattle Art Museum in collaboration with [storefront] Olson Kundig Architects (MacDowell architect Tom Kundig’s firm) — December 13th in Seattle! Attempting to remove the barrier between artist and audience, Record Store encourages the community to participate in the curation of this Olson Kundig Architects-designed traveling installation. Record Store is on view at Olson Kundig Architects (406 Occidental Ave., Seattle, WA 98104) from December 13 to January 31, 2012, Monday to Friday, 9 am to 5 pm. An opening event will be held on December 13, 2011 from 6:30 pm to 9:00 pm. Special DJ listening parties will take place during the installation’s run.


Dorchester Projects: presenting a home movie film festival for the south side.

(above, taken by me during Dorchester Projects’ Summer Daycamp, 2011)

The last installment of The Dorchester Projects’ Outdoor Home Movie Film Festival is this Thursday, August 11th at 9pm and will feature Live Musical Accompaniment… Sounds like a fantastic way to spend the last little chump change of summer. Organizers request you RSVP to dorchester.projects@gmail.com.

 


Mark Bradford at the MCA: exercises in community, texture, and collaboration

"Scorched Earth" (2006), The Artist pictured in Foreground

So, I am totally late on this one… which is inexcusable really, because I was at the Opening of the exhibition.  Least I could have done is pub it.  But, alas….

Mark Bradford‘s Exhibition currently on view at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art is a Retrospective that really gives a sense of the artist’s use of layers to establish history and depth in his work.  A number of the pieces displayed (like “Strawberry”, [pictured below]) feature small square wrapping papers (the sort used in beauty parlors to augment rollers) as a medium.  One particular work utilizes sun faded wheatpaste movie posters.  A good measure of his materials are, in fact, well known residents of his neighborhood, and his work whispers of larger community-based issues. Some of his work even echos Topographical maps.

In part due to his works’ scale, and in part due to his use of texture, his work needs to be seen in person, rather than in print or on a screen.

On the Collaborative tip, during this past year, the Artist was Skyping and Zipping back and forth between his homebase of Los Angeles and our fair city working with youth from both Lindblom Math and Science Academy in West Englewood and the YOUMedia Program at the Harold Washington Library culminating in a well received Pop-Up Gallery exhibition of the Students’ work.  The exhibition (a part of the MCA-backed Mark Bradford Project) dealt with issues of community and mapping, while using a variety of mediums.  Many of the students agreed that they learned as much about life as they did about artistic practice from Bradford, who beautifully validated the burgeoning voices of the self-proclaimed “Art Kids”.

Mark Bradford’s work will be on display at the MCA from May 28-September 18, 2011

Museum of Contemporary Art

220 East Chicago Avenue, Chicago


Theaster Gates’ Dorchester Projects

What do you get when you mix a maverick artist with strong community ties and an Urban Planner? For one thing, Theaster Gates. For another, the Dorchester Projects, pictured above. Theaster has been purchasing properties in the Woodlawn/Grand Crossing neighborhood for a few years now, and has quietly acquired the stock of the former Dr. Wax record store as well as the now defunct Prairie Avenue Bookstore (both businesses were revered in their respective collector communities). He created a home for glass lantern slides that depict the canon of Western Fine Art. Using reclaimed materials, he is turning his properties into cultural community hubs, featuring curators and programming that reflects the collections and the community.

In the spirit of full disclosure, I’ll be curating the record collection in May and June of 2011, culminating in a series of talks on Chicago Music History (details to follow) and a couple of good, old-fashioned dance parties starring local-born music.

Read the New York Times article about what’s poppin on the South Side with the Dorchester Projects.


The Return of Captain EO: This was it.

 

Hot off the presses.. Captain EO will be reopen at the Epcot Center (at Walt Disney World) this July. The ride/film short directed by Francis Ford Coppola and featuring Michael Jackson was originally opened in 1986 and closed in 1994 amidst allegations of abuse.  The film was definitely a highlight of my family’s trip to Orlando back in the day.  I am sad that Michael had to leave us for this gem of 80s cinematic opulence to return to the world!  Jive on.