“I’m awfully grateful and civically proud. Welcome,” Tony Karman, president/director EXPO CHICAGO said as he welcomed guests to the seventh annual International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art. The four-day exhibition unfurled on Sept. 27 at Vernissage, the opening night benefit sponsored by the Women’s Board of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago, which ushered in more than 8,000 of the city’s business, civic, and cultural leaders, alongside artists, collectors, and art aficionados to Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, raising $300,000 for educational programming.
On its heels, a staggering 38,000 art lovers descended on Navy Pier over the weekend to view 3,000 works presented by 135 of the world’s leading galleries from 27 countries and 63 cities. Some of the dynamic, parallel partner programming throughout the city included: Dialogues Symposium, IN/SITU, IN/SITU Outside and OVERRIDE installations, Art on theMART digital display, the Art Critics and Curatorial Forums, and the first ever Creative Chicago Interview Marathon.
“We are extremely grateful for the many successes of our participating exhibitors, as well as the overwhelmingly positive response to our critically acclaimed programming and our commitment to making Chicago in September the place to be for national and international curators,” said Karman.
The overarching theme of EXPO CHICAGO 2018 was political engagement, and artists brought the full force of their mediums to bear on this topic such that visitors were drawn out of their comfort zones and left with no alternative but to engage with the creations before them.
The figure of a homeless man huddled inside a sleeping bag showing only his “Dirty Feet,” as named accordingly, made of wood, metal, cardboard, silicon, wig, plastic, and clothing by artist Sarah Anne Johnson and presented by Galerie Division, Montreal, Canada, wrought the exact effect the artist must have envisioned. Left casually in a corner of a hallway, as if by happenstance, it forced visitors to walk past it creating the overall impression of someone overlooked, forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
In the exhibit hall’s center plaza, five life-sized, traditional effigies resembling homeless, wheelchair-bound figures, sat staring at a garbage heap. Entitled “Collective Conscience,” the jarring installation was created by Oscar Murillo and presented by David Zwirner galleries as part of EXPO CHICAGO’s IN/SITU program curated by Pablo León de la Barra, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum Curator at large, Latin America.
Further down, “The Fall,” a visual narrative on tapestry traced artist Judy Chicago’s discovery that the Holocaust grew out of the very “fabric” of Western civilization. Presenting an overlap between antisemitism and anti-feminism, it traced the targeted burning both of Jews and female “witches,” presenting an allegory for the ultimate “fall from grace.”
Chicago-based Puerto Rican artist Carlos Rolone forged his installation “90 Years” to reflect on Hurricane Maria as the worst disaster to hit his homeland in nearly a century. By gathering assorted domestic detritus into a massive garbage heap, he presented a visceral display of the still-current state of life for many Puerto Ricans and to emphasize “how America has failed to aid in the recovery of its unincorporated territory.”
And “Frameworks of Absence” brought into sharp relief the disappearing natural world by showcasing beautifully framed lithographs from which artist Brandon Ballengée cut out extinct species, leaving nothing but a red splotch courtesy of a supporting crimson wall. Ashes of the cut-outs were placed into miniature urns that accompanied the framed lithographs. Profits benefitted the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
“The turnout of curators and collectors was exceptional,” says Susanne Vielmetter, Los Angeles gallerist. “The sales are robust, the pace is swift, but not hectic, conversations are productive, and the response is enthusiastic. The fair has now established itself within the company of the most important international fairs today.”
While works sold in prices ranging from $14,000 to $80,000, curatorial connections led to placement in museums stretching from the MCA to The Art Institute of Chicago, the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, the AMAM at Oberlin College, and the Smart Museum of Art, amongst others.
Concurrently, EXPOs partner exhibitor, Art on theMART, drew 32,000 spectators to its digital and pyrotechnic display of contemporary works by artists Diana Thater, Zheng Chongbin, Jan Tichy, and Jason Salavon.
Meanwhile, inside Navy Pier’s Grand Ballroom, the inaugural Creative Chicago Interview Marathon led by master curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, artistic director, Serpentine Galleries, London, presented a five-hour long-form interview with luminaries from a variety of disciplines showcasing the past, present and future of creativity. The live oral history was presented in collaboration with Art Design Chicago, the Chicago Humanities Festival, Navy Pier, and the Terra Foundation for American Art.
“This was … the broader magic of the festival and our partnerships,” says Phillip Bahar, executive director of Chicago Humanities Festival. “The assemblage of carefully curated parts make the experience richer and all the more meaningful when taken as a whole.”
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Erstwhile 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.