After almost two and half years without staging an iteration of its annual art fair, Expo Chicago has returned to the city’s Navy Pier in its new early April dates. The fair is the successor Art Chicago, which Tony Karman relaunched in 2012 as Expo. The new spring dates is around when Art Chicago used to take place—time and space have come full circle. The exhibition opened to VIPs on Thursday at noon with more than 140 exhibitors.
“The exposition is deeply rooted in the cultural ecosystem of Chicago, and we benefit greatly from its generous and collaborative spirit,” Karman said in a statement at the end of the first day. “The city has galvanized for a vibrant, robust week that has catalyzed lasting and meaningful connections that provide uplift to the artists, galleries, and institutions of Chicago, the greater Midwest, and beyond.”
Below is a look at some of the best booths at the Chicago fair, which runs through Sunday, April 10.
My Barbarian at Vielmetter Los Angeles
The first booth you see upon entering Expo Chicago is Vielmetter’s presentation of a series of immaculate face masks aligned perfectly on a wall. Don’t worry—they have nothing to do with Covid. Instead, it likely has to do with Commedia dell’arte given their distinctive features: a rough white face adorned with a messy black wig holds a tray filled with ornamented vases in one hand and another version of its face in the other. To make this dramatic sculpture, titled Standelabra IV Cassandra as Judith, My Barbarian (a trio formed by Malik Gaines, Jade Gordon, and Alexandro Segade) pulled from their archive objects and materials used in former performances. The collective’s 20th-anniversary show, which ended last February at the Whitney Museum, is currently in transit to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
Paul Mpagi Sepuya and Sara Greenberger Rafferty at Document
Chicago-based gallery Document, which also operates as a printing studio, presents work by six artists, among them Paul Mpagi Sepuya, whose work was also featured in Vielmetter Los Angeles’ booth. Sepuya presents Mirror Studies, a new take on his tender, fragmented studio images friends, lovers, all members of the queer community. With this work, the artist further fragments his images staging photographs within photographs explicitly taken in front of a mirror, which appears like a sculptural element in the image.
Opposite Sepuya’s art hangs Search Emoji (2021) by Sara Greenberger Rafferty, who tends to translate her photographs into more traditional media, such as plastic. The wall-hung work here is a fused and glass-kiln panel that absorbed one of her original prints meant to dissolve at high temperature. The artist, who once worked at Barney’s, questions the increasing digitalization of the world—hence, the work’s titular—and the representation of the female body in fashion.
Elian Almeida Galeria Nara Roesler
Speaking of fashion, check out Elian Almeida’s “Vogue” series of forgotten personalities painted as if on the cover of the iconic magazine. This body of empowering works focuses on women of color who, according to the Brazilian artist, deserve to shine as brightly and receive the same recognition as any other historical figure. For Expo, the gallery has selected portraits of Quilomba leader Teresa de Benguela, who helped her community resist slavery in Brazil during the 18th century; Josephine Baker, the American born dancer and French Resistance agent, who was inducted into the French Pantheon last December in Paris; and Elizabeth Eckford, one of the first Black students to integrate the previously all-white Little Rock Central High School in Arkansas. Their stories are truly inspiring.
Ebony G. Patterson and Candida Alvarez at Monique Meloche
A glittery peacock stands guard at the center of Monique Meloche’s booth. The eye-catching sculptural installation, adorned beads, conch shells, jewelry, fabric, and more by Ebony G. Patterson is intended to force visitors into close looking. Things aren’t quite what they seem from far away.
Encompassing this sculpture are paintings from Candida Alvarez’s latest series “Pica Pica.” The 67-year-old artist uses abstraction chockfull of bright colors to narrate her life, but she doesn’t want to give away to many details of her life to viewers, preferring they navigate her work uninformed. There is indeed no way of identifying her sources of inspirations.
Carmen Neely and Raphaël Barontini at Mariane Ibrahim
After participating in Expo Chicago in 2018, the arts scene of the Windy City called to dealer Mariane Ibrahim who relocated her gallery here three years ago. (She also opened a space in Paris last year.) For her contribution to this year’s fair, Ibrahim presents a striking booth painted in red. Among the artists on view is Chicago-based artist Carmen Neely, who presents a series of gestural abstractions. The artist sees painting and drawing as a means of “visual paraphrasing,” or a means of capturing fragments of time by builds on a word, a sentence, or a phrase. The mention “look” in the central piece and the scribbles on the neighbor canvas are a case in point.
The gallery also presents French artist Raphaël Barontini, whose sculpture Carribbean Fantasia Panorama—a textile and bronze evocation of the 1804 battle of Vertières when the Haitian people won their independence against the French troops of Napoleon—is showcased further up, as part of the In/Situ section.
José Lerma at Nino Mier Gallery
This booth is hard to miss. It’s filled with particularly thick portraits by José Lerma. The Spanish-born artist, who has been teaching since 2009 at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and now splits his time between the Windy City and Puerto Rico, uses a hand-mixed acrylic paint which, ever since the pandemic, has become his signature impasto. While everyone’s social and public lives were on hold, Lerma also decided to limit his strokes and gestures, to take out of his compositions as much context as possible. His models are not to be recognized. As a matter of fact the longer you stare at them, the more they become abstracted. Some may even be perceived as landscapes. Those colorful works contrast with a couple of black and white acrylic portraits on paper, the density of which does not lie in texture but in a refined network of lines.
Chelsea Culprit at Revolver Galería
In the Profile section, reserved for focused thematic exhibitions, Revolver Galería plays oracle. The booth spotlights three colorful life-size Plexiglas cut-outs by Chelsea Culprit. On either side of this triptych are two charcoals compositions on canvas. All five works feature Sibyls, prophetesses from Greek mythology uttering predictions often in a state of trance. Their sensual curves and contortions allude to the artist’s past career as a stripper and the fact that the answers we are looking for are sometimes hidden deep within our body and soul. In times when fake news spread like wildfire, when Instagram feeds trend “versus reality,” the former dancer sets us on a path to the truth.
Leo Marz and Andrew Roberts at Pequod Co.
From truth-teller to notorious liar with a growing nose. Participating in the Exposure section of the fair, for younger galleries, Pequod Co. has invited Mexican artists Leo Marz and Andrew Roberts to join forces, from which their collaboration A Jab Line was born. (Both artists also work in the film industry.) This never-before-seen installation consists of an animatronic, dislocated Pinocchio and a series of satirical cartoons from the 1980s and ’90s carved into the central wall of the booth. This platform was made in pine, the wood Pinocchio was named after. Carlos Collodi’s character, created during the Italian industrialization, is portrayed as a failed comedian who blurts out outdate jokes. The artists who became close friends and intend to keep working together draw a parallel between the puppet who wishes to become a real boy and the machines longing for emotions in sci-fi movies. It’s rather on the nose, you might say.
Javier Pérez at Galerie Papillon
Planned for the 2020 edition of Expo Chicago, which was ultimately canceled because of the pandemic, Galerie Papillon has dedicated its booth to Spanish interdisciplinary artist Javier Pérez, whose work explores the tensions between life and death. At the center of the booth is “Brotes I” (Bud), a heart-shaped bronze sculpture that’s growing twigs and branches. Another compelling piece is Un solo latido, two pork hearts which Pérez sewed together himself before casting them in bronze. A screen that caught the attention of many visitors during the VIP preview shows French ballerina Amélie Ségarra standing en pointe with a twist: kitchen knives have been added to her ballet flats. The challenge to create this intense performance was all the greater as the dancer was recovering from an injury. Each of the five editions of the video, titled En puntas, comes with a pair of these ultra pointy shoes.