Nelson Algren Photos on Exhibit At MCA

By: May. 16, 2008



Special MCA exhibition will feature images of Nelson Algren taken by Shay throughout Chicago.
The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, presents an exhibition featuring work by famed photographer Art Shay. This special exhibit, opening May 19, 2008, and running through June 29 at the MCA, 220 E. Chicago Ave, is presented in conjunction with Lookingglass Theatre Company's presentation of Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day.

The exhibition features 19 Shay photographs of Chicago between 1949 and 1968, from the collection of the Stephen Daiter Gallery and the Museum of Contemporary Art. It is a collection hand-picked by the artist, revealing a deep friendship and collaboration with his subject, the author Nelson Algren. Together they capture the culture of the post-war underclass.
Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day, produced by Lookingglass in association with the MCA, uses selections from Algren's 'Chicago: City on the Make' and 'The Last Carousel'. Photos of Nelson Algren by Art Shay are included in the Lookingglass production.
One of Chicago's most prolific photographers, Art Shay has published more than 25,000 photographs during his career, which spans more than half a century and covers such subjects as John F. Kennedy's 1960 presidential campaign, the fights of Muhammad Ali, Hugh Hefner's infamous bedroom office, the last man alive to have seen Abraham Lincoln's corpse, Chicago police clubbing demonstrators at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, and a swan snubbing a pig as they swim.

Some of his favorite photographs, however, are those of Chicago writer Nelson Algren, author of 'The Man with the Golden Arm' and winner of the first National Book Award. Shay and Algren met in 1949 when Shay pitched a story on "the prose poet of the Chicago slums" to his editors at Life magazine. The two men became close friends and spent time roaming the West Side, encountering addicts, hookers, alcoholics, bums, cops, and hustlers, among many other street characters. The gritty photo essay was never published, but photographs from the series are alive in many books and currently held in important private and public collections. Both passionate about and critical of Chicago, Algren wrote a novel, 'Never Come Morning', depicting the seedy underbelly of crime and poverty in the city, which was banned by the Chicago Public Library System. After Algren's death in 1981, Shay published Nelson Algren's Chicago, a collection of his photographs from the men's years together as well as accompanying texts. Shay is currently writing Waiting for Nelson, a play depicting the real-life love triangle between Algren, Simone de Beauvoir, and Jean-Paul Sartre. His World War II play, Where Have You Gone, Jimmy Stewart, was produced by American Theater Company three years ago.

Art Shay will attend the opening performance of Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day on June 8, 2008 at The Museum of Contemporary Art. Shay's book 'Chicago's Nelson Algren' (2007) will be on sale during performances of Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day. His book 'Chicago Accent' (Daiter, 2007), as well as the book he published in 1981, 'Nelson Algren's Chicago', will be on sale at the Museum of Contemporary Art bookstore.
Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day, an intimate multimedia portrait, sets Algren's backstreet poetry to the pulse of a live, on-stage jazz combo, featuring Kevin O'Donnell and Bob Lovecchio playing original music by David Pavkovic, performed against a backdrop of the city as shown through the film imagery of Ensemble Member and Director John Musial. Ensemble Member Thomas J. Cox reprises his role as Algren, one of Chicago's most enduring literary figures. 
Nelson Algren (1909-1981), American novelist, poet, essayist and short story writer, was an unparalleled chronicler of Chicago's beauties and brutalities, its energies and excesses. Born in Detroit in 1909, raised first on the South Side and then on the North Side, Algren came of age in 1931, when he found that his journalism degree from the University of Illinois wasn't much use in the midst of the Great Depression. His debut novel, 'Somebody in Boots' (1935) was followed by 'Never Come Morning' (1942), the novel where he found his true voice and subject matter: the lives and crimes of the Polish-American neighborhood of Chicago's Near Northwest Side. He won the first National Book Award for fiction in 1950 for 'The Man with the Golden Arm', and in 1951, published his lyric love poem-history lesson, 'Chicago: City on the Make' (1951). His close friend Studs Terkel wrote the introduction for its reissue in 1987, and an Annotated Edition was published in 2001.
His transatlantic affair with French existentialist philosopher and novelist Simone de Beauvoir was one of the 20th Century's great love stories. In the mid-1970s, he moved first to Paterson New Jersey, then to Sag Harbor, New York, where his career was on an upswing when he died of a heart attack just after his election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. His other books include the short story collection 'The Neon Wilderness' (1947), 'A Walk on the Wild Side' (1956), 'Who Lost An American?' (1963), 'Notes from a Sea Diary: Hemingway All the Way' (1965), 'The Last Carousel', (1973), and the posthumously published unfinished novel, 'The Devil's Stocking' (1983).
Nelson Algren: For Keeps and a Single Day runs at the MCA June 4-29, 2008.
Tickets to Nelson Algren, $25-$55 or $20-$55 for MCA Members, are available through the Lookingglass box office at (312) 337-0665 or or at the MCA box office at (312) 397-4010 or Lookingglass Theatre Company is located in the heart of the Magnificent Mile shopping district inside Chicago's historic Water Tower Water Works, 821 N. Michigan Ave. at Pearson.
The performance schedule is as follows: Previews are June 4, 5 and 7. The show runs Tuesday through Sundays June 8-29. Curtain is at 7:30 weekdays and 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. on Saturdays and Sundays. There are no performances on June 6, 9, 12, 16, 20, 23 or 24, 2008. There are no weekend matinees on June 7 or 8, 2008.
Target Saturday Matinees (buy one, get one free tickets are available for all 3 p.m. Saturday matinees.) This program is made possible with the generous support of Target, working with Lookingglass to make the arts accessible to all.
Convenient discounted parking for the MCA is available in the MCA parking garage. The garage is adjacent to the museum and may be entered from Chicago Avenue.  Discounted parking is also available at nearby Olympia Centre Garage (161 E. Chicago Ave.).
About the MCA

One of the nation's largest facilities devoted to the art of our time, the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, offers exhibitions of the most thought-provoking art created since 1945. The MCA documents contemporary visual culture through painting, sculpture, photography, video and film, and performance. Located in the heart of downtown Chicago, the MCA boasts a gift store, bookstore, restaurant, 300-seat theater, and a terraced sculpture garden with a great view of Lake Michigan. The mission of the MCA is to be an innovative and compelling center of contemporary art where the public can directly experience the work and ideas of living artists, and understand the historical, social, and cultural context of the art of our time. The Museum boldly interweaves exhibitions, performances, collections, and educational programs to excite, challenge, and illuminate our visitors and to provide insight into the creative process.
The MCA is a private nonprofit, tax-exempt organization accredited by the American Association of Museums.  The MCA is located at 220 E. Chicago Avenue, one block east of Michigan Avenue. The museum and sculpture garden are open Wednesday through Sunday from 10 am to 5 pm and Tuesday from 10 am to 8 pm. The museum is closed on Monday. Enjoy free admission every Tuesday generously sponsored by Target. Suggested general admission is $10 for adults and $6 for students and seniors. Children 12 years of age and under, MCA members, and members of the military are admitted free. Information about MCA exhibitions, programs, and special events is available on the MCA website at www.mcachicago.org or by telephone at 312.397.4010.
About Lookingglass Theatre Company
Inventive. Collaborative. Transformative. Lookingglass Theatre Company was founded in 1988 by eight Northwestern University students. Now in its 20th anniversary season, Lookingglass is home to a multi-disciplined ensemble of artists who create story-centered theatrical work that is physical, aurally rich and visually metaphoric. Lookingglass has staged nearly 50 world premieres at 23 venues across Chicago, and garnered 39 Joseph Jefferson Awards and Citations. Its work has toured to New York, Los Angeles, Seattle, Berkeley, Philadelphia, Princeton, Hartford and St. Louis, and work premiered at Lookingglass has been produced across the United States. The Lookingglass Theatre in Chicago's landmark Water Tower Water Works opened in June 2003. In addition to developing and presenting ensemble work, Lookingglass Education and Community programs encourage youth creativity, teamwork and confidence by working with more than 15,000 students each year.
Lookingglass Theatre Company continues to expand its artistic, financial and institutional boundaries under the guidance of Artistic Director David Catlin, Executive Director Rachel Kraft, Producing Artistic Director Philip R. Smith, Artistic Director of New Work Heidi Stillman, a 22-member artistic ensemble, 15 artistic associates, 12 production affiliates and administrative staff. Board Chairman Lisa Green leads a dedicated board of directors. For more information, visit


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