10 (+1) Highlights from Expo Chicago 2019

EXPO Chicago ran from September 19 -22, 2019 at Chicago’s Navy Pier.

By Christina Nafziger

  1. MARINARO Gallery, NYC

Marinaro Gallery’s booth at Expo Chicago was located in the EXPOSURE section of the fair, a program dedicated to galleries that are ten years or younger. All booths in this section feature two-person exhibitions or showcase just one artist. It may seem risky for a gallery to feature work by a single artist at an art fair given that so many collectors have a very different tastes. However, this decision ended up being the right one for Marinaro Gallery, making their booth one of the strongest at the fair. They showcased the work of midwest artist Danny Ferrell, whose paintings revel in soft, pastel hues, forming affectionate portraits of queer men. Ferrell’s paintings are stunning on their own, but as a group reveal scenes of sensuality and tender masculinity. Marinaro Gallery represents the artist along with other emerging talents on the scene.

2. Western Exhibitions, Chicago

Western Exhibitions’s booth was located in the PROFILE section of the fair, which presents solo booths and focused projects, showcasing ambitious installations and tightly focused thematic exhibitions. The Chicago-based gallery had the work of Richard Hull on view, which included the artist’s expressive, abstract paintings and sculptures. Hull received his MFA from the Art Institute of Chicago and is influenced by the Chicago Imagists. It was amazing seeing a Chicago gallery showcasing a Chicago artist in their hometown—and with an incredible installation! Western Exhibitions started as a nomadic gallery in 2002, and now occupies a dynamic space in Chicago’s West Town gallery district. Focusing on contemporary art, Western Exhibitions shows thought-provoking and visually innovative artists who work across most media, with an emphasis on personal narratives and cosmologies; LGBTQ artists and issues; pattern, decoration and surface concerns; works on paper; and artist books.

3. Peres Projects, Berlin, Germany

It is an impressive and not-so-easy undertaking to take your white cube of a fair booth and successfully transform it into an extension of the art itself. Berlin-based gallery Peres Projects accomplished just that—its electric blue wall highlighted the equally as colorful paintings of Ad Minoliti that adorned its surface. Neon orange continued onto the floor, completing the geometric shapes that echoed in the artwork on display. The two artists that Peres Projects showcased were Cameroon-based artist Ajarb Bernard Ategwa and Argentinian artist Ad Minoliti, whose works were similar in palette, but differed enough in style as to not overpower each other. This was a popular booth at the fair both for the quality of the art and for the colorful walls that provided a great photo op!

4. Claire Oliver Gallery, NYC

Claire Oliver Gallery, located in New York, showcased the exhibition Upending the Narrative, which included the work of Bisa Butler and Leonardo Benzant. Claire Oliver Gallery explains that the two artists “create detailed and sumptuous works of art redolent with content and mystery; these works demand to be studied. Equally important to the painstaking ‘making’ is their studio practices exploring the current condition in their own African American communities.” Butler’s quilts form elaborate and colorful portraits that tell her story, while Benzant’s work use material and process as a way to connect to her ancestors. Both artists’ work are incredible examples of the malleability while exploring the possibilities of fabric and textiles as medium, proof that these “craft” materials hold high value. The textural elements and intricate details of these works compel the viewer to spend time with each piece—which I certainly did at Expo Chicago! I highly recommend seeing these works in person if you are ever in New York.

5. Ascaso Gallery, Miami

Images of Ascaso Gallery’s booth do not do it justice. You can say this about any piece of art, really, as most art is better experienced in person. However, the works in this booth all create a mesmerizing, hypnotic affect for the viewer, using optics to blend together carefully painted grids of colors, bending and warping perspective. Featuring all kinetic art, the gallery featured the work of Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz Diez, Victor Vasarely, and Luis Tomasello. Located in the Wynwood art district in Miami, Florida, Ascaso Gallery showcases exclusively Latin American artists, specifically those who are Venezuelan.

6. De Buck Gallery, New York, Antwerp, Saint Paul de Vence

Founded in 2011, De Buck Gallery “focuses on contemporary artists, from emerging to mid-career, and is deeply committed to compelling and innovative artists’ projects and exhibitions.” And innovative is certainly the word to use in the incredible works on display in the gallery’s booth at Expo this year. Full of work that was both diverse and engaging, each piece spoke for itself, including the work of Devan Shimoyama, Rashaad Newsome, Stephen Towns, Sharif Bey, and Amani Lewi. The selection of work included the stunner “After the Black Ecstatic” by Devan Shimoyama. Made up of glitter, jewelry, color pencil, oil, rug, collage, and sequins, this piece was easily the star of the booth—and in my opinion, one of the strongest pieces at the fair by far. Other work at De Buck Gallery’s booth was just as memorable, featuring work that ranged from 2-D portraiture, to ceramic sculpture, to a suspended hoodie covered with flowers. Each piece was not-to-be-missed.

7. Carrie Secrist Gallery, Chicago

It may seem that I am a little biased naming another Chicago gallery, since I myself live in the windy city. However, it is just a coincidence that the Chicago-based gallery Carrie Secrist Gallery also had a stand-out booth at Expo—as one can see from the large-scale, geometric work of Dannielle Tegeder, the eye-popping collages of Stephen Eichorn, or the kaleidoscope-like vinyl that covered some of the walls of the booth. Also on display at the booth was the work of Whitney Bedford, Shannon Finley, Shannon Finley, Diana Guerrero-Maciá, Andrew Holmqvist, Anne Lindberg, Liliana Porter, and Dannielle Tegeder. In their hometown, Carrie Secrist Gallery did not come to disappoint.

8. Galería CURRO, Guadalajara, Mexico

Galería CURRO took a different approach to their booth than most. Instead of loud works that might catch your eye, the main piece in their booth drew strength in its small details, calling visitors hurrying through the fair to come in for a closer look. At large, international art fairs such as Expo Chicago, there is a lot to see, and visitors must use their time wisely if they want to see it all. However, I could not stop myself from lingering at this booth examining Octavio Abúndez’s piece “A Fake History of Humanity,” which is made up of 256 small paintings that state a fictional moment in history and its corresponding date. Example: “Thirty years after its invention, access to the internet was classified as addictive. July 9, 925 C.E.” Galería CURRO explains, “A Fake History of Humanity must be read as a compendium of lies or fictions resulting from a different reality in which colonial history, geopolitics, religion, scientific and social progress have completely turned. It questions through dark humor this post-truth, fake news and ‘alternative facts’ world we are living in today.” Other artists exhibited included Alejandro Almanza Pereda, Andrea Galvani, and Adam Parker Smith.

9. Shulamit Nazarian Gallery, Los Angeles

Having included LA-based gallery Shulamit Nazarian Gallery on my top 10 Expo Chicago list last year, I was excited to see what they had in store for 2019. And of course, they nailed it again this year with a two-person booth featuring the work of Cammie Staros and Summer Wheat. Influenced by Egyptian relief sculptures and Modernist painting, the paintings of Summer Wheat vibrate with a sharp pulse, creating an electricity within her figures. Her large-scale work is paired perfectly with the ceramic and neon work of Cammie Staros. Also drawing influence from antiquity, the artist references classical Greek vessels, but with a stark, contemporary twist of neon that illuminates her work, infusing it with a radiating hue. Shulamit Nazarian Gallery came to Expo this year, and, again, delivered.

10. Sundaram Tagore Gallery, NYC, Hong Kong, Singapore

Sundaram Tagore Gallery showcased compelling work that demanded closer attention, such as the work of Chun Kwang Young, whose work at the fair was simultaneously 2-D and 3-D, creating hundreds of small, triangular forms to form a larger wall-piece. These geometric forms jut out from the picture plane, and are made up of antique mulberry paper tinted with teas or pigments. However, it was the gorgeous installation by Anila Quayyum Agha that was the crowd favorite, as her piece was always surrounded by visitors waiting to snap a good photo, or become a part of the installation themselves. As you step into the space constructed for Agha’s piece, you would quickly find yourself immersed covered with elaborate patterns created through light and shadow. With locations in Hong Kong, Singapore, and New York City, Sundaram Tagore Gallery is devoted to examining the exchange of ideas between Western and non-Western cultures.

(+1) Bonus! - Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

It would be remiss of me to not mention the booth of Catherine Edelman Gallery, the contemporary photography gallery where I work, whose legacy in Chicago is longstanding—and with good reason. Catherine Edelman Gallery has been on the forefront of fine art photography for 31 years, bringing to Chicago artists that push the boundary of the expanding and ever-changing field of photography. This was my first art fair working within a booth instead of continuously roaming the endless rows of art along with the other hoards of people—and it gave me a new respect for the gallerists that stand all day for the duration of the fair! In our booth, we featured the work of Clarissa Bonet, Terry Evans, Michael Koerner, Sandro Miller, Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison, Gregory Scott, and Joel-Peter Witkin. This collection not only showcased the photography that was challenging both in its concept and subject matter, but also pushed the concept of photography itself. In Michael Koerner’s work, unique, abstract pieces are created through a cameraless process. Robert & Shana ParkeHarrison use photography as the base and jumping off point to their practice, painting directly on the surface of pieces like “Souliers a la Poulaine, 2018.” Expanding the medium still is Gregory Scott, who combines photography with video to create “Elevator, 2019,” an exploration and homage to the artist Jim Dine, infused with Scott’s signature humor. Be sure to check out this gallery’s new home in West Town next time you are in Chicago, or stop by our booth in winter at Art Miami and say hi!