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Art Chicago Explodes with Contemporary Art

I have always wanted to go this Art Extravaganza and this year I got my wish.  Expanding over the entire 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart, Art Chicago is worth a trip to the Windy City if you want to see some of what’s current and happening in the art world. It happens every year the last weekend in April.

I was fortunate enough to go with a group from the Urban Institute of Contemporary Arts in Grand Rapids. The Executive Director of the UICA clearly explained to our group how the show was organized (more commercial, edgy, emerging) so that we could devote our time to the areas we were most interested in.

Our group zoomed right over to the area featuring on what is called the emerging artist.  These are the artists who are at the beginning of their careers and probably the most experimental. This is consistent with the mission of UICA—we showcase emerging and mid-career artists.

We saw lots of work to ponder, generating lively conversation around “What is art?” For some, this conversation went well into the night.  Didn’t come up with any answers, but had a good time weighing in on the different viewpoints.

Other memorable moments included tours organized by Art Chicago and by the UICA team.

A highlight was a private tour of a multi-million dollar collector who lives on the 34th floor of a building on Lake Shore Drive.  The apartment wrapped around the building so we could see north, west, south and east.  Wow.  I love views from up high and this one was amazing.  It was hard to drag myself away from the windows.

But, I did.  The collection was mind-boggling. Lots of the big names including Hockney, Matisse, Picasso and Chagall.  Made me wish I had paid more attention in Art History class so I could put them all in context. It was delightful to see so many different well-known artists in one space. Museum shows usually focus on one artist or one particular time period.

The gentleman, who owns the collection with his charming wife, was celebrating his 87th birthday. He served us Mimosas and talked about his collecting philosophy.

It was simple.  He said, “We bought what we liked.”

We also toured artists’ studios traveling from the West Loop to Lincoln Park to Bucktown and Downtown. We saw huge paintings with massive globs of paint, tiny computer animations, slabs of dark brooding intense combinations of graphite and wood glue, large cut paper graphic images, representations of water in urban areas and art consisting of rows of tiny journal like musings on a large canvas. It was stimulating to meet the artists, hear their stories and the background behind their work.

We also toured backstage of Redmoon Theater and saw an extensive collection of contemporary art at the Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy. Redmoon is well known in Chicago for wild and crazy Spectacles  including the Halloween Party for President and Mrs. Obama.

We visited two Pop Up Galleries in the Loop and two cooperative art studios in the West Loop, meeting the artists and learning how Pop Ups and Coops work as well as seeing a diverse range of art.  My head is still exploding with all the images, experiences and newness.

To read about a recent exhibit at the UICA in Grand Rapids, click on this link. “Beacons:An Exhibition of Luminous Art.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    May 2, 2011 Reply

    Thanks for sharing so timely! This sounds amazing! I was sorry not to have been with you all. Allison ended up getting two tickets from her professor so she and Ryan were able to see some of the exhibition but nothing like what you all saw! Great photos!

  2. posted by
    May 2, 2011 Reply

    Thanks, Margaret, We missed you and Bob too. I think you would have enjoyed everything.

  3. posted by
    May 2, 2011 Reply

    Contemporary art can often seem jarring, mystifying, obnoxious, inexplicable and on and on and on. I often find myself puzzled, looking for some historical thread however fine.
    I’m with your 87 year old collector….Buy what you like. I find that however ineffable the reasons are for my liking a work of art, I have made a connection with it on some level,usually visceral. There is much in the contemporary world of art that I don’t like but then again, there is so much to like and ponder. I’m sure you’ll be thinking about this recent experience for quite some time.

  4. posted by
    Leah Missbach Day
    May 2, 2011 Reply

    Brilliant summary Susan. As a big fan of Art Chicago and all that goes on around it I was thrilled to read your blog since not able to attend this year. Thanks! I feel like I was riding on your shoulder like a little bird with the best view. XO, Leah

  5. posted by
    May 2, 2011 Reply

    Thanks, Leah. I would love to attend an event like this with you some day. Your artistic eye and incredible talent would add so much. Maybe another time.

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