Road Trip to Chicago’s Gritty, Colorful Past

It’s hard to escape Chicago.  It doesn’t matter where you go on this big blue marble of ours, Chicago seems to follow us around.  Museums in Seattle feature items salvaged from demolished Chicago buildings.  Las Vegas has dozens of Chicago eateries, including Al’s Beef, Garrett’s Popcorn, and a second Giordano’s location under construction.  Asia is dusted with Dan Ryan’s Chicago Grills.  Tokyo has a used clothing store called Chicago.   Buenos Aires has a neighborhood called New Chicago.  And you can’t get through an episode of Antiques Roadshow without seeing some machine, painting, or other nicknack that was made in the Windy City.

Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago, 1977 (photo by Wayne Sorce, via Joseph Bellows Gallery)

Fort Dearborn Coffee, Chicago, 1977 (photo by Wayne Sorce, via Joseph Bellows Gallery)

So it’s not that surprising that there is a new art exhibit out on the left coast that celebrates Chicago.  This time it’s photography.  And not just any photography, it’s the now vintage, super-colorful work of Wayne Sorce.  The exhibit is called Urban Color, and features Mr. Sorce’s photographs of 1970’s and 80’s Chicago, plus some east coast city that shall remain nameless.

Even though his images are close to 50 years old, they are as crisp, and as colorful as anything you’ll find from an iPhone X on Instagram today.

That vibrancy is enhanced by the subject matter.  Sorce didn’t shoot the postcard skyline pics we’re used to seeing.  His lens was aimed at the city’s grit and grime.  The juxtaposition of color and decay is both jarring, and comforting as we see a city from a time gone by that also looks startlingly familiar.

If you’d like to see the exhibit, set your Google Maps to the Joseph Bellows Gallery in La Jolla, California.  If a Route 66 trip isn’t in your future,  just enjoy the images below, and see if you can figure out their locations.

Upcoming Exhibition: Wayne Sorce: Urban Color

October 21st – November 30th, 2017

Joseph Bellows Gallery is pleased to announce its upcoming solo exhibition,
Wayne Sorce: Urban Color. The exhibition will open on October 21st and continue
through November 30th, 2017. In conjunction with Sorce’s exhibition will be a
group show relating to the city as subject.

Urban Color will present a remarkable selection Sorce’s large-scale color
photographs of urban environments taken in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s in
both Chicago and New York City. His urban landscapes describe, with a formal
exactitude, the light, structures, and palette of these cities within a certain era.
For Sorce, the urban landscape is both still and transitory; people appear in
the photographs as both inhabitants, as well as sculptural forms relating to a larger
composed scene.

Wayne Sorce (American, 1946 – 2015) was born in Chicago, Illinois. He received
both a B.F.A. and a M.F.A. from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (1969
and 1971). His photographs have been exhibited at the Renaissance Society,
University of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and the
Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Sorce’s photographs are held within the collections of the Art Institute of
Chicago, the George Eastman Museum, the Armand Hammer Museum of Art,
National Museum of American Art, at the Smithsonian Institution, and the
Museum of Modern Art.

Complementing Sorce’s exhibition will be a collection of photographs by his
contemporaries that describe the city as subject. Work by Bob Thall, George
Tice, Bevan Davies, Grant Mudford, and others will be included.

Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at

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