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Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Top 10 Chicago Museums in 2015: 'Greeks,' robots and graffiti

Photo: Steve Johnson
"The good news is that many of these shows are still up; the bad is that many are closing in January." inform Steve Johnson, covers arts and entertainment for the Chicago Tribune.

Street art by Greek artist iNO at the Chicago's Hellenic Museum in April 2015. The museum hosts the controversial, timely exhibit "The Street Is My Gallery," about  Athens street art and graffiti as a social response to current and longstanding Greek austerity measures and lack of opportunity.
Photo: Chicago Tribune

As 2015 ended, news that a former Field Museum employee had allegedly pocketed more than $900,000 in membership funds over seven years was big in the Chicago museum world. But while that scenario plays out in federal court — charges were filed this week — it's worth looking back on what was, on the whole, a pretty good year.

Not only was there a bright and varied collection of new exhibitions, but for the first time since I've been writing this story at the close of each year, all of my top exhibit picks were developed by the institutions themselves, testament to both talent and ambition in-house.

Here are the top 10 museum and zoo shows and exhibits for 2015:

The Edlis/Neeson Collection, continuing at the Art Institute: What is the Edlis/Neeson Collection? Oh, just 44 works of art worth more than $400 million and the largest art donation in the Art Institute's history. Highlighted by 10 Warhols, a Jasper Johns "Target" and a Robert Rauschenberg "combine," it's a pretty stunning batch of work that the museum has occupying central galleries on the second floor of its Modern Wing. The gift from local philanthropists Stefan Edlis and Gael Neeson was announced in April and opened to the public in mid-December, well ahead of the original plan. Under the terms of the deal, the museum has to keep them on display for the next 50 years, but since curators got to choose the works they wanted — and did so with an eye toward filling gaps in the museum's collection — that seems like a pretty sweet deal.

"The Greeks — Agamemnon to Alexander the Great" at the Field Museum through April 10: The largest and most significant collection of Grecian antiquities to make it stateside in a quarter century, this exhibition will remind us all of how much we owe to that little corner of the world in the years before Christ. Literature, democracy, poetry, theater, philosophy, science and sport as we practice them today all have roots, or at least tendrils, in ancient Greece; the beauty of this exhibit, making its first U.S. stop (of two) here and developed by the Field with three other North American museums and Greek cultural authorities, is that it demonstrates these things through a series of beautiful objects. Behold the "Mask of Agamemnon," a gold funeral mask from more than 3,500 years ago. Vex your children, while standing in front of elegant old-time storage vessels, with bad puns about how much did a Grecian earn (urn, if we must explain it). And be thankful that this examination of the influence of the Greeks stopped before the development of the present-day collegiate fraternity system...

"Robot Revolution" at the Museum of Science and Industry through Jan. 3: To have so much state-of-the-art robotics gathered in one exhibit is pretty amazing. Visitors can watch robots playing soccer (using a golf ball, but whatever). They can play blackjack against a robot whose primary real-world skill is to work on assembly lines (card dealing was just a demo developed by its engineers). They can watch robots climb walls and fly around in drone form, not yet delivering goods from Amazon warehouses. It's a spectacular demonstration of what human ingenuity, plus manufacturing and programming, can come up with. But we'll all sleep a little bit easier come January, when this gathering of the world's top robots gets packed up and begins touring, having postponed the inevitable uprising. Domo arigato, Museum of Science and Industry.
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Source: Chicago Tribune