Contemporary art can certainly confound; even aficionados find themselves scratching their heads sometimes. But when artists make an effort to connect with the public (while sticking to their aesthetic guns), the experience can be remarkably enlightening.
EXPO CHICAGO, the fine art presentation directed by Tony Karman, is chock-block with work that make isms of the past an easy read. But one initiative this year — EXPO Projects — allows conceptually driven artists to generate a truly interactive dialogue with fair visitors.
One such project, a collaboration between Hank Willis Thomas, Jim Ricks and Ryan Alexiev and presented by Project&, is “In Search of the Truth (Truth Booth),” a large inflatable in the shape of a speech bubble. Fairgoers step inside, face a video camera and complete the sentence, “The truth is …” The piece has traveled to four continents, attracting over 5,000 visitors. “We’ve learned a lot about the importance of giving people a platform to express themselves in an open format without fear of judgment,” says Thomas, who is perhaps best known for his socially incisive photography. “What we believe to be true affects our perception of other people and the world. It’s important to acknowledge that everyone has their own perspective on the truth, and that those are all equally valuable.”
Another notable project is Spencer Finch’s “Sunset (Central Park),” a gently hued, solar-powered truck, which dispenses soft serve ice cream cones. While it seems a simple, wonderfully generous and joyful gesture, Finch asserts that there’s more to his project than its feel-good vibe. “It may not seem so, but this is really a very complicated artwork, a sculpture on wheels, which took a lot of effort to get from concept to finished object. It is, of course, a painting of a sunset — which I suppose every artist wants to do at least once in their career — and it’s also a formal gesture that takes something very hot — the sun — and transforms it into something very cold. But I have to be honest, it gives me enormous pleasure to watch the smiles on people’s faces — especially kids’ — when they get free ice cream. And I have no problem with people just enjoying the ice cream and not thinking about the art of it.”
EXPO CHICAGO: September 17-20, Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand. For tickets ($20/day or $30 for weekend), visit Expochicago.com