Tanner Woodford’s Personal Best
Best (& Most Relentless) Supervillain: COVID-19
Every good hero story needs a supervillain. Try to imagine Batman without the Joker, Black Panther without Erik Killmonger, or America without Ted Cruz. Over the last two years, the foil in our story has not stopped relentlessly pounding on us—dividing us against ourselves while multiplying with impunity. Though a vicious disease, COVID-19 is a top-tier supervillain, reprehensible beyond words appropriate for print. When the main story drags on longer than you would like, rest assured that the turning point is closer than ever. After all, what is the point of having a supervillain if not to watch it eventually succumb to the protagonist? Your days are numbered, COVID-19. Watch your back.
Best Monthly Letterpress Print Club: Starshaped Press
Starshaped Press eschews tradition—well, depending on your definition of tradition. Since 1999, its principal designer and printer Jen Farrell bucks popular digital trends by showcasing both the relevance and beauty of well-designed historic typography. The shop’s work stays true to the craft of traditional letterpress but breathes new life into antique metal and wood type to create beautiful and thoughtful prints across a variety of functions. Unable to host regular in-studio events during the pandemic, Starshaped has pivoted toward Print Club, a subscription series from $3 to $22 per month that includes postcards, greeting cards, prints and notebooks made with Midwestern vendors. starshaped.com
Best Place to Put John Oliver’s Weird Art Collection: Museum of Broadcast Communications
In July 2020, the American Alliance of Museums predicted that one-third of all United States museums may close for good. After this report hit the desk of “Last Week Tonight” host John Oliver, he decided to help in the best way he knew how. Among other masterpieces, Oliver is bundling twenty-eight-year-old rat erotica with a painting of Wendy Williams eating a lamb chop (and a $10,000 donation), and sending it all to Chicago’s Museum of Broadcast Communications. The exhibition, titled “Masterpiece Gallery,” will travel to five museums in total. Oliver is also offering a matching $10,000 donation to a charity selected by each museum—in our town, it’s the Greater Chicago Food Depository.
Best Artist-Run Industrial Weaving Studio: The Weaving Mill
In 2015, The Weaving Mill settled into a small mill that had been occupied by the Chicago Weaving Corporation and turned it into an artist-run industrial weaving studio. Since then, they have filled the space between the hand and the machine with artists and designers of diverse textile experiences where they make fabric, and take on projects of their own, textile and otherwise. Some of this good work is in partnership with the social services agency Envision Unlimited, allowing them to enroll adults with developmental disabilities in textile workshops. The Weaving Mill brings the mechanics of textile production into a broader context, and they do it better than anyone else in Chicago.
Best Professional Graffiti Wizard: ZEB
As a contemporary, prolific and anonymous graffiti writer, ZEB is working to move the entire genre into a fine arts movement. “This is a switch. I’m not going to be a graffiti artist making fine art,” he says. “My graffiti is fine art and so is all graffiti.” In 2019, he created performances of illegal graffiti writing in more than ten major cities where he documented the processes on social media. He found that graffiti is often welcomed once you pretend or perform like you have permission. More recently, ZEB’s work has appeared in an exhibition at Chicago’s Congruent Space, at Minneapolis’ George Floyd Square, and of course, across a myriad of train cars, street signs and back alleys near you.
Best Mini Golf Course Inspired by Migratory Birds: The Douglass 18
The over 205 species of migratory birds that pass through North Lawndale each year are more than enough fodder for the forty teens charged with redesigning a neglected eighteen-hole community miniature golf course. With the support of the Chicago Park District and the Lincoln Park Zoo, youth worked alongside lead teaching artists Eric Hotchkiss of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and Haman Cross III of Firehouse Community Arts Center to create obstacles and sculptures inspired by nature. The Douglass Park Miniature Golf Course improves the quality of life for North Lawndale residents, builds a sense of community, is open from May to October, and only costs $5 per game.
Best Spot to Hang Out With Marilyn Manson, Kanye West & DaBaby… If You’re Into That Sort of Thing: Donda’s House, Soldier Field
If hanging out with Marilyn Manson, Kanye West and DaBaby sounds like fun, the best place to do so is objectively under a giant cross on the steps of Ye’s childhood home reconstructed on the fifty-yard line of Soldier Field. Billed as a listening party for “Donda,” his tenth studio album, this was the third and most elaborate event in the series. Aside from partying on the stoop, Ye showed up two hours late, set himself on fire and, as the last act, remarried his estranged wife Kim Kardashian-West. If, like me, you were looking for a little more social distance from all of the spectacle, the event was simultaneously viewable at home, livestreamed on Apple Music.
Best Reimagining of Chicago’s Bridgehouses: Tender House Project
Chicago has thirty-seven movable bridges—more than any other city in the world. In the day, they were staffed by tenders who worked around the clock to open and close bridges for boats to pass by. With less aquatic traffic today, the structures serve as an outdoor museum of many major architectural styles, including Art Deco, Beaux-Arts and Modernism. (In fact, one has been turned into an indoor museum too, the McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum.) Tender House Project exists to cultivate a cultural awakening of Chicago’s iconic, underused, and vacant bridgehouses. 2021 programming includes Damon Locks, Lumpen Radio, Communities Amplified, Stephanie Manriquez and Deep Time Chicago.
Best TikTok Historian: Shermann “Dilla” Thomas
Hailing from Auburn Gresham, Shermann “Dilla” Thomas is a man of many talents. He is an urban historian, a captivating and pithy storyteller, a Chicagoan through-and-through (but forever a South Sider), and a proud father and son. By day, Dilla works at ComEd as an area operator, and on nights and weekends, he transforms into a one-man history channel where he breaks down stories about Chicago on TikTok sixty seconds at a time, neighborhood by neighborhood. Most recently, he represented our city on the Today show. Next, he’s interested in establishing a nonprofit to tell more Chicago stories. You can find Dilla on TikTok, but also across social media as @6figga_dilla.
Best Artist-Led Problem Solving: Alt_
When Jordan Campbell and Jon Veal encounter a problem, they don’t gripe or protest. Instead, they pull volunteers from the community and work on solutions. Two compelling examples of these functional art installations are Market and [b.in]. Market alleviates food inequalities by transforming abandoned spaces into communal free markets that encourage community members to give and take as they are able. Each [b.in] uses recycled pallet wood and donated plexiglass to create needed trash receptacles that are adopted, maintained and emptied by community partners. Their work can be seen in Austin, Greater Grand Crossing, Englewood and Back of the Yards, although their ethos, attitude and culture improves Chicago citywide.
Best Place to Buy Holiday Gifts by Chicago Artists: Buddy
Buddy, headquartered at the Chicago Cultural Center, is a collaboration between Public Media Institute and Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. It gives artists and small manufacturers a place to showcase their work and sell goods. Items featured in the store include functional objects, publications, clothing, bags, music, toys, games, jewelry and stationery. As a platform designed to support creatives, they also host exhibitions, talks, workshops, performances, readings and product launches. Buddy is open daily and goods are online, too: hi-buddy.org.
Best and First Cultural Historian of Chicago: Tim Samuelson
Tim Samuelson is an absolute treasure. He was appointed Chicago’s first Cultural Historian by the incomparable Commissioner of Cultural Affairs Lois Weisberg in 2002. Her job description for Tim was only two words. “Help everybody.” And he does. Over the course of his career, Tim has provided assistance to mayors, public museums, private citizens—anyone he found on the other end of the line. He has also amassed an enormous collection of objects from Chicago’s history, loaning them to hundreds of cultural institutions and exhibitions without fee. Tim retired this year. As emeritus, he keeps his legendary office in the Cultural Center and is now busier than ever doing his life’s work, helping everybody.
Best Anti-Gallery in Hyde Park: Connect Gallery
Co-owner of the Connect Gallery Rob McKay sees it as an “anti-gallery.” Its vibe is unlike most galleries. It trades stuffiness for genuine community building, and feels familiar the first time you walk in—like walking into an old friend’s place. It gives up the white cube in favor of creating a cross-disciplinary platform that hosts DJs, visual artists, fashion designers, photographers and their stories. The gallery is in Hyde Park near the Silver Room, whose founder Eric Williams is also co-owner. It was founded in 2016 as the Connect Art Fair, a three-day, multi-site, pop-up art event co-produced by Eric and Rob. With deep roots and five years of programming under its belt, Connect Gallery is on a path to greatness.
Best Archive of the Visually Spectacular: Colossal
Dubbed the “Tate Modern of the Internet” by Fast Company, Colossal is an endless fountain of inspiration that covers art, design, modern craft, street art, photography, illustration, science, animation, and so many other disciplines across visual culture. Founded by Christopher Jobson in Chicago in 2010, the website has an international reach, amassing an impressive archive of over 6,700 articles written by only seven contributors. Colossal celebrates the visually spectacular artwork of both emerging and established artists with a focus on positive, diverse, and impactful stories. It reaches an estimated ten million monthly readers, and has been honored with accolades by The National Endowment for the Arts, TED and PBS’ Art21.
Best Gallery in the Pedway: Space p11
Underneath the Chicago Loop is the Pedway, a network of pedestrian tunnels, commercial spaces, train stations, government facilities and other public and private infrastructure. Most commonly used as a walkway between places on cold or rainy days, the Pedway contains an untapped audience of commuters with many opportunities to engage them. David L. Hays and Jonathan Solomon, directors of Space p11, saw this opportunity in a vacant retail space and opened a free, independent gallery for off-grid art, architecture and culture. Space p11 explores divergent futures and evolving alternatives to modern progress in the context of contemporary cities. It brings people and ideas together through exhibitions, performances, talks and reading groups, and creates an unexpected cultural experience along the way.
Best Mobile Makerspace: Chicago Mobile Makers
Chicago Mobile Makers is creating a new generation of architecture and design changemakers by offering design thinking and problem-solving workshops to youth in Chicago communities. And when they say in communities, they mean it. Their flagship product is the Chicago Mobile Makerspace—a retrofitted, 108-square-foot former USPS delivery van with solar panels, plentiful workspaces, and design tools like a laser cutter and 3D printer. Next, Chicago’s best mobile makerspace is opening a permanent space at the Kimball Arts Center, where they will offer more workshops, build a community and safe space for like-minded youth, and greatly increase their impact on our city.
Best New West Side Roller Rink: Pulaski Corridor Community Plaza
West Garfield Park has been the home of many roller rinks, and roller skating is a key part of its history. Nestled between two businesses on the heart of the West Side is the new family-friendly Pulaski Corridor Community Plaza. Formerly a vacant lot, now you will find a bustling blacktop roller rink with picnic tables, a seating area made from repurposed logs, and murals by local artists—all surrounded by Pan-African colors of red, black and green. The plaza is a small step toward undoing decades of disinvestment in the community, which resulted in elevated levels of crime and violence. Spearheaded by the Garfield Park Rite to Wellness Collaborative, the new roller rink provides entertainment, builds a community space, promotes wellness and safety and signifies that even greater things are on the horizon.
Best Art & Design Auction House: Wright
Since 2000, Wright has auctioned nearly 40,000 lots across the spectrum of twentieth and twenty-first century design. Their auctions, previews and exhibitions of art and design are hosted in a 40,000-square-foot warehouse in the West Loop. A typical auction might include a Roy Lichtenstein painting, Milo Baughman dining chairs, a hand-knotted Moroccan pile carpet, a lamp by Paul McCobb, a number of George Nakashima tables or a monumental sculpture by Harry Bertoia. Speaking of Bertoia, Wright is the market leader for his works with over $25 million in sales across lots of over 1,000. As the premier auction house specializing in modern and contemporary design, Wright has pioneered whole fields of collecting, championed architecture at auction and transformed the market for modern design.
Best Fall From Grace: R. Kelly
Once known as the King of R&B, Robert Sylvester Kelly is an American singer, songwriter, record producer, and now, a convicted sex offender. Over the course of his career, Kelly has sold more than seventy-five million records worldwide, making him the most successful male R&B artist of the nineties, as well as one of the world’s best-selling musicians. His hit song “I Believe I Can Fly” took him to new heights. Privately, this fame and success was fueled by an illegal marriage to Aaliyah, sexual exploitation of children, kidnapping and even an alleged sex cult. His recent conviction on nine counts of racketeering and sex trafficking was a long overdue step toward justice as well as a tremendous fall from grace.
Best of Chicago 2021