Expo Chicago

I travelled by train to Chicago, arriving late in the afternoon on a Wednesday. I bumbled up the stairs from Union Station to find myself on a busy street surrounded by tall buildings. I had a vague flashback to my first solo trip to NYC when I took the bus to Grand Central and caught a subway to the neighborhood my hostel was located. I emerged from the underground blinked twice, felt confused, and started walking with confidence. Luckily I was facing the right direction.

As I rounded the sidewalk I was lucky enough to stumble into a taxi standing at the corner. The driver had just dropped someone off and was getting his ducks in a row. Are you free? He was.

He drove like Batman through the Chicago underground to drop me at Navy Pier. On the way he explained the complexities of actually getting to the hotel. I remarked that this why I don’t take Uber, because that’s just some guy with a car. Taxi drivers know what’s up. This is a lie.

My friend had just returned from kicking around Chicago and was waiting for me in the lobby. I grabbed a quick shower to wash off two days of train living and we left to find a giant plate of mussels.

Thursday was our day Art Institute. I was hoping to catch a David Hockney show, but I, apparently, forgot which year it was. The Hockney show closed in January. I read it as being up until next January. Instead, we caught a Dali exhibition.

While we waited for our time slot for Dali, we toured through an Stanley Brouwn exhibit. Brouwn is a conceptual artist who I wasn’t previously familiar with. His most famous works contemplate distance. Many of the works in the exhibit are from”This Way Brouwn” work where he asked strangers for directions and would either record their instructions, or have them draw a map. Later he would stamp “This Way Brouwn” on the hand-drawn maps in big block letters. Many of these maps were on display in the gallery. The maps vary in detail, accuracy, and confidence. Without the context of knowing where the maps start and end, they become strange little tracery abstractions.

He also experimented with comparing measurements. There were many ells on display - an Ell is an old unit of measurement based upon the distance between your elbow and the tip of your fingers. Ell means “arm” and it’s where we get our term “elbow”. The exhibit had many Ells crafted from polished metal in display cases. None quite the same, but close. Ells varied by country to country and king to king.

In addition to ells he worked with other relative units like (foot) steps and played games with scaled down measurements like scaling a kilometer down to a meter and showing different lengths in meters, but scaled down to fit the meter-sized paper.

It’s the kind of work that makes your brain tingle. While my brain tingled, I forgot to take any photos. Which is just as well - it’s hard to capture visually. Brouwn’ s work is like the post-it note where you captured the seed of a good idea in a meeting, now stuck to your computer, reminding you to remember, but incomprehensible to others.

My phone buzzed to let us know our time slot for the Dali exhibit. I am glad to seen some of these works. Many of Dali’s paintings are surprisingly tiny, but with an absurd level of finish and detail. He must have used specially made paint brushes with a single bristle.

Technically the work is quite amazing, but aesthetically and emotionally Dali’s work leaves me flat. His overt sexuality reads as juvenile and disordered. His depictions of women’s bodies, often deconstructed, reads as misogynistic and not just objectifying.

This show was a good reminder, to me, that Dali can be left in a dusty book in the library and forgotten.

After Dali we toured the Art Institutes impressive permanent collection and reconnected with many of my favorites, including a huge Sol LeWitt wall drawing.

David Hockney

A man contemplates a Picasso

Admiring Hopper’s Night Hawks

Jasper Johns and friends

Close up of a huge Sol Le Witt wall drawing.

The next day is Expo day. The fair didn’t open till around midday. We killed some time at the Shedd Aquarium looking at fish, penguins, and buying a giant stuffed clown fish for my poodle.

Our hotel is right next to the convention center hosting the Expo. We played “gallery owner or collector” as we watch black-clad sophisticated clichés float by in the hotel.

We get our digital tickets punched and head up an escalator to the main show floor. It’s enormous; an airplane hanger full of art.

We’re knocked back on our heels by the scale of it all, get our bearings, and try to create a plan. The layout of freestanding booths looks and feels like a grid, so we choose to hang a left to one wall and try to snake our way back and forth through the aisles thinking we won’t miss anything that way.

But we are crows and there are so many shiny things. We end up turned around and doubling back more than once.

The show is a mix of regional and national artists with historical pieces peppered about. I saw a lovely, surprisingly small Frank Stella painting around the corner from a Jim Dine painting, whose work I’ve never seen in person.

A print maker’s booth featured large, beautiful prints by Julie Mehretu. The printmaker was there and graciously answered my stupid questions. I love how printmakers nerd-out over process. These prints of Mehretu’s were a mixture of plate lithography and  screen printing giving them a richness and depth that surprised me.

My friend has been studiously following the art world and was able to name-check a surprising amount of current artists. I walked through soaking it all in. We saw things we loved and hated. It’s a strange thrill to see current art that I don’t like. It’s like–an opportunity to rediscover my tastes on a grand scale.

Some stand-out works for me were this large painting by Monique Van Genderen.


Just this bold wash of lavish paint and color inviting me to crawl inside and stay for a while.

This work by André Griffo has been stuck in my brain.


Griffo’s paintings begin as a big messy abstract color field. The painterly scene is laid on top in a broken patchy way which makes the painting feel like its a thousand years old.

This work by Ryan McGinness struck me:


I love the complexity and mix of abstract shapes blending into and out of iconography and pop imagery. The surface is both acrylic paint and metal leaf which dances in the light.

I saw works by Malcom T. Liempke in person for the first time.


This artist (and his imitators) flooded my Instagram discover page for a long while. The paintings are just as luscious in person as Instagram posts make them appear.

I have mixed feelings about his work. It’s like if John Singer Sargent was a dirty old straight man. His work sometimes borders on cheesecake pinup and in a world of millions of Instagram booty-models that comes off as just kind of sad. But they are so well painted it’s hard not to look.

I also saw this incredible thing:


That surface is all beads. Tiny hand-laid beads. I couldn’t find the artist’s name. It makes me dizzy to think about. The alcove where this was hung was roped off to prevent drooling idiots like me from putting their nose on it.

We walked and walked the floor, getting lost, course correcting, finding coffee and walking more.

I stopped to breathe by an interesting looking piece. The dealer walked over to chat me up. I like to be overdressed for any occasion. I wore brown sharp leather shoes, fitted medium grey slacks, a pink button down, a dark grey blazer, with a matching pink pocket square. The dealer asked if I was an art advisor. I should have said “yes”.

By the end my feet were killing me and my head was just buzzing with inspiration. Can’t wait to go to another.

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