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The Past Has Not Passed: Sit, listen and learn at Chicago Art Department

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The Pilsen art walk used to be the only annual studio crawl where artists flung open their doors, gave spectators cheap, free wine and general revelry was had in secret annexed gardens you couldn’t see from the street. The novelty of the art walk is its yearliness, but now it happens every month on Second Fridays.

This particular February night, the Skylark is too packed to sit, so it is a curmudgeon’s refuge to walk into the Chicago Art Department for respite and feel actual unexpected delight.

Ben Valentine and Christopher Piatt sit at a table with an old-timey microphone and a list of radio programs, the last of which is now playing Orson Welles’ “War of the Worlds.” Welles’ voice—a true orator, this man—is barely audible over the din of the gallery crawlers. Only a few people are politely sitting to listen, and suddenly there is something symmetrical about the nostalgia for the art-walk scene of times past and the old-fashioned nature of this event, billed as a presentation of the Golden Age of Radio under the larger umbrella exhibit “Cultural Excavations.”

“Did you hear the Agnes Moorehead piece?” Valentine asks, launching a conversation that includes “Citizen Kane,” the Mercury Theater projects, the excellent Radiolab podcast and “The Shadow.” The handful of sitting neo-Luddites gaze blankly as the listening party continues.

The wine is still free, and it’s stale outside, but in here the nostalgia is rich and abundant.(Jessica Meyer)

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