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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