Impressions of Expo Chicago 2012

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As a Chicago cultural connoisseur, I really had high hopes for the International Exposition of Contemporary/Modern Art & Design, known around town with its less convoluted nickname of Expo Chicago.  I was a big fan of the early editions of Artropolis, the umbrella brand for that conglomeration of art fairs hosted by the Merchandise Mart (Art Chicago, Next, the international antiques fair, etc.) in the late ‘naughts, which unfortunately petered out to a sad, unmemorable, uncared for shadow of its old self (in recent years the fairs individually and collectively came off as slightly upscale versions of the Old Town Art Fair and that is not a compliment) until the Mart mercifully cancelled it early this year.  Expo Chicago was going to recapture Chicago’s art fair glory days before pesky upstarts like Art Basel Miami and New York’s The Armory Show came on the scene, something Artropolis/Art Chicago/Next ultimately failed to do.  From the buzz, Expo Chicago was going to be our attempt to put on a world-class art fair that will attract galleries, artists, collectors, and just plain old art lovers from all over the world. Having attended the 2011 Hong Kong Art Fair, one of the significant stops in the global art world circuit (and soon to be rebranded as Art Basel Hong Kong in 2013), I’ve had a taste of the experience of a true world-class art fair for a plain old art lover like me.  I was blown away by what I saw last year in Hong Kong – it was an education and, at times, over-stimulated immersion in the latest, greatest, most exciting artists, techniques, and approaches (seriously, a hologram installation inspired by Samuel Beckett?).  I was not blown away by what I saw at Expo Chicago, which ran from September 20-23. And maybe this was where I had a proble,m:  in Chicago, the art fair primarily catered to the (safe? mainstream?) tastes and interests of collectors and the elite art galleries that run after them, and not to the art lover/patron. Which is fine, since art fairs need to make money in order to be viable (and gosh, there was a plethora of Chicago media articles tracking art sales at the fair as if they were the ups and downs of NASDAQ), but did anyone say to Expo Chicago’s organizers that today’s art lover/patron may be tomorrow’s Ai Weiwei collector, or better yet, next decade’s Ai Weiwei?

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Out of Commission

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Yep, blog posting has been sparse since the beginning of June, unfortunately, since I seem to have jumped on a careening, brake-less Metra train between dealing with lots of organizational transitions going on at my day job, helping the rest of the Board and the company of TUTA Theatre Chicago put on our annual fundraiser benefit (which we successfully pulled off last Sunday, June 7, yay, despite lots of anxiety and hairpulling, de rigueur for non-profit fundraisers of all kinds, I’ve come to find out), and co-chairing this year’s Steppenwolf Theatre Red or White Ball (which benefits the theater’s educational outreach, the Steppenwolf for Young Adults Program).  The Red or White Ball is tonight, and boy, if I was exhausted last year after the event, I’m not sure what state of physical and mental being I’ll be in tomorrow.  Putting up a fundraising event of this scope and scale is pretty intense, with lots of hard work and time commitment required, but I think it’s going to be a spectacular event for a cause I’m passionate about – as my blog readers know, I feel very strongly that the arts can only survive if we are able to successfully enthrall, convert  and immerse new audiences.  I’m psyched!  Despite all kinds of crazy busy schedules though, I still have a lot of things on my mind, so I’d like to give a shout out to these below (and there’ll be more blog posts starting next week!) Read the rest of this entry »

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The Modern Wing!

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modern-wing.jpgThe much-awaited, ten years in the making Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago finally opened its doors to the public last Saturday, May 16! And it is glorious, breathtaking, epic, dramatic, super-sexy, exhilarating in I’m-glad-to-be-alive-kind of way - it deserves all the superlatives it can get, plus it’s green-friendly too (with an automated dimming system that changes the amount of artificial lighting in use based on the the level of natural light entering the galleries).  Famed architect Renzo Piano designed the Modern Wing (which adds 264,000 square feet to the Art Institute and makes it the second largest museum in the US, next to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), and he has further enriched Chicago’s already world-class, much-acclaimed urban architecture.  But I am personally grateful to him for designing the galleries in a very visitor-friendly way, as if you’re leisurely rowing along a gently flowing river.  There’s none of the sometimes overwhelming maze-like complexity of the Art Institute main building.  Plus there are these magnificent picture windows at the north side of the building that open into jaw-dropping views of the Chicago skyline and Millennium Park – enough for anyone to say, why live anywhere else?  The Modern Wing curators confidently and smartly use the space to showcase the art in the most impactful manner possible.  None of the galleries I visited during the opening night preview party on Friday felt crammed, and the design allowed you to really soak in Cy Twombly’s Peony series, or Robert Gober’s harrowing room installation which includes his infamous Hanging Man/Sleeping Man wallpaper (the ones hanging being black men and the ones sleeping being white men), a headless mannequin wearing a wedding dress, and bags of cat litter.  I love the fact that you could actually focus on a piece, versus getting distracted by the other trainstopping art surrounding you.  Although there has been some reservations from the usual know-it-alls about the comprehensiveness and diversity of the collection, the unveiling of the Modern Wing is a watershed in the evolution of Chicago as a global culture capital.  By the way, Young Modern, the late night preview party for young professionals (as compared to what, Old Modern, the much-earlier preview party?  The, ahem, traditional Art Institute crowd was out and about all around the museum pre-sunset on Friday night) was a blast.  Boatloads of Chicago’s young (and not so young), attractively-dressed culturati (and not so culturati too) enjoyed a relaxed art viewing, mingling with other arts-oriented folks, numerous open bars, top-notch musical acts such as the Goran Ivanovic Group, and eccentric, artsy, trying-to-be-painfully-hip event touches that make art opening nights memorable such as performance artist Igor Josifov lying inside the glass walkway you cross to enter the party rooms, and serving pizza from the box with champagne at midnight.  Lovely!

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Impressive Impressions

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There’s been snow, freezing rain, strong winds, hail, slush, and grey skies in the first fourteen days of April in Chicago…what’s next a plague of locusts?  This schizo weather non-pattern has been cramping my culture vulture style, bigtime.  Fortunately, it was relatively warm-er two Fridays ago so BFF Camela and I were able to sashay through the Fulton Market art gallery openings.  I’m almost convinced that many of the city’s art galleries are keeping their brightest and best artists under deep cover, to gloriously unveil them during Art Chicago and Next Art Fair, upcoming in early May, since we saw a lot of head-scratching quasi-artistic efforts during the two Fridays we traipsed through the West Loop.  However, we also enjoyed two marvelous, absolutely jaw-dropping exhibitions during the Fulton Market walkabout, and both were from young artists, which was so encouraging.

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Rite of Spring

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west-loop-galleries.jpgOver the past several years, it had always felt to me that spring had definitely, finally arrived, if the weather was warm enough to go on an art walk during the opening night artists’ receptions at the art galleries concentrated around the Peoria-Washington corridor and the Fulton Market stretch in the West Loop.   After what seemed like an eternity caught in dreadful winter’s gloomy and freezing chokehold, it felt so joyous, so celebratory, so civilized to move from one gallery to another, sipping an alcoholic beverage du jour, soaking yourself in various forms of paintings, photographs, sculptures, multi-media, and all points in between, some of them jaw-droppingly good, some of them headscratchingly awful, most of them intriguing telescopes into the workings and aspirations of the creative mind. And yes, the people-watching couldn’t be beat too!  So despite the fact that my face and eyes were puffy like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s after a bad Botox session, thanks to my other rite of spring, pollen allergy attacks, I, together with BFF Camela in the spirit of cultural intrepedity, made our way last Friday at several opening receptions in the West Loop’s Peoria-Washington intersection. 

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One Week Later: Impressions of Printers’ Ball and Howard Henry Chen at the MCA

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Last Friday night, I was at the Printers’ Ball at the Museum of Contemporary Art so I could check out what the hype was all about.  Many people have said it has been the must-go event of the past three late summers in Chicago, and with it’s notorious shutdown by the cops at last year’s Zhou B. Art Center venue, it’s curiosity value, and yes, cool cache, has increased several dozenfold. The Poetry Foundation sponsors this annual event where Chicago-based publishers and publications give away their wares for free to the hungry reading public in a party-type atmosphere, complete with free food, cash bars, performances, and DJs spinning house music.  So, first off, I do want to say that anything that encourages people to read is worthwhile, so kudos to the Printers’ Ball organizers, sponsors, and participants for getting the event off the ground.  However, any event that has several hundred people shoving their elbows into other people’s eyeballs, and looking like they’re the frenzied Bridezillas in the Today show’s race for bridal gowns contest, all for free stuff, is insane.  I wasn’t sure why people were grabbing “The Textiles of Indonesia” softcovers from each other’s hands (these were people who should be paying attention to the textiles they were wearing first – honey, wearing a gold lame tanktop when you’re outrageously Rubenesque will make you look like the groom’s elephant in an Indian royal wedding anyday).  People were taking anything that was laid out on the floor or on the tables, whether they were books, magazines, journals, tsotchkes, flyers for a Chinese restaurant, whatever wasn’t locked down was grabbed and pawed….it was really tacky actually.  Now, I did grab my share of free stuff (and contributed $3 to the Poetry Foundation for a, uhmmm, ok, I need to be revived with a hot towel, quick…green and yellow tote bag) but, at least, I thought I was pretty selective.  And after the freebie grab, the attendees began gorging themselves on the free hotdogs as if they just arrived from a Somalian refugee camp! Really, what was up with these people?

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