This past week, CAM participated in the inaugural edition of EXPO CHICAGO, arguably the most substantial and successful attempt to bring a viable and relevant international art fair back to the Midwest. We were represented with an extraordinary booth project by Lauren Adams titled We the People, an extension of her Front Room project at CAM currently on view through October 14th. It became one of the biggest hits of the fair, including an elegantly immersive display of wallpaper that Adams designed based on a pattern from the Revolutionary War era (1775–1783) and featuring slogans from Occupy Wall Street and Tea Party protests in recent years. The artist was on site and at given times throughout the day would work with visitors to paint their own protest slogans on ceramic plates that were assembled on a shelf towards the top of the booth, for which the participants would receive a commemorative tea towel (designed by Adams) in exchange. Assistant Curator Kelly Shindler, who organized both the booth and the Front Room project, heroically manned the operation throughout and served as interpreter for the work and as an ambassador for the museum. When originally presented with this extraordinary opportunity by the EXPO CHICAGO organizers to create visibility and awareness for the institution with the booth, my initial inclination was admittedly to present something more static and less labor-intensive. I am immeasurably grateful to both Adams and Shindler for persevering with a plan that made the project more interactive and, as a result, much more engaged, exciting, and effective in translating the energy and spirit of CAM’s program to a broader audience.
I made my own contribution to CAM’s participation in EXPO CHICAGO as part of a panel discussion with my colleagues Michael Darling, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), Chicago, and Lisa Dorin, Associate Curator of Contemporary Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, moderated by art critic Paul Laster. We’d agreed to focus on art fairs themselves and how museum curators relate to them, function within them, and utilize them, and so forth. Having witnessed the rise and fall of the art fairs in Chicago more or less first-hand in my 16 years in the curatorial department at the MCA, I could attest to the critical loss of collective self-identity, momentum, and urgency felt by visual arts community as it became apparent that New York, then Miami, were redefining the landscape for art fairs in America. I also spoke to a more personal shift in how I approach art fairs, having moved from a collecting institution to CAM, with the emphasis placed more on spending time with donors, working on exhibitions in conversations with gallerists and artists at the fair, general networking, and, of course, seeing and absorbing as much art as possible.
Highlights from the fair included a stunning painting by Christina Ramberg (subject of a CAM exhibition next summer) at Russell Bowman Fine Art, as well as drawings by Ramberg at both David Nolan and Corbett vs Dempsey. The latter gallery’s booth featured an incredible range of works by artists such as Albert Oehlen, Peter Saul, and new favorite Keiichi Tanaami (careful … they’re a bit naughty!!). Inigo Manglano-Ovalle’s Dirty Bomb, 2008, part of the curated show In/Situ, was also fantastic. Other hits for me included Lorna Simpson’s collages at Salon 94, Richard Hamilton’s vacuum-formed Guggenheim relief at Allan Koppel, the Philip Guston at William Shearburn’s booth, and the Paul Cowan paintings at Clifton Benevento. Front Room alumnus John Opera (January 2011) had extraordinary new work at Andrew Rafacz’s booth and forthcoming Front Room artist Anthony Pearson had a lovely two-person show with legendary Chicago painter Julia Fish at Shane Campbell’s Lincoln Park space.
Lauren Adams (R) with We the People participant.
All images above: Lauren Adams, We the People, installation views at EXPO CHICAGO, September 20-23, 2012. Photography: Clare Britt