For Expo Chicago, Gagosian Gallery, back at a Windy City fair after an absence of decades, put together the darkest, most cohesive group show I’ve ever seen in an art fair booth. I’m told it was assembled by Andy Avini, a Gagosian director who is also an artist, which makes sense—it seemed the product of an artist’s eye.
One of two entrances to the booth, as it stood for Expo’s run September 13–17, took a fair-goer past a tough trio of works. Cady Noland’s Mirror Device (1987) comprised a mirror with a metal bar mounted in front of it, from which descended a pistol and handcuffs. The mirror from that reflected an adjacent silver John Chamberlain crushed car parts sculpture, Women’s Voices (2005). Kitty-corner was a black Andy Warhol Electric Chair.
Inside the booth, Richard Avedon’s portrait of the Chicago Seven hung near a hot-pink Joe Bradley portrait bust of a man in agony, titled Despair. Nearby, Duane Hanson’s life-size, lifelike Tiananmen Square student protester slumped, with his thrown-down bike and ratty blanket, beneath a Steven Parrino anarchy symbol, a Warhol Statue of Liberty drawing, and a Douglas Gordon sculpture of a hand gripping—too tightly—a wrist. One of Chris Burden’s LAPD uniforms hung opposite a large Ed Ruscha painting with the proportions of a movie screen, showing planet Earth floating against a sunset sky in orangey reds evocative of a raging fire.
Around the corner was another Parrino work, a painting whose canvas was contorted into a goth black hole. Next to it was an Adam McEwen fake obituary—this one of Bill Clinton. Next to that was a Glenn Ligon text piece that begins COPS PUT A HURTING ON YOUR ASS, MAN. THEY REALLY DEGRADE YOU. It goes on to tell of beatings. On the floor was another Noland, a metal basket containing motor oil, spray paint, and tools. Warhol’s Tunafish Disaster was next to a Richard Prince photo of Dennis Hopper in Easy Rider, flipping the bird from the seat of his hog, the surface of the work riddled with actual bullet holes. Plopped in front of these pieces was McEwen’s life-size voting booth made entirely from graphite in dark gray that proved even more dead than black.
Exiting the booth, you walked past another graphite McEwen sculpture, in the form of an airport security bin and titled TSA (2016), sitting in front of a baby-blue Ed Ruscha that read AN EXTREMELY HOSTILE INDIVIDUAL. A right turn took you past the wall that enclosed the booth, and that housed the coup de grace: a sculpture of a guillotine by Piero Golia that soared beyond the booth’s walls. The work, from 2005, bore the unnerving title Untitled (Evil exists where good men do nothing). In front of that was a red Ruscha painting dated 2017 and bearing the words of William Butler Yeats, THINGS FALL APART. (Across the aisle, it’s worth noting, was a stunning Pat Steir painting fronting the booth of Lévy Gorvy. The color in the Steir was predominantly red and—gruesome as this may seem—could have been the spray from a decapitation.)
On another exterior wall was one of Sterling Ruby’s fabric “vampire mouth” sculptures—jaws dripping blood—bearing the pattern of the American flag. Were Robert Therrien’s stainless-steel drops—No title (drops), 2017—cascading down another exterior wall suggestive of tears or the deluge that devastated Houston? Next to those drops was another graphite McEwen—an elevator button. The only way was up.
Note: A version of this article originally ran as the introduction to the ARTnews Today email newsletter last Friday. That version omitted the name of Piero Golia, the artist who created the guillotine artwork.