HPAC celebrates anniversary in style

By Rose Dichter Schapiro

The Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC) moved to its swanky new location on East 50th Street and South Cornell Avenue a year ago and this weekend celebrated its first anniversary with a 24-hour event chock-full of art openings, performances, and lots of smiling—though somewhat tired—faces. The day-and-night-long celebration (from noon on Saturday to noon on Sunday) marked a step back from last year’s inaugural event, which featured an entire weekend of partying in Hyde Park. But this weekend was full of both high art and fun, and it was highly entertaining. It emphasized the fact that HPAC is a force to be reckoned with and that it is definitely here to stay.

The strange tension of the art world and HPAC’s mission of community education and service were certainly visible throughout the event. Though smiling-faced volunteers of various ages, clad in HPAC T-shirts, hung around the Center and helped any wayward visitors, most guests seemed to know exactly where to go. Crowds of adults in neutral tones confined themselves to the gallery openings and stood passively in groups, while hordes of children and their somewhat weary-looking parents headed for the energetic performances and artistically designed birthday cake. The fact that HPAC featured several art opening receptions from well respected Chicago artists underscored this dichotomy.

The exhibits that opened at HPAC this weekend included several inventive, installation-based works. The largest, Juan Angel Chavez’s Speaker Project, took everyday materials and created a large speaker in the center of HPAC’s biggest gallery. It featured beat-up orange traffic cones, wood-panel siding, and various holes through which the bands that played inside of the speaker were visible to the public. The recycled materials used to create the speaker were assembled in a somewhat whimsical way, and its oversized quality envelopes the HPAC gallery with both sight and sound.

The other notable opening of the weekend was the University of Chicago Visual Arts M.F.A. Thesis show There, which features the work of the six graduating M.F.A. students in a large complex of galleries on HPAC’s second floor. It is positioned across from a developing installation by artist CarianaCarianne, who recreates a previous installation she had done that explored the conflicting wills of her multiple personalities. She continues to work on the piece daily, and the installation features video, a cacophony of megaphones, and several torn-up editions of the World Yearbook.

The M.F.A thesis show was, by comparison, fairly tame. However, the artists are evocative in their exploration of how art is qualified and perceived. Though this is generally the material of contemporary art (how “meta” can you get without being horribly obvious about it?), the show had innovative work: a fort-like structure composed of pink foam with spewing soap suds built by Zachary Cahill and a room that explored consumerism, commercialism, art, and identity with posters and projections by HL, also known as Ms.VB. Throughout the first afternoon, the galleries of There (as the show is called), were packed with members of Chicago art communities, lounging and hobnobbing to their hearts’ content but also taking in the art: paintings displayed on the floor, a performance work featuring blue chalk skittering slowly across the wall.

The contrast was outside HPAC, with a sheet cake full of bright colors and performances by tumblers and the Le Vorris and Vox Circus. Children and their parents gathered in the parking lot to watch the colorful and theatric displays. These kinds of classic arts were less about the complexities of framing and identity and more about the joy and fun that art can inspire in even the youngest audience. Forsaking split identities and consumerism for the enthralling fun of pure performance is a wonderfully different exercise. At HPAC, there was truly something for everyone, from the art world dilettante to the pre-kindergartener. Luckily, for a while, they could all enjoy these things in the same place.

As the warm evening allowed us to return to East 50 Street and South Cornell Avenue for the late-night portion of the festivities, the party was still going strong. The halogen-illuminated clay studios were scattered with people spinning pots and smiling, and the galleries echoed with smatterings of energetic dancing. HPAC may have things which are very clearly Art—a display of a multi-colored mushroom cloud exploding over a white model of Chicago and a gigantic speaker made of found materials—but it remains a place to have some very unserious fun with anyone you want.