My wife, Penny, and I recently finished our first marathon. At least that’s what it felt like after attending the giant Artropolis Art Fair at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago.More…
Giant doesn’t begin to describe it. 5 separate shows on 3 full floors of the Mart. 4 contemporary art shows and one antiques fair. The centerpiece is Art Chicago, featuring 180 galleries from around the world showing over 2000 artists. NEXT is almost as large and is focused on cutting edge and emerging artists. The Artist Project showcases individual artists not represented by galleries, at least at this venue. Intuit is all about outsider and folk art and the International Antiques Fair is all about, well, antiques.
The combined shows are so immense that you can’t possibly see and absorb everything. We were there for a full day and never made it to the NEXT floor. Literally and figuratively. We spent most of out time at Art Chicago. Not to gush too much about it, but it was an exhilarating eye opening look into the world of contemporary art. Most of the work is wall hung, with a handful of floor and table sculpture. The spaces given each gallery, in general, were large enough to display the work without cramping it. Some of the pieces were huge and needed the extra space to breathe. There was a large proportion of photo based work and a smattering of video installations.
I won’t try to attest to the quality or even say which artists I liked or hated. It’s all opinion anyway and there is plenty of critical discourse readily available. I will say that I was greatly impressed with the creativity and diverse visions of the artists. Several times I was so mesmerized that I had to force myself to move along. There were pieces with great depth and emotion, some very disturbing, and some flat out hilarious .
Contemporary art has a very polarizing nature and brings out the art snob in a lot of people. “My 4 year old could do that” stands along side “Oh, this is the most profound life changing vision I’ve every seen” and “Ugh, that is so last year”. It also has a propelling quality, moving culture forward, sometimes at breakneck speed. Most importantly, it reflects society at all levels. This show pulls together all these things and represents some of the best creative minds at work today.
As was to be expected, the Artist Project show was not of the same caliber. There was some very good interesting work and a few artists we liked a lot, but much of it had a derivative, more commercial feel to it. Sort of like a touring company compared to the Broadway original. I think many of the artists there have bright futures, but some honing still needs to be done.
The smallest show was the Intuit show, which featured outsider and folk art. I found some of the work there to be very interesting and intriguing, much of it having a primal appeal lacking in some of the more conventional art in the Artist Project. As often happens, some of the older work has a very contemporary feel.
The International Antiques Fair portion at first glance seems out of place in a contemporary art setting, but it actually fit in quite well. Everything is contemporary at some point in its existence and some of the offerings at this show still had that feel. The close proximity of the old and the new provided for new insights into both- a dynamic symbiotic relationship.
All in all it was a very stimulating and exciting look at what’s being created today. When the show comes around again next year, I would highly recommend going and spending as much time as you can. You’ll come away with your brain overflowing with indelible images and memories.
As an artist who is always chasing after my own muse, the often lofty ideals presented at these shows were like a shot of creative adrenaline. It’s easy to fall into a routine, doing the same kinds of things over and over. It’s also easy to dismiss work because we simply don’t like it. As I reach a certain, ahem, maturity, however, I find that even artists I normally can’t stand offer something positive, if only to reinforce my notions of what’s good and what isn’t.
I’ve noticed that whenever I attend a show like this, I come away overflowing with ideas and renewed vitality for my own artistic endeavours. Old or new, art can stimulate your thinking in ways you never thought possible. Embrace it with an open mind and see what happens.
See my work at alancarterstudio.com.
-- Alan Carter, www.alancarterstudio.com