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May 2, 2008

Daily Herald

The draw of art

By Julie Merar | Contributing Writer

By now most of us have figured out that our local colleges offer great lower cost deals on performances of all kinds -- concerts, movies, plays and so much more.

That's why it came as no surprise to me when I heard that DePaul University has its very own art museum. What did blow me away was the caliber of the museum and the exhibits -- especially when you consider the cost -- it's free.

Housed in the John T. Richardson Library, the Museum is a 4,000-square-foot facility on the university's Lincoln Park campus. Staffed by museum professionals and students, it serves both students and the community at large through its permanent collections, exhibitions, programs and events.

Now you might be thinking -- bad first-year art student exhibits -- but you couldn't be more wrong.

Some recent presentations include paintings, sculpture, printmaking and installations by contemporary Iraqi artists; early 20th century photographs by Eugene Atget and Berenice Abbott, and Old Master prints by such artists as Dčrer, Cranach, Rembrandt and Goya.

The facility consists of two galleries.

One shows exhibitions that rotate every four months (approximately every semester). Though the collections, exhibitions and programs are highly diverse, they strongly represent art of the Chicago area.

"Many of its projects are historical or thematic in focus, but the gallery has a commitment to showing contemporary art as a means of exploring aspects of our own culture," the university says on its site.

Currently showing is Augustus F. Sherman's "Ellis Island Portraits 1905-1920."

A registry clerk at Ellis Island, Sherman systematically photographed prospective immigrants to the United States.

Romanian shepherds, Greek priests, Russian vegetarians, Moroccan children, often donning elaborate national dress, seem remarkably close and present in these portraits. Seventy-five images from his archive are traveling to museums in Europe and the United States.

The black-and-white images stare back at you with eyes that are brimming with tales. Some pictures are labeled with full explanations, while others leave you to concoct your own adventure.

While the presentation reflects the political and social controversies of that period, there is still a light-heartedness to it.

Sherman's exhibition is part of an "Immigration and Film" series. Featuring such films as "The Immigrant," "My Girl Tisa," "La Ciudad" and "In America," this series runs the length of the exhibit with each film falling on a different night.

The second gallery displays pieces from the university's permanent collection, which is impressive and expansive.

Pieces spanning the globe -- from Bibi, Nigeria to Italy and back to Chicago -- take residence in this hall. This exhibit remains for the year, except for when students display their own pieces for a once-a-year competition.

This year, due to current political climate and continuing controversy in the Middle East, the museum has temporarily suspended the display of its permanent collection to showcase "Abu Ghraib Detainee Interview Project" by Daniel Heyman.

Heyman created the works while he was allowed to witness the interviews with former detainees administered in Jordan and Turkey. Over a period of two years, Heyman drew the likenesses of the interviewees and incorporated excerpts of their testimony into the final images, creating watercolor images in a 34-foot accordion-style book. It's a truly haunting and thought-provoking display.

Though housed inside of the university's library building, the museum attracts more than just students and is easily accessible to the public.

Through community and group events, film screenings and lectures, everyone is invited to experience this well-hidden gem.

Another little plus is how laid-back the facility is. This is, after all, a college campus--no speaking in hushed tones is necessary in these galleries.

Soak up a little campus life, take a stroll on in and check out the upcoming exhibitions: Annual Juried Student Exhibition May 16 to June 15, or the DePaul Art Museum Main Gallery: Art and Politics in Chicago Sept. 18 to Nov. 23.

It can't hurt you to hit up the library afterward.

Publications on current or past exhibitions can be purchased through the university (www.museums.depaul.edu/artwebsite).

DePaul University Art Museum
2350 N. Kenmore Ave., Chicago
(773) 325-7506