Reflections: MADE Milan & ART Toronto

It’s 31 December 2012. President Obama earned his re-election almost two months ago and silenced, as it seems, his critics. Have they gone away to work on themselves? I remember November 6 well and, of course, it was a jittery time across the globe for advocates of democracy as citizens feared the worst but anticipated the best — at the same time. Thank goodness things worked out!

Earlier in the autumn season, other highlights included my attendance at two important events in the international arts and culture calendar: MADE (Milano Architettura Design Edilizia) in Milan followed shortly thereafter by TIAF (Toronto International Art Fair) in downtown Toronto.

MADE Milan, October 2012. From what I gleaned visiting the several pavilions which housed MADE, the overarching theme was to celebrate Italy by way of Italian design and innovation. I saw some lovely doors, windows, fixtures, lights, and quality wood flooring, namely at the impressive Itlas stand where, packed with attendees, I tasted elegant Prosecco from La Vigna di Sarah and savored delicious Parmigiano Reggiano.

But I believe there may have been some false advertisement as to MADE being an international event. For all intents and purposes it was an Italian-centric event at an otherwise internationally-branded business gathering. I had originally registered online from Canada but upon arrival at Milan RHO’s main sign-in wicket, unilingual Italian-only reps were lost in translation as they tried to retrieve my electronic file. It most certainly did exist because I had received confirmation, but even with my professional details it was still difficult to locate. Stumped and irritated, my delegation and I did not have a print out of our tickets and could not access our e-confirmation because there was no Wi-Fi available, anywhere! From one young rep joined five others who all lacked resourcefulness and interest to remedy a simple problem. To make a long story short, the MADE reception reminded me of other event organizations but in third world cities like New Delhi, where confusion and non-resolution reign. Santa Maria! We had already lost an hour in our day trying to work out this registration problem; it never did get resolved. Instead, we sauntered around Milano RHO and finally managed to get in…through the out door. Italian-style.

L'indo-canadese Natasha ARORA at MADE Milano, Fall/autunno 2012

Art Toronto, October 2012. In previous years at Art Toronto I had been wowed. But something was palpably missing this time around. It was not austerity or the cold weather. My feeling is that whimsy and folly were just not invited. Or perhaps they just didn’t show up?

On the first full day, the panel discussions held on the main exhibition floor at TIAF truly felt as though a dry-run had neither been practiced nor conjured as a good idea for event-improvement from potential disaster. No group panelists were identified by name tags/plates for spectators to know who was speaking, and no featured guests had bios from which we could access for quick reference. Matters worsened with the sharing of only one microphone, also not tested, for the 4-5 panelists at most every talk; it eventually failed to work and I struggled to hear what, if anything of interest was being spoken. The redeeming feature however on this particular day was the enclosed, black-veiled room where these talks took place — at least there was a focal point looking on to the stage. Though with the din of the Fair and exhibition staff working beyond the curtains, it only reinforced how hard it was to hear. Fast becoming annoying to watch, I felt embarrassment for TIAF content producers and panelists. Suddenly, both parties were under the spotlight.

Another thing that went noticed was the seeming disinterest shown by some invited guests who were privileged to be up there in the first place. If panelists and moderators are asked to participate at TIAF because they are viewed as high-caliber collaborators with notable contributions to the arts and culture communities and, therefore, are good (re)sources for knowledge (and, why not, even entertainment), then they should take up task seriously. Show up prepared, enthusiastic and generous, and share your stories, secrets and lessons. Performance truly matters and it is why we, the spectators, had come to see you — and also learn from you and your universal messages.

But know that a packed room is not indicative of a good talk. On that Friday in October, a quick survey of the room, seated and standing, revealed rolling eyes and expressions of visible boredom. Following an afternoon talk on collecting, I had asked a middle-aged, smartly dressed art patron to share her thoughts: “I didn’t learn anything. I’m not going to any more talks.” It was the first day at Art Toronto.

“Where was the effort, the preparation?” I found myself thinking. We are talking about the colorful, eccentric, eclectic, ruthless art world, afterall. Take note TIAF producers and contributors: There is always room for improvement. Next time, please do not underestimate our collective intelligence or undervalue our equally precious time. My opinion here is shared with many others. The stage was yours but I remained uncharmed. We were all yours until you disappointed. Personally, I was interested in being surprised by content and delivery. Thankfully, the Sunday panels were engaging and animated and absolutely made up for all that was missing at the start of the TIAF talks.

Necessary to remark, these two high visibility events attract scores of patrons, professionals, enthusiasts, students, and sponsors from the fields of international art, design, culture, business, and academia. I inhabit these worlds with ease, and share excitement in being in close contact with the like-minded. But I was tepidly interested by what I viewed and discovered in both Milan and Toronto — neither event revealed much — though good networking was done and new contacts were established.

I guess the take away message here is to not have expectations. While it has been said that to have expectations may indeed cause disappointment, on the oft occasion, having expectations can also bestow pleasant surprise. In 2013, why not hope for the latter — as fleeting as a good feeling can appear to be. At the close of this year, I reflect on these recent luxe happenings and the unhappy impressions left behind at both October shows.

Dear universe of the curious, the generous, the passionate, the genuine, and the civilized, Happy New Year! May we all continue to hope for happiness, wit, folly, and surprise aplenty, and may these manifest in decadent forms and sizes upon each and every one!

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