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Joe Swanberg

Joe Swanberg’s rich, eclectic projects can read like love letters to Chicago.


Best of Chicago: Arts & Culture

By The Editors

Photo by Larry Busacca/Getty Images


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Joe Swanberg is a busy guy. The Chicago-based indie auteur has directed more than 30 titles in the last 13 years, and with Netflix’s release of Easy this past fall—an eight-part comedy-drama anthology written, directed, edited and produced by Swanberg—there’s no sign of him slowing down.

Heralded as a master of mumblecore—a style known for its microbudgets and laissez-faire storytelling—the young director got his start in 2005 with Kissing on the Mouth, a risqué drama whose five-person cast also doubled as its crew. Since then, Swanberg has gone on to big-screen breakouts like 2013’s Drinking Buddies, starring Olivia Wilde and Jake Johnson as a pair of flirty co-workers at a craft brewery.

As with many of Swanberg’s films, Chicago’s sidewalks and small businesses set the stage for the first season of Easy, which follows 10 quintessentially Chicago characters played by an all-star cast (Dave Franco is a wannabe brewmaster with a day job at Wicker Park’s Dark Matter Coffee; Marc Maron holds a reading of his graphic novel at Logan Square’s City Lit Books) in what can be interpreted as the director’s cinematic love letter to his hometown. “Joe is prolific, professionally dexterous and increasingly accomplished,” says Richard Moskal, director of the Chicago Film Office. “He’s never at a loss for street cred—like a modern-day Cassavetes. And what’s best about all that? He’s here in Chicago.”  

Takashi Murakami 727

FLIGHT OF FANCY The MCA will display the first exhibit of Takashi Murakami’s work in the United States in a decade, including bold pieces like “727.”

Michael Darling is hoping to surprise Chicago yet again. Nearly three years after the chief curator brought the groundbreaking David Bowie Is to the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Darling is granting local art lovers an inside look at the depth and complexity of an iconic Japanese artist with new exhibition Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg, which will run June 6 to Sept. 24 this year. Murakami, known widely for his more commercial and anime-inspired works (like his collaborations with Louis Vuitton or his whimsical cartoonish works like “Mr. Pointy,” which hangs in the Art Institute of Chicago), impressed Darling on a trip to Tokyo a few years back. “I was so blown away by what was going on in his studio and how his paintings have evolved to this superelaborate level,” Darling says. “I think the thing that is going to come across is how rooted his work is in traditional Japanese art. There is a depth that people will be surprised by.”

The exhibition will detail Murakami as a painter, showcasing not only his iconic anime-inspired works but also his earliest mature works from the 1980s, which have never been exhibited before in North America, and pieces from the past 10 years, which turn toward Japanese historical material and which Darling says showcase how Murakami navigates a complex world. The show will be the first of Murakami’s work in the United States in the past decade, and the first ever in Chicago. “There have been little pieces here and there, but this is the first chance that Chicago audiences will have to get a look at his work from top to bottom,” Darling says. That will include everything from a sculpture of the bear character Murakami created for Kanye West’s album covers and the ambitious 60-foot-long “Dragon in Clouds” painting (Darling’s favorite) to brand-new works created for the exhibition. As for what those will highlight? “I don’t even know at this point,” Darling says with a laugh. “He is sort of keeping me in suspense too.” Surely they will be worth the wait. 220 E. Chicago Ave., 312.280.2660

727 images Courtesy Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo/Blum & Poe, Los Angeles/New York/Tokyo. © 1996 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd.


HEAVENLY Lyric Opera’s new "Ring" installment featured stunning set designs.

It often takes years to prepare and months to present, and its numerous logistical challenges have frequently defied the most skilled makers in the world—and that’s exactly why Lyric Opera of Chicago once more undertook a new production of Richard Wagner’s epic Ring cycle to open its 62nd season. This was the company’s first performance of the multipart work in more than a decade, and just the third new production in its entire history. Under the steady stick of Musical Director Sir Andrew Davis, the series began this fall with Das Rheingold in a performance a critic for The New York Times called “lean-textured and urgent”—a grand compliment for a two-and-a-half-hour production. On-the-rise bass-baritone Eric Owens boldly took on the challenge of playing Wotan, the king of the gods who commissions the building of Valhalla. Chicago Tribune critic John von Rhein described the show as “nothing short of a triumph on all fronts, intelligently conceived by the creative team [and] brilliantly executed by a top-flight international cast representing the new generation of Wagner singers.” The company will offer one installment each season, finishing the tetralogy in 2020. Grand opera, indeed. 20 N. Upper Wacker Drive, 312.827.5600

The greatest performances arise not only from the moment and the players—they take place in a wonderful room. Here, our readers select three diverse performance spaces, each with their own charm and magic. Your seat is waiting.

1 Versatile (host to Hendrix, Itzhak Perlman and Les Mis), pedigreed (an Adler & Sullivan gem, listed as a National Historic Landmark) and 126 years young, few spaces dazzle like the Auditorium Theatre. Every performance here is granted a sense of occasion by its luminous environment. 50 E. Congress Parkway

2 The legend of the Steppenwolf Theatre Company arises from its brilliant actors, but our readers love the house itself—recently supplemented by the new 1700 Theatre performance space and Front Bar, a cafe that expanded the lobby and makes for a great meeting place before and after the main event. 1650 N. Halsted St.

3 It’s hard to imagine we ever lived without Pilsen’s Thalia Hall. Built in 1892 by Czech immigrant John Dusek (whose name graces the adjacent restaurant), it was revived in 2013 by the minds behind Longman & Eagle and other wonderful places. Current Bohemians now welcome. 1807 S. Allport St.

Das Rheingold performance photo by Andrew Cioffi

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