The official purpose of Vernissage 2013 was, I think, to provide a preview of Expo Chicago and all the wonderful works of modern and contemporary art that will be on display (and for sale!) over the next three days and to support programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art. But really, everyone was there to either to show off and look fabulous, or to watch and admire those who were showing off and looking fabulous. And to eat free food and drink free booze.

The food, it must be said, probably would not have tasted as good if it were not free, but a lot of it was served on sticks, which is never a bad thing, and there were Vienna hot dogs for actual sustenance. (“I went into the hot dog line and there were no hot dogs,” mumbled a man in a well-cut suit, possibly driven into a fugue state by hunger. “I gotta get a hot dog.”) The people-watching was the best I’ve seen since last spring when I somehow found myself in the lobby of the Palmer House during a high school prom, though at Vernissage there were a lot more pairs of eyeglasses (some of those, too, were works of art) and a few people who were no longer in possession of their original faces.

But the art. The other art, I mean, that you can still see once you schlep out to Navy Pier.

Well, there is a lot of it. It’s pretty overwhelming. Now that I’ve had a chance to look at the digital press kit they gave me, I see that I missed a lot. But here are a few things that I thought were cool:

The abstract expressionist artist Robert Motherwell was obsessed with James Joyce and did many paintings and drawings based on his novels. The Jerald Melberg Gallery has a whole wallful of sketches inspired by Ulysses. They all look like they were scribbled with Sharpies on the back of different colored envelopes as a means of surviving a particularly tedious grad seminar, and they are incredibly charming. Price for the lot: $82,000. Are they original? Said the well-coiffed woman to her more elderly husband: “Of course they’re prints, darling. You didn’t think you were going to get that many Motherwells for $82,000!”

  • Aimee Levitt
  • Incidentally, yesterday was Talk Like a Pirate Day.

For some reason, the Greek artist Andreas Lolis thought it would be a great idea to sculpt corrugated cardboard boxes and Styrofoam packing material out of marble and granite. This made his little corner of Expo look a lot like my back alley. (Art, it can be argued, is all about defamiliarization.) But it was all very realistic; I admit I touched one of the boxes to be sure. Lolis, apparently, was inspired by classical sculpture. I guess this is modern America’s version of ruins?

One of the sponsors of Expo Chicago is the Conservation Center in West Town. Their booth shows off some of the tools they use in art restoration and before-and-after photos of some of their projects. (This could be mistaken for an installation.) It is the largest private art-restoration lab in the country, primarily because it has several different departments devoted to fixing different types of art, which is very handy if your entire collection gets caught in a fire or flood.

Acts of God are the most common reasons for damage, office manager Carissa Tonner told me, but the center also sees a lot of work damaged by pets (cats knocking things over, dogs scratching) and by wine, as when, during a dinner party, someone makes an extravagant gesture with a glass in their hand. The worst accident the center has seen recently, said client services coordinator Laura Oudendyk, was to a collection of oil paintings that were damaged by an automatic sprinkler system that went off as they were being carried out of the house. The movers were startled and slipped and fell and dropped the paintings.

The most shocking thing I saw was Sandro Miller’s “Cuban Portraits,” a collection of enlarged extreme close-ups of ordinary Cuban men and women who lived through the Fidel Castro regime.

  • Sandro Miller

There is a bench in front of the wall where they’ve been installed. You can sit and look at them for a very long time.