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DePaul unveils its masterpiece

The new DePaul Art Museum is featuring Chicago artists its first exhibitiRe: Chicago including sculpture found objects by artist Juan

The new DePaul Art Museum is featuring Chicago artists in its first exhibition, Re: Chicago, including a sculpture of found objects by artist Juan Chavez called, "No campground, just water." | Jean Lachat~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 17, 2011 12:46AM

There is no work by Ed Paschke.

In “Re: Chicago,” the debut exhibit at DePaul University’s new art museum, movers and shakers in the local art world were asked to nominate a Chicago artist who is famous, ought to be famous or used to be famous.

“I like to think of it as the democratizing of the curatorial process,” said Louise Lincoln, the museum’s director.

The result is a diverse display of all kinds of different art from different artists, all except the one who may arguably be the best known: Paschke.

“There were some surprises,” Lincoln said of Paschke’s exclusion. “I think everybody else thought somebody else nominated him.”

“Re: Chicago” showcases 41 Chicago artists, past and present, showing off the new space DePaul constructed to display the university’s art collection and special exhibitions. Free and open to the public, the new museum also houses classroom space for students and faculty to get an up-close and personal look at fine art.

“Visual arts have something to say about all aspects of daily life and art,” Lincoln said. “This is much more visible to the outside audience. This is a window to what the university is about.”

DePaul’s art collection was never meant only for art students and faculty.

Since 1985, it was tucked away in the Lincoln Park campus’ library building, a location that made it difficult for many to know what treasures were stored within. Inside, there was limited space to display the university’s growing collection of about 2,000 objects, dating from 300 B.C.

That all changes this weekend as the university opens its gleaming, 15,200-square-foot, $7.8 million museum at 935 W. Fullerton, just east of the entrance to the Fullerton L station. The museum is part of a university effort to expand all types of art programs. It’s also a way to display more exhibitions and the school’s own works.

“The museum was expanding, and was expanding rapidly,” in part through gifts of art, Lincoln said.

Last year, 20 donors gave 407 pieces to the museum.

“For the museum’s sake, it was getting more crowded and difficult,” she said.

One tradition that transferred from the old building to the new one is a Chicago-based show in the fall to celebrate the university’s link to the city. This year, that show is “Re: Chicago,” which runs through March 4.

While there is no Paschke piece to celebrate the museum’s opening, Lincoln said curators at DePaul decided to let the process play itself out, not injecting themselves or their ideas about who should or should not be included.

The result is an appealing and accessible mix of different types of art meant to spark conversation.

“It was a chance to show our collection, other collections locally and some from Los Angeles and New York,” Lincoln said. She and her staff spent a year and a half tracking down nominated works. Those who did the nominating explain their choice in labels next to the artwork.

The art forms vary and span about 150 years. The oldest piece is “Portrait-Bust of a Man, 1865” by painter George Healy. Lincoln described Healy as the “Annie Leibovitz of his day,” an in-demand portrait artist of the 19th century. Healy traveled more than 30 times to Europe to paint celebrities in his lifetime.

Also featured is Henry Darger, who lived about two blocks from DePaul in Lincoln Park until his death in 1973. A janitor by day, Darger left more than 15,000 pages of illustrations and stories about an adventurous tribe of little girls.

“It was a whole universe for him,” Lincoln said. “He had an incredible fantasy life.”

His work, like the watercolor and collage piece on display, has become highly valued for art collectors, she said.

On display is a Nick Cave “soundsuit,” a sack of small twigs hung on a mannequin, and “Peace” by Margaret Burroughs, the late founder of the DuSable Museum of African American History. Artist Juan Chavez, in “No Campground Just Water,” built a large installation of what appears to be a round underwater camping shack, decorated with lace curtains and placed atop a plush orange fish.

Lincoln said this isn’t the first show about Chicago, but it may be one of the most eclectic.

“It’s usually a single artist or image or WPA work,” she said.

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