EXPO CHICAGO’s Year 7 is Heaven for Contemporary Art Lovers

EXPO CHICAGO’s Year 7 is Heaven for Contemporary Art Lovers

Henri Matisse once said, “Creativity takes courage,” and there is no place where this is more evident than in contemporary art, which flies in the face of “uncomfortable” at the speed of light, seeking beauty in the unexpected and pushing boundaries in its pursuit of the authentic.

On Sept. 27, Chicago will once again be at the forefront of the contemporary art world as the seventh annual EXPO CHICAGO, the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, welcomes more than 40,000 visitors to Navy Pier’s Festival Hall for a four-day imagination extravaganza.

Altogether, 135 galleries representing 27 countries and 63 cities from around the world will be presenting more than 3,000 works in every medium from sculpture and canvas to installation, film, and audio whilst artists, curators, archivists, architects, human rights organizations, and individuals gather for a weekend of thought-provoking imagery, visual presentations, and in-depth discussions that have become the calling card of EXPO CHICAGO.

Exhibition Hall, EXPO Chicago (Photo courtesy of EXPO CHICAGO.)

Vernissage, EXPO’s opening night gala, has been the wheelhouse of the Women’s Board of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) since inception. Proceeds from the benefit raise critical funds in support of MCA’s educational programming.

“Each year, Vernissage provides the opportunity to view some of highest caliber contemporary art from around the world, while celebrating the incredible philanthropic spirit of the Chicago arts community,” says Lisa Key, chief development officer, MCA.

The Sweet Water Foundation, in partnership with the Smart Museum of Art, will kick off EXPO ART WEEK with a Town Hall presented by Hank Willis Thomas’ artist-run super PAC, For Freedoms, on Sept. 24.

This entré starts the week off strong by setting the tone and showcasing the overarching theme of EXPO’s seventh edition; that of a politically-engaged artistic world holding their finger to the pulse of the national psyche.

In fact, EXPO is the first platform of its kind to have an entire section dedicated to activist nonprofit organizations, including Downtown for Democracy, Resources Defense Council, and Human Rights Watch, which will be presenting booths featuring artists speaking to issues they are addressing in their works.

“It’s very unusual for a for-profit exposition that is featuring galleries and works for sale to feature that many politically-driven, nonprofit organizations (but) that is something that has always been at the core of EXPO CHICAGO’s program,” says Stephanie Cristello, director of programming.

Events and onsite programs will have corresponding off-site programs, offering visitors of the fair, as well as all Chicago residents, an opportunity to view art and presentations throughout the city. IN/SITU Outside is one such offering which, in partnership with the Chicago Park District (CPD), the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), and Navy Pier, provides the opportunity for EXPO exhibitors to present temporary public art installations. Noted artists like Iván Navarro (“Ladder”) and Lawrence Weiner (“Out of Sight”) will showcase some of their work along the city’s lakefront and throughout various neighborhoods.

EXPO CHICAGO: Ivan Navarro, Ladder
Ivan Navarro, Ladder (Water Tower), 2014. Neon, wood, painted steel, galvanized steel, aluminum, mirror, one-way mirror, and electric energy. 189 x 105 x 105 inches. (Photo courtesy of EXPO CHICAGO.)

Another, the Override Billboard Program, curated by EXPO CHICAGO throughout Chicago’s Digital Network, will feature a special commission by the American social practice installation artist Theaster Gates, among numerous other artist presentations.

EXPO CHICAGO: Theaster Gates photography
Theaster Gates photography (Photo courtesy of EXPO CHICAGO.)

And on Sept. 29, Art on the MART will transform the façade of Chicago’s iconic 1930’s Merchandise Mart into a massive, 2.5 acre (the length of two football fields) canvas for projected art.

That same day, in collaboration with Art Design Chicago, the Chicago Humanities Festival, Navy Pier, and the Terra Foundation for American Art, EXPO CHICAGO will host yet another premier: Creative Chicago, an interview marathon led by Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director, Serpentine Galleries, London. The idea is to present a snapshot, showcasing the past, present, and future of creativity in Chicago, which Obrist will seek to do by conducting in-person interviews over the course of several hours with current game-changing as well as emerging Chicago art and design luminaries from a variety of disciplines.

EXPO CHICAGO: Hans Ulrich Obrist
Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director, Serpentine Galleries, London, will be the moderator for the first ever Creative Chicago interview marathon at the seventh edition of EXPO CHICAGO. (Photo by Andreas Schmidt.)

“In keeping with my longstanding following of the legendary Studs Terkel, and the site of my archives, Chicago is a natural choice for my first interview marathon in the United States,” says Obrist. “The participants selected for this marathon will speak to the legacy and future of creative life in Chicago, and the four-act structure of the interviews will address themes both locally and internationally relevant.”

All of this adds up to Chicago standing squarely at the forefront of the intellectual modern art scene, according to Jennifer Siegenthaler, program director, education grants and initiatives, Terra Foundation for American Art. “Other cities might have a conference or a museum symposium whereas Chicago’s fair … has become a breeding ground for new ideas in contemporary art.”


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Lee A. LitasErstwhile columnist/photographer for the Daily Herald and currently 22nd Century Media, for the past 12 years Lee A. Litas has likewise been a dining and trend columnist and photographer for Pioneer Press, first under the Chicago Sun-Times and now under the Chicago Tribune umbrellas. Hailing from a half-Greek/half-Russian family where “filoxenia”  was the way of life, Litas now makes it her business to find the juiciest morsels, both newsy and edible, wherever she travels. Graduate of The American Graduate School of International Management-Thunderbird and Indiana University’s Ernie Pyle School of Journalism; polyglot, all-around gadabout, and Argentine tango dancer — not all at the same time, mostly.