April 23, 2013:
1700 S Halsted
1600 W 16th St

Posted April 23, 2013

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New Deal-era murals created throughout the city of Chicago as a part of the WPA’s Federal Art Project in the 1930s were inspired by the murals of Mexican artists including “los tres grandes” —Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The spirit of community activism and belief that art is a socio-political instrument of collective change can be traced from the Mexican Mural Movement of the 1930s to the public murals created in neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides during the late 1960s and 70s. Goshka is perhaps best known internationally for her large-scale tapestries—three outstanding examples of which were on view in her exhibition at the MCA—which she has often referred to as “mobile murals.” Furthermore, it should be noted that as a teenager in mid-1980s Poland, the artist initially dreamt of a career (if we can call it that) restoring Russian Orthodox mural paintings and icons.

In preparation for an afternoon spent exploring murals on the South and West sides of Chicago, we stopped in for a quick lunch at Consuela Oceguera’s Taco Palacio. Arguably the best spot in Pilsen for tacos al pastor and a quick comida corrida, the tiny storefront seats only five people. With Consuela cooking just a few feet in front of the counter, it’s hard not to feel like you’re sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen. One of Pilsen’s true hidden gems, Taco Palacio also contains an even more hidden back space—a BYOB pool hall tucked behind the kitchen.

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Walking west from Halsted along the 16th Street railroad embankment toward Ashland, we stopped to look at murals ranging from graffiti art to Ray Noland’s now infamous stencils of jogging, black track suit-clad Rod Blagojevich—Run Blago Run. Moving away from Halsted, contemporary street art starts to mix with murals that were painted in the mid-1970s during the peak of the Barrio / Mexican Mural Movement in Pilsen and Little Village. Architect Adrian Lozano, who painted a twenty foot mural in the Benito Juárez Club at the Jane Addams Hull House in 1940-41, was instrumental in forming a partnership with the Pilsen-based Chicago artists group MARCH (el Movimiento Artístico Chicano) and Benito Juárez High School in Pilsen that resulted in the creation of neighborhood murals by Chicago artists including Mario Castillo, Aurelio Díaz and José Gamaliel González.

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Goshka photographing just to the east of one of the oldest surviving murals from the 1970s, Aurelio Díaz’s series of profiles, Caras. Located at the corner of 16th Street and South Blue Island Avenue, the Caras mural was created with the help of area students and residents in 1976 as a part of Díaz’s Galería del Barrio. Díaz moved to Chicago from Michoacán, Mexico in the early 1970s, and initiated community-based mural projects in the city through the 1980s. His murals can be seen at Casa Aztlán and on the playground wall of St. Pius V Parish School, among other locations in Pilsen and surrounding neighborhoods.

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Murals between South Carpenter Street and South Allport Street along the 16th Street corridor. We’re curious who painted these and when—contact us if you have any details!

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What is Mother Teresa doing here? As is well enough known, the life of the Albanian nun born as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in a Western outpost of the former Ottoman Empire unfolded primarily in the slums of Kolkata, where she came to embody a deeply flawed “theology of suffering.” The late Christopher Hitchens wrote an especially scathing critique of the diminutive Sister titled The Missionary Position. “A dirty job but someone had to do it,” as one sympathetic reviewer in the Sunday Times put it. Oh yes, the Missionaries of Charity do have a base in Pilsen we hear.