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Much  to behold

Eleanor Ant100 BOOTS Move On 1971-73 SorrenValley California. June 24 1972 8:50 am (mailed: December 9 1972) gelatsilver print 8

Eleanor Antin 100 BOOTS Move On, 1971-73 Sorrento Valley, California. June 24, 1972, 8:50 am (mailed: December 9, 1972) gelatin silver print 8 x 10 inches Courtesy Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York

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A decade or two ago, almost no one had heard of Artemisia Gentileschi. But the 17th century painter, who has since been the subject of novels and a controversial 1997 film, has become something of a cultural sensation and feminist icon, and her fame among the general public may now even eclipse some of her once better-known male contemporaries.

The Art Institute of Chicago is celebrating this rediscovered art star Oct. 17-Jan. 9 with a compact, two-gallery exhibition focused on one of her greatest masterpieces on loan from the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, Italy: “Judith Slaying Holofernes” (ca. 1620).

Does the quality of Gentileschi’s art live up to the recent hype surrounding her? “That’s a question that will be debated a lot, but certainly this picture does,” said Martha Wolff, the Art Institute’s curator of European painting and sculpture before 1750.

“This is her most or one of her most extraordinary and riveting pictures.”

Also on view will be a dozen or so paintings and works on paper from the Art Institute’s collection by artists such as Lucas Cranach and Jan Sanders van Hemessen that also depict Judith and this biblical scene. They are meant to provide context and show just how dramatic and distinctive Gentileschi’s take was.

Given the rarity of the artist’s works in the United States, the public’s continuing fascination with her and the lack of a high-profile blockbuster this season, this little exhibition has all the makings of a sleeper hit. (For more information: 312-443-3600;

Here’s a look at some other noteworthy visual arts events this fall:

† Sept. 6-Oct. 8, “Bill Traylor: Re-Discovering Genius,” Carl Hammer Gallery. Trammer’s bold, inventive works earned him fame as not only one of this country’s top folk artists but a significant 20th century artist, period. This is the Hammer Gallery’s first solo exhibition of his work since 1997. (312-266-8512;

† Sept. 17-Dec. 14, “Josiah McElheny: Two Clubs at the Arts Club of Chicago,” Arts Club of Chicago. The 2006 MacArthur “genius grant” winner teams with Chicago architect John Vinci for a pair of installations, including a modernist-styled glass room. (312-787-3997;

† Sept. 19-22, Expo Chicago, Navy Pier. The high-profile contemporary art fair returns for its second year, with more than 120 galleries from around the world and a range of accompanying activities. (312-867-9220;

† Sept. 20-Nov. 2, Alex Katz, “Virtual Reality,” Richard Gray Gallery. This solo exhibition will feature portraits and landscapes mostly from the last five years by the pop-influenced painter, one of the still-active old masters of American art. (312-642-8877;

† Sept. 21-Jan. 5, “Inventory_The EAM Collection,” Elmhurst Art Museum. It’s an attention-grabbing if risky idea — display as many of the 600 objects as possible in the museum’s eclectic collection, installing them floor to ceiling in every available space. (630-834-0202;

† Sept. 29-Jan. 12, “A Study in Midwest Appropriation,” Hyde Park Art Center. Curated by Michelle Grabner, this group exhibition explores a distinctive Midwestern approach to appropriation — the borrowing of imagery from other sources, with artists from Chicago, Milwaukee and Minneapolis. (773-324-5520;

† Oct. 3-Jan. 12, “State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970,” Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago. Organized by three California institutions as part of the Los Angeles’ citywide Pacific Standard Time initiative, this show is billed as the first in-depth look at the beginnings of West Coast conceptual art, with works by such artists as Bruce Nauman and Ed Ruscha. (773-702-0200;

† Oct. 5, “Culture in Action: Public Art in Chicago Twenty Years Later,” University of Chicago School of Social Service Administration. Community-based public art is all the rage now, but its roots go back a couple of decades. Threewalls revisits “Culture in Action,” a pioneering Chicago exhibition that featured such work in 1993, with a symposium featuring participants from that show as well as more recent artists working in this vein like Jan Tichy. (312-432-3972;

† Nov. 9-March 9, “The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology,” Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Don’t let the dry title be a deterrent. This show promises a fascinating look at archaeology in a way that the museum describes as “an alternative History Channel.” (312-280-2660;

Kyle MacMillan is a local free-lance writer.

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