THE BLOG
10/08/2013 07:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 08, 2013

September: Chicago at Its Best

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Chicago is notorious for its less than perfect weather, which changes, seemingly, every few minutes. Two weeks ago, the very moment my plane landed at O'Hare Airport, the nasty storm, that had ravaged Chicago for days, miraculously came to an end -the clouds parted and sunshine smiled upon the city.

It's been more than 10 years since my last visit, and I was eager to experience the much heralded aspects of Chicago's thriving art scene: its museums, galleries, and ambitious public art projects. Along with several dozen journalists, I was invited to attend the EXPO CHICAGO, the International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art.

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Once upon a time, the Chicago Art Fair was the largest and most important art fair in the US, but since the late eighties, its status and fortune took a downward turn.

Last year, new and ambitious management brought the Fair back to life under the new name, EXPO CHICAGO, and responses to its inaugural Fair were very encouraging.

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This year, organizers invited over 125 international galleries from 17 countries, and LA was one among the 36 cities whose art dealers chose to participate in the Fair. As usual, there were lectures and seminars going on every day as visitors meandered through the Fair. I was impressed with the overall quality of art presented by most of the dealers. And the Fair's management brought in skilled designers who reshaped the enormous Festival Hall at Navy Pier into a series of well scaled spaces reminiscent of streets and plazas of a friendly city.

Dealers whom I spoke to at the Fair were rather positive in their assessment of this year's results in terms of attendance, sales and contacts with important collectors and museum curators. My impression was that all participating galleries opted to put their best foot forward by showing high quality contemporary art. However, most dealers chose to play it safe by avoiding taking risks with edgy, controversial works.

My luck in Chicago extended not only to good weather, but also to being able to catch the last day of the blockbuster exhibition: Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity. It was a huge crowd pleaser -first at Musée d'Orsay in Paris, then at the Metropolitan Museum in New York, and finally it came to the Art Institute of Chicago. Sorry folks, but this guilty pleasure of an exhibition is not scheduled to come to our City of Angels. Somehow, San Francisco and Chicago museums are much more successful than those in LA in building partnerships with their Parisian counterparts.

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You've probably already heard glowing reports about Chicago's Millennium Park with its celebrated contribution by Frank Gehry, who designed the Jay Pritzker Pavilion -with Gehry's trademark billowing design of a bandshell -wrapped around the stage. While in LA his Disney Hall proudly stands alone against a cluster of less impressive building; here in Chicago, his Pavilion comes across as a more relaxed and gentle manifestation of his architectural vision, with the Pritzker Pavilion's fluid shapes softly melting into the surrounding landscape...

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The nearby gigantic, mirror-polished, jellybean shaped sculpture by celebrated British artist Anish Kapoor became a huge public success the moment it was unveiled in 2006. There is no way to resist its seductive magic. Slowly approaching the sculpture, you see yourself and the big crowds hovering around it, reflected in the sculpture's mirrored surface -and all the surrounding skyscrapers join these happy, dancing reflections, adding to the slightly tipsy aura emanating from the sculpture.

The temporary exhibition of the large ceramic sculptures by Omaha-based Japanese artist Jun Kaneko, adds an additional surprise to Millennium Park's landscape. Shaped like large, soft exclamation points, they delight with their smooth, colorfully glazed surfaces that few passersby can resist petting.

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And finally, you encounter another extremely ambitious and particularly inspiring public artwork -the Crown Fountain by Catalan artist Jaume Plensa -displaying hundreds of faces of various people of Chicago, each appearing for only a few minutes at a time on the large, vertical wall of the fountain. And for a moment or two, you see a stream of water spraying out of the person's mouth.

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By nature, I am not an envious person. But these public artworks in Chicago made me very jealous indeed. It would be so good to see something like that here in LA.

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Edward Goldman is an art critic and the host of Art Talk, a program on art and culture for NPR affiliate KCRW 89.9 FM. To listen to the complete show and hear Edward's charming Russian accent, click here.