Every year I go to Expo Chicago to see what type of works artists are doing and the art that gallery owners feel collectors will want to buy. It’s an informative, inspirational, and validating experience. With so much art in one place, I expect to see some commonalities in concepts and techniques, but this year there were two themes that really stood out. These themes were repeated often enough to cause me to wonder why so many artists are incorporating them into their work. Perhaps it’s what collectors are interested in buying, which would explain why the galleries are focus these works.
The first theme is words—actual text—as a focal point of the art. Using words in art is not a new concept but it seems to be done much more often than it has in the past. Works with words, letters and symbols and entire stories seemed to be exhibited by one out of every 304 galleries. There was a wide range of how the words and letters were used. In some pieces they reinforced and compliments the pictorial elements and the others the words were the entire expression made by the artist. One example is Scheherazade by Diane Samuels. This is a large scale piece, about 8 ft. sq., with intricate layering and detailing of the materials. At first glance the light color at the edge of each layer appears to be a striping detail, however, when you get closer to it, you can see that the striping is actually words. I don’t know if the artist scribed the entire Thousand and One Nights written by Scheherazade but it’s possible, considering the amount of handwritten words included in this piece. In contrast, but no less impactful, is the use of words by Mel Bochner. Words are upfront and boldly presented in his work. The stencil-like block lettering is evenly spaced and runs on in a monotonous droning way, which I surmise is the point.
The second theme is three-dimensional paint application in all types of variation. Some artists used volume-generating techniques to accentuate realistic representations while others chose a purely abstract expressionistic approach. One example is Methuselah by Lisa Alonzo. Acrylic paint and molding paste were piped onto a wood panel to give a real sense of the depth and movement of the subject. Pia Fries takes another approach in her Konstellation series. In Konstellation 13, shown here, the paint is worked into ribbons as well as the more conventional palette knife applications.
I’m not sure what conclusions should be drawn from the commonalities I saw at Expo Chicago. On one hand the works caught my attention and were thought provoking. But there’s also a part of me that wonders if they are reaching the “been there, done that” level. I suppose it all depends on the reaction and perception of the viewer. Besides as long as collectors are interested, you can be sure artists will continue to produce such pieces and galleries will continue to sell them.