EXPO Chicago 2022: What Is Art For?
Expo is back! It’s been two years since we’ve been able to peek at the world’s most well-known galleries and the work of the artists that they represent for the price of a movie ticket and popcorn.
Take a bus down to Navy Pier and you’ll see for yourself. The massive exhibition hall is divided into hundreds of booths, representing galleries, museums, cultural institutions, artist collectives, and magazines. The breadth of style and mediums is breathtaking. There is truly something for everyone to appreciate. (And something for everyone to stare at in confusion! Re: a gold sculpture of a dog with the head of a peeled banana priced at several hundred thousand dollars.)
Eager art lovers commingle with the super wealthy art dealers, artists looking for inspiration, and investors. It’s a strange scene and worth seeing if you’ve never been. IPaintMyMind is all about access to art for everyone. Expo embodies the world of art that is often gatekept and inaccessible to most of us.
But it’s not all bad. More than ever, the artists represented by the world’s top galleries are diverse in race, nationality, class, and experience. Pieces of art at these elite institutions call attention to inequity, violence, and systemic oppression across the globe. We can only hope that the patrons are paying attention!
We were also overjoyed to see a few amazing Chicago art nonprofits and social justice organizations with a booth at the event. First, we saw Spudnik Press Cooperative, a print collective with a long history of activism through art. Their wide range of print styles comes from a collaborative community of artists across the city. I especially enjoyed a print by Latham Zearfross, called Many Happy Returns. The print is a diptych with one side explaining things that can be composted and the other with items that typically cannot be composted. Correspondingly, the compostable items side is dyed with natural beet juice, while the non-compostable side uses synthetic dye.
Next, we passed a stunning installation from Inequity For Sale, part of a larger exhibition coming soon to the Weinberg/Newton Gallery, a non-commercial gallery which pairs with community organizations to further social change. Tonika Lewis Johnson’s Inequity For Sale project traces the legacy of racism in the Greater Englewood neighborhood, when black residents were offered predatory financing schemes which cheated them out of ever owning property they were assured to be purchasing.
Consisting of photography, lifesize geographical markers, video, and documentary audio recordings, Johnson’s work forces viewers to understand that the racial wealth gap exists because of these relatively recent segregationist and white supremacist legal practices, which existed in Chicago long-past the codification of legal segregation. Go and see Weinberg/Newton’s exhibition Key Change, opening on April 29th, to learn more about the racist history of Chicago housing. A partnership with Mercy Housing Lakefront, this new exhibition promises to challenge and confront you.
Many pieces caught my eye–whether Derrick Adams’ Mirroring Idealism or Christopher “Doss” Ellis’ Disco Express. One couldn’t help but wonder, however, what these pieces mean to the investors, buyers, and gallerists thronging the space. All throughout the hall, gallerists in snappy suits and designer clothes sat on beautiful couches typing emails and fielding calls. Most of them never seemed to look up.
When art is simply an investment, what do we lose? Of course, at IPMM, we value the hard work of our artists and want them to make a comfortable living. Art is work and labor, and we should pay artists fairly for the beautiful, meaningful things that they create.
There’s something different about the echelon of art at Expo. In the 1980s, art became a market that investors could speculate and gamble on. It’s not too far off to wonder why people buy these incredibly expensive things. Is it for beauty’s sake? For expression? For feeling?
The tragedy is that it may just as soon be for their portfolio or the wealth they’ll pass onto their children. Whisked away into private storage, these pieces may never again be appreciated by the public. But, at least we got to see them this year at Expo.
As Andy Warhol said, “Business art is the step that comes after art.”
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