Sherman Beck: On The South Side, Art Tackles A Problem

Deanna Isaacs, Chicago Reader, September 16, 2013


Not far from Navy Pier, another expo beckons (and this one’s free).


 Art collectors in town for EXPO Chicago this weekend have an opportunity to see something they won’t find anywhere else on the international art-fair circuit. The South Side Community Art Center—the only surviving center of more than a hundred launched by the Works Progress Administration—has mounted a uniquely Chicago show. “Maleness to Manhood: Reclamation of the Young Black Man” is an artistic response to the street violence that’s been the city’s most recent claim to fame.


Displayed in SSCAC’s landmark home, an 1893 brownstone with a Bauhaus interior, it features the work of 44 black male artists, most of them local, all with ties to Chicago. Since each artist contributed a single work, it’s a richly varied tapestry, packed with pieces that have the muscle of a mission beyond their own making. And although most of the artwork is for sale, it’s not about the selling.


SSCAC executive director Heather Robinson says the center had been planning a retrospective for six black male artists for more than a year. “But as the summer approached and the crisis in the neighborhoods got to be overwhelming, the call changed. We said, ‘We would like to curate a show where you all are responding to the crisis of the young black man.’ And that’s when we got this tremendous response. Everyone said, ‘Yes! How can we be involved?'”


It’s an unusual mix, with the work of recognized artists like Dawoud Bey and Hebru Brantley hung next to relative unknowns, and mature artists like Sherman Beck (who’ll have a solo show at SSCAC in November) rubbing elbows with emerging artists like Stephen Flemister. The Beck piece in this show, Contemplation, is an amalgam of the south-side front-stoop neighborhoods of the artist’s youth that conjures up the blues and the dreams that were in the air then. 

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