Whether by some grand conspiracy or maybe (probably) just coincidence, Chicago’s curators and gallery owners spent 2014 preoccupied with the idea of transformation. Two of the fall’s most highly anticipated shows, “David Bowie Is” at the MCA and “Malkovich, Malkovich, Malkovich” at Catherine Edelman Gallery, starring John Malkovich in Sandro Miller’s re-creations of iconic photographs, highlighted the multifarious incarnations of their subjects.
Across the city, unlikely spaces transformed into galleries. Shoppers at Northbrook Court could see work by Peter Max. Water Tower Place opened a Dr. Seuss gallery. Strange Beauty Show, a Ukrainian Village hair salon, hosted a show of, appropriately enough, barbershop signs from Ghana. In the South Loop, the Motor Gallery is also a U-Haul rental outpost, and with “Bench Marks,” Monique Meloche expanded her Wicker Park gallery to include the neighborhood’s benches. Even your iPhone is a gallery now, with Public Art Chicago, a new app that guides users through tours of the city’s public art.
Theaster Gates made his debut as a restaurateur with the Currency Exchange Cafe in Washington Park. Cartoonists Chris Ware and Saul Steinberg achieved the status of timeless fine artists with shows at the Art Institute. (Ware had already been anointed a modern fine artist by the MCA in 2006.)
But in the midst of all this transformation, several institutions looked to the past. Hyde Park Art Center celebrated its 75th birthday. The Art Institute’s biggest show was a retrospective of Magritte. At the Columbia College Library, “Pulse of the Night,” an exhibit of photos by the late Michael L. Abramson, explored the culture of south-side nightclubs of the 1970s, while the vintage photos in “Picturing Logan Square” at the Comfort Station showed what the neighborhood looked like before it was cool. For “Your Blues,” his show of images of Chicago’s underground music scene at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Michael Schmelling consulted his younger self for guidance.
Meanwhile, Chicago continued its love affair with Vivian Maier with three more exhibits from the former nanny’s secret collection of photos. At Intuit, Jeff Phillips showed off a cache of slides of vacation snapshots he’d discovered in an antique mall outside Saint Louis; Facebook users helped him identify the couple in the photos as Harry and Edna Grossmann. Fittingly for a project that relied so heavily on 21st-century technology, the exhibit of the photos, “Lost and Found: The Search for Harry and Edna,” featured slide shows both on the wall, as the Grossmanns had intended, and on an iPad.