Thud

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The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago has been on a roll lately, with its fantastic Escultura Social exhibit of new Mexican art last summer, and Sympathy for the Devil, the much-talked about showcase of the intersection of rock and roll and art last fall, proving once and for all that it is one of the top platforms in the country for brave, unique, innovative contemporary arts programming. So I was really looking forward to its Jeff Koons exhibit, simply titled “Jeff Koons”, which opened May 31.  For one, this exhibit was the first comprehensive survey of the work of this major contemporary artist, including not only his most well-known pieces but also a parallel exhibition of the works of the Chicago artists, such as Ed Paschke, who influenced him.  For another, Koons himself had been very much involved in putting the show together, and had made available some pieces from his personal collection.  Finally, it wasn’t a traveling show- it was an art show conceived in Chicago, which would only be seen in Chicago.  Well, great expectations beget even greater disappointments, and the show, as well as the artist, Jeff Koons, has fallen with a thunderous thud, in my eyes.

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This is art?

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nyc-waterfalls.jpgLast week, as I was driving down FDR Drive in New York City, on my way downtown for my client presentation, I managed to see two of the four waterfalls which were part of the public art installation “New York City Waterfalls” by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson.  His previous claim to fame was creating a fake sun which illuminated the ceiling of Tate Museum in London day and night.  There was a big to-do last week in New York City with the main sponsor of this art installation, the city’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg, making many media appearances extolling the virtues of the art and artist alike, and leading an opening ceremony on South Street Seaport on Thursday morning.  The four waterfalls, each between 90 to 120 feet tall, were erected on four points along the East River, most notably under the magnificent Brooklyn Bridge.  In my humble opinion, no one needed to be messing around with the Brooklyn Bridge- it is one of the most dazzling, most beautiful architectural landmarks in the country, so having water being pumped from scaffolding under it is like having a Number 2 pencil lying on Brad Pitt’s abs, absolutely, maddeningly pointless.  Which, by the way, is how I felt about this so-called art installation.  The waterfalls were nothing but scaffolding and falling water, and for this particular viewer, they didn’t conjure up any profound insights about “exploring the dynamic nature of the waterfront” or “painting a narrative about the complexity of the city”, variations of phrases that Eliasson has used to describe exactly what the hell this installation is about, phrases which call to mind laughable, ridiculous stereotypes of what modern art is.  So if scaffolding is art, what will come next?  oil rigs?  building construction sites? car assembly lines?  What is particularly grating is that this smoke and mirrors of an exhibit cost $15.5 million to create (raised from a variety of private donors, including allegedly millionaire mayor Bloomberg himself) – shockingly tasteless, self-indulgent, and close to unconscionable during these times when the economy is tanking, people are unemployed, gas prices and food costs are through the roof.  Leave it to New York City to shamelessly disregard the state of the rest of the union, and continue to float in its glossy wonderland of self-absorption.  Check out the New York Times’ coverage of the Waterfalls, including a clueless, bordering on the delusional, review.

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Random Ramblings

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It has been that kind of a week.  I am mentally and physically fried from having to work the weekend and really, really early mornings (4 am anyone?) as well as dealing with spring allergies and this crazy it’s summer-one-day, it’s-cold-and-rainy-the-next early June weather Chicago is having.  So instead of writing on a focused topic, which I normally like doing, I’m just going to blog on a bunch of things.  And, anyway, lots of bloggers blog on in this stream-of-consciousness manner all the time (and many of them are not even remotely close to William Faulkner’s talents…).  I’ve also gone to a lot of things over the past weeks and months and have not had the catch up time necessary to write about them, and this is the time to do so.

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Impressions of Artropolis Chicago

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It’s been nearly a week since Artropolis Chicago came to a close- that intimidating, overwhelming, thrilling, intriguing, and ultimately rewarding, art fair of 780 exhibitors and 16,000 artworks from close to 20 countries on three floors of the Merchandise Mart, but I’m still awestruck by the wonderful windows to creativity and artistic experimentation that the event provided to Chicagoans.   I spent three hours at Artropolis during the Preview Parties on Thursday, April 24, and another three hours on the Saturday afternoon immediately following, but I barely scratched the surface of what was on view.  Which was alright, since as Chicago Tribune art critic Alan Artner said in his preview to the festival, “(t)he impulse is to take in everything but that is immersion akin to a ducking stool.”  Since I didn’t want my experience of art to be similar to that of being strapped into a medieval torture device, I decided to wander, linger, rest, wander again, stop and reflect, and when I had had enough for the day, leave.  I thought that was a good way to take in the pleasures of Artropolis.  I did make a couple of choices beforehand:  I skipped two of the festival’s shows, the International Antiques Fair and the Intuit Show of Folk and Outside Art, since Biedermeier chairs and Art Brut weren’t really my thing, respectively; and I decided to limit my wanderings around The Artist Project, the independent artists’ show, to my friend Sarah Stec’s booth and a couple of aisles over (actually, many of the artists who exhibited here also show at the Old Town Art Fair and other fairs around the city, so there would always be an opportunity to catch them at some place sometime soon).  So I concentrated my time and attention on the works on display at Art Chicago, the main Artropolis show, and NEXT, which was the curated show of cutting-edge, next generation art.  I still didn’t get  to see many, many wonderful artists and pieces, but here’s some of the works that I thought were very memorable- either because they were provocative, challenging, infuriating, inspired, or personally affecting, or all of these, which for me, good art should always be: Read the rest of this entry »

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Artropolis Chicago Is Coming!

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In a week and a half, Chicago will be buzzing with artists, art collectors, gallery owners, the international media, and ordinary art loving folks like me and my friends, as Artropolis Chicago takes place for the second straight year at the Merchandise Mart from April 25-28, 2008.  The Mart, under its President, Christopher Kennedy, took over the much maligned and drama-filled Art Chicago and paired it with a variety of other art fairs, including its own International Antiques Fair, under the umbrella of Artropolis, a weekend celebration of “art, antiques, and culture” in a bid to put Chicago back on the international art scene map again (Art Chicago was one of the top art fairs in the world in the 1980s).  Judging from the reviews, participating artists and galleries, and audience turnout last year, I think the city made a terrific strong impression which should make this year’s Artropolis even more of a must-go destination for the denizens of the global art world (although Art Basel Miami and the Armory Show in New York continue to be seen as the premier North American art fairs).  I was overwhelmed last year by the amount of art that was exhibited, and the variety of media that were on display, from painting, sculpture, and photography, to video installations and site-specific installations.  It was impossible to really take advantage of the Artropolis experience in a single weekend, given the fact that in addition to viewing the art, there were lectures, live performances, and parties to attend if you wished to.   My main quibble last year was the fact that the Bridge Art Fair, which was the showcase for emerging, cutting-edge, “younger” art, and The Artist Project, which was an exhibit of 30 independent/unrepresented artists, were housed in a tacky wing of the Chicago Apparel Center, right next to the Mart, whose temperature was similar to that of a Finnish sauna.  I was loving and soaking up the Art Chicago exhibits, housed together with the Antiques Fair and the Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art in the main Merchandise Mart building, and glowing with that high that one gets when in the midst of stunning, unique, interesting art work; but then I had to traipse over to the Apparel Center, through a long walkway that felt like a sterile hospital corridor, and then emerged onto the two fairs, which were so poorly-laid out and cramped I felt I was in a Marrakech bazaar, without the Moroccans!  Anyway, there will be no such problem this year since Art Chicago moves to the 12th floor of the Mart and the Next Art Fair (which has supplanted Bridge) moves into the 7th Floor, with the Artist Project, the Antiques Fair and the Intuit show all sharing the 8th floor.

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Contemporary Perspectives: Walker Art Center

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brave-new-worlds-at-the-walker.bmpNo visit to Minneapolis is complete for me without a trip to the Walker Art Center, one of the most esteemed and most risk-taking and original of all contemporary art museums in the US.  My arts education as a graduate student in Minnesota way back when was heavily influenced by the Walker; it was here that I first encountered Chuck Close and Robert Rauschenberg, and I remembered sitting through a screening here of Peter Greenaway’s The Pillow Book delirious with wonder at the craziness that Greenaway brazenly put on film (including unabashedly admiring shots of Ewan MacGregor’s, shall we say, ah, uhmmm, prodigious, non-acting, assets).  As soon as I got off the plane in Minneapolis last Wednesday, friends and random strangers were telling me to run and see the Frida Kahlo exhibition at the Walker.  So off I went, and then found out, disappointingly, that there was an hour and fifteen minute wait to get into the Kahlo galleries.  As I gazed with dismay at the sea of Minnesotans in their wool sweaters embroidered with various forms of flaura and fauna, patiently waiting, I decided, unless Salma Hayek was inside in her Frida costume and unibrow, that no way in hell would I be waiting an hour in line for anything.  So I wandered through the other Walker galleries and literally stumbled into their phenomenal, meticulously curated survey of international contemporary art called “Brave New Worlds”.  No amount of Frida, or Salma for that matter, could have been as dazzling and intellectually satisfying to me as this exhibit was.

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