City life making artists ‘board’

By Meryl Fulinara

Walking down the streets of a city so delicate that walls could be blown down with one furious breath, and roofs could topple over with the swing of an arm, is a sight so exquisite, so unreal and so … cardboard.

At the First Annual Art Exhibit at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave., patrons walked down the streets of such a city, “Exquisite City.”

The show was curated by Kathleen Judge, an illustrator and stand-out in Chicago’s poster art scene, after the project’s inception six years ago when she was hanging out with her friend Neko Case, a singer-songwriter and member of The New Pornographers.

“You know whenever you get an idea, and in a matter of seconds a simple building turns into an elaborate city, [that’s what this is].” Judge said.

All the artists involved with the creation of the city were from Chicago or had a strong presence in the city, Judge said.

“I wanted them to be inspired by the city of Chicago, but it didn’t have to literally be Chicago,” Judge said. “A lot of it is created or imagined places. Some of them are connected to Chicago or look like city blocks. I had a feeling of the scale of the project and [the turnout] matched my vision.”

There were simple limitations artists had to follow, including making their own city blocks made entirely out of cardboard, in addition to size restrictions. The block dimensions were limited to 40 inches long, 48 inches wide and 72 inches high. It was up to the artists who participated to decide what they would incorporate. Some made vacant lots, lofts or other city dwellings.

“It seems to [be] quite a community event, which I think syncs perfectly with the concept of ‘Exquisite City,’ since you are in pursuit of creating a new vision for a community,” said Meagan Ross, a curator whose piece was featured in the exhibit.

Each artist created what they thought a city block could look like. The piece constructed by Ross is a futuristic subterranean pod where inhabitants lived underground.

The lighted pod has a dome above ground, so solar energy could come into the pod, Ross said. The piece was co-constructed with Elise Zelechowski, an associate director at the Delta Institute and a LEED-accredited professional. Ross said they are both interested in sustainable redesign of communities.

Another artist, Charlie Thorne, said he has always been fascinated with miniatures and details. His interpretation of the city comes in the form of an antique box he outfitted with scenic city details.

“A city inside the box is an offshoot of something I’ve been doing over the last 10 years,” Thorne said. “[I] build little micro-sculptures inside of lipstick tubes; I’ve done the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building and the Sears Tower.”

Judge wanted artists to construct a fantasy cityscape inspired by Chicago, the city where she was born and that she loves.

As Judge and Case were about to progress with the show, the pair realized how large and time-consuming the project would be. The daunting task of trying to find the right space along with their busy schedules forced the two to put the ideas aside.

“I was waiting for the right opportunity to come up,” Judge said.

Her opportunity came when the Viaduct Theater contacted her about curating a show. Judge brought up the idea for a city made of paper. The project was in sync with the theater’s desire to hold an annual art exhibit that utilized its vast theater space.

Judge said the opening night was “packed” with people.

“It was [crowded] in a way that it was hard to look at the details of every building, but in a great way where it got everybody excited,” Judge said.

‘Exquisite City’ runs through the month of November and will host a closing party Dec. 13. The show is free and open Wed.-Fri. 5 p.m-9 p.m., Sat. 1 p.m.-9 p.m. and Sun. 1 p.m.-8 p.m. at the Viaduct Theater, 3111 N. Western Ave.