Street Smart Chicago

Dynastic by Design: How The Field Museum Built the Nation’s Largest Chinese Historical Museum Exhibit

Museums, News etc., South Loop No Comments »
Guardian Lions

Guardian Lions

By Nona Tepper

“When I look at it straight it looks straight, but when I look at it sideways it looks crooked, ” says Jaap Hoogstraten, director of exhibitions at the Field Museum.

The man paces in front of an arch decorated with red, blue and gold images of ancient Chinese life. The air smells like dust, and a saw grinds on a bench in the middle of the gallery. Project manager Tom Skwerski stands behind him.

“It’s tricky to do an immersive environment,” Skwerski says. “We don’t want to look like a Chinese restaurant.”

The men are standing in the Cyrus Tang Hall of China, an upcoming exhibit at The Field Museum slated to open just three months from that day. The arch is stenciled with what look like the same designs that decorate the entrance gate to Chicago’s Chinatown neighborhood, but is it crooked? Hoogstraten and Skwerski have had this debate before, Hoogstraten says. Perhaps they’ll have it again. The men walk away and start talking about what still needs to be done. The nearly 400 objects need to be mounted; the mounts need to be attached to bases; the bases need to be covered in decorative felt. The producers need to speed up the slideshows on Chinese dynastic history and, speaking of technology, the technology for the projections of Neolithic China still needs to be developed.

The men have three months.  Read the rest of this entry »

Checkerboard City: Pedaling History

Bicycling, Checkerboard City, Green, Hyde Park, Museums No Comments »

1839 McMillan bicycle, the first with pedals/Photo: John Greenfield

By John Greenfield

The new exhibit “The Art of the Bicycle” at the Museum of Science and Industry does a fine job of tracing the evolution of the bike from the dandy horse, a primitive wooden contraption pushed along with one’s feet, to today’s high-tech steeds. While last year’s terrific “Bikes! The Green Revolution” show at the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum celebrated cycling culture in general and the Chicago scene in particular, the MSI’s exhibit focuses on the history of the machines themselves. It features nine rarely seen historic bikes from the museum’s collection, newly restored for the show, plus a gaggle of modern rides.

“For 200 years people have continuously reinvented the bicycle,” reads the intro to the exhibit. “With each new decade new designs and technologies improved the popular machine, making riding safer, more reliable and more fun.” Amusement was probably one of the main motivations when German Baron Karl von Drais built the first verifiable dandy horse, a pedal-less, steerable, two-wheeled vehicle he dubbed the Laufmaschine (“running machine”) for cruising around his large garden. A 1931 replica of an 1818 Draisienne, as the French called it, is on display, and the clunky, green-and-gold vehicle looks like it would be a blast to scoot down the Lakefront Trail. Read the rest of this entry »

411: The Surgical Museum Gets a Facelift

Gold Coast/Near North, Museums, News etc. No Comments »

When the International Museum of Surgical Sciences rolls out its newest exhibit this week, “Our Body: The Universe Within, ” regular visitors will notice changes to the exhibition space, which has been newly renovated.

Max Downham, executive director of the International College of Surgeons, says that the museum “took the opportunity (of preparing the new exhibition) to renovate.” Downham mentions a cleaner, all-white color scheme, refurbished hardwood and marble floors, restored lavatories, better AC and ventilation and the replacement of fluorescents with track lighting.

Downham specifically highlights this last upgrade, since the track lights will allow for a greater degree of fidelity when viewing the exhibits, a particular advantage given that the “Our Body” displays constitute more than 200 human specimens prepared via polymer impregnation. The relatively new preservative technique, which replaces fat and water in bodies with a polymer plastic, allows for specimens to be posed in ways that best delineate anatomical systems.

Downham adds that all remodeling was done in keeping with landmark standards, an important consideration given the museum prides itself on its facility, a preserved lakefront turn-of-the-century mansion which is on national, state and municipal landmark registers. (David Wicik)

No Stone Soup? You might break your teeth if you eat at this museum

Elmhurst, Museums No Comments »

Sure, you can get a meal at the Lizzadro Museum of Lapidary Art in Elmhurst. The menu includes everything from light snacks to traditional sit-down meals, though nothing is edible.

Among the large collections of ivory cameos and elaborate Chinese jade carvings that comprise the museum is one peculiar display: rocks shaped like food. The late lapidary enthusiast Sylvia Josefeck’s collection of various rocks and minerals cut and polished to resemble a day’s worth of meals, the “Rock Café,” offers visitors of all stripes something of a novelty in light of the more traditional stone pieces.

The “Paul Bunyan breakfast” feaures two generous slabs of bacon made from marble onyx, sunny-side-up eggs from marble, and grits (with butter, of course) from aragonite. Next on the menu is a midday snack consisting of feldspar cheese and seed-pod chocolate cookies, along with a very appetizing Mexican onyx fruit salad. And then there’s dinner. The most elaborate meal of the group includes meat carved from petrified wood, jasper spinach soufflé and Petoskey stone mushrooms. To top it all off, there are even sides of black onyx caviar with quartzite crackers and jello cubes of Illinois flourite. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Live the horror at the Surgical Museum

Events, Museums No Comments »

Among the highlights of “The Menagerie, ” the International Museum of Surgical Science’s upcoming fundraiser, which also includes burlesque dancers, karaoke, and, perhaps, a large python, participants will be given the rare opportunity to “own [their] own death,” says Death by Design Co.’s co-founder Teena McClelland. She and her team of video and special-effects experts will transform individuals into Dr. Moreau’s grotesque half-man, half-animal experiments, who will then enact their revenge on one of H.G. Wells’ more memorable anti-heroes. And it will all be available for posterity on tape. “We like to help people realize inner narratives,” McClelland says. “We like to tell stories with people and people have interesting stories to tell.” Death by Design staff members will play directors and producers as participants come to terms with mortality in a strange yet controlled scenario. Inspired by her own fear of horror films, McClelland insists that once people experience death, in some capacity, it seems less intimidating. Beyond the obvious reasons, the International Museum of Surgical Science, 1524 North Lake Shore Drive, was a natural choice for such an event after the latter played host to the Threewalls Gallery’s vampire-themed fundraiser, “You Oughta Be In Fangs,” last spring. Spend $50-$100 for a good cause and come see “who gets torn apart” on Saturday, June 12 from 7pm-11pm.  (Emma Ramsay)

Dark Matters: Astronomers dispel doomsday rumors

Events, Museums, News etc. No Comments »

1As part of the Adler After Dark promotion, appetizers and cocktails are served on this Thursday at the Adler Planetarium against the dark Chicago skyline, hardly discernable from the murky waters of Lake Michigan. It’s truly a serene sight, and also a stark contrast with the night’s theme: the end of the world. Dr. Mike Smutko, an astronomer at Adler, says, “Adler After Dark grew out of a way to try to reach the twenty- and the thirty-somethings, who haven’t been to the planetarium in a while and have forgotten how great it can be.”

“It’s very tongue-in-cheek,” says Smutko on tonight’s theme. “We were originally inspired by the CERN particle accelerator, which will be the world’s most powerful accelerator. They’re powering it up again this weekend.” He continues, “There have actually been lawsuits filed to prevent that from happening, because some people are worried that they might make these exotic particles that will destroy the whole world, and most people agree that would be a bad thing.” These tenuous concerns, however, hold no scientific backing. Dr. Don Lincoln, author of “The Quantum Frontier: The Large Hadron Collider,” is here to soothe peoples’ fear. Read the rest of this entry »

Fall Forward 2009

Events, Food & Drink, Lit, Museums, News etc., Politics, Running No Comments »

Newcitycover1We like the way culture upends the universe’s metaphors. Mother Nature might be in the autumn of her year, but the arts are alive with the spirit of new birth.

Labor Day ushers out what meteorologists like to call meteorological summer, making schoolkids go back to school, closing beaches far too soon, and forcing outdoor festivals to sound their last notes, but it gushes in a deluge of culture too magnificent for even the most ardent of arts lovers to fully appreciate. The full richness of our city comes alive in the fall, even when the Bears don’t have a messiah behind center. Read the rest of this entry »

411: Field Work

Museums, News etc. No Comments »

The Field Museum’s experts are currently training Iraqi archeologists in the latest methods of artifact restoration through the Iraq Cultural Heritage Project. Over the next two years, eighteen archeologists will spend six months at the Field Museum to learn advanced techniques in artifact conservation and collections management. Participants can then teach their colleagues to use updated methods in uncovering ancient Mesopotamian relics. The U.S. State Department is supporting the program through a $13 million dollar grant. In 2003, the Iraq National Museum was damaged during the fall of Saddam Hussein’s reign. “There has been a lot of looting in the anarchy since the fall of Saddam,” says James Phillips, PhD, who is the director of the project. The program will also renovate the museum’s structure and improve the facilities with an equipment upgrade. During Hussein’s rule, Iraq’s archeologists were shut off from the international archeological community thus prohibiting them obtaining the latest technology. The program is making strides in changing that by allowing the archaeologists to learn “a whole suite of new technologies to be able to apply to their own cultural heritage,” Phillips says.

Museums Review: Harry Potter: The Exhibition/Museum of Science and Industry

Hyde Park, Museums No Comments »

harry-potterMuggles across the country have already booked their ticket for “Harry Potter: The Exhibition,” which made its much-ado’d world premiere at the Museum of Science and Industry on April 30. This well-oiled showcase features more than 200 beautifully crafted costumes and props from the Harry Potter film juggernaut. The temporary space is packed with iconic movie artifacts presciently salvaged from the films’ production, including Harry Potter’s glasses, wand and the Golden SnitchTM. The museum staff dons black robes and faux English accents to further submerge guests in a fantasy realm. Noise is sure to be an issue, with jittery children riding fanatical adrenalin highs and promos blasting from screens in every corner. This is less a museum exhibit and more a Warner Bros. marketing attraction. Much like Planet Hollywood, it is a chance to ogle memorabilia from the films. Because it was created by Warner Bros. Consumer Products, “Harry Potter: The Exhibition” makes little mention of the literary phenomenon on which the films were based. J.K. Rowling’s name appears fewer times than Robert Pattinson, the swoony actor who played Cedric Diggory and has since gone on to “Twilight” fame. In fact, the only time the books—instead of the movies—make an appearance is at the end…in the gift shop. (Laura Hawbaker)

“Harry Potter: The Exhibition” runs through September 27 at the Museum of Science and Industry, 57th and Lake Shore Drive.

Chicago Hype Exchange: Charting the Capricious Contours of Celebrity

Chicago Hype Exchange, Museums, News etc. No Comments »

This Week’s Biggest Gainers

1 Joel Quenneville
The Blackhawks coach guided his team to the NHL semifinals, the first time for this squad since 1996. Hockey in Chicago. Who knew? Read the rest of this entry »