As the years go by, EXPO gets harder and harder to write about. On Thursday at 2:30pm, while the suit-clad gallerists, bespectacled artists and moneyed VIPs leisurely take in the works on display, I’m scrambling, furiously trying to make sense of this global slice of contemporary art.
An art fair is a strange animal. Although it features works of all stripes surrounded by familiar white walls, it’s not an exhibition or even a series of exhibitions. In the words of an esteemed Newcity alum, “It’s basically a mall.” And how many ways can you write about the new kicks at Foot Locker?
EXPO appears mostly unchanged from the last few iterations. A smartly curated Exposure section featuring up-and-coming galleries holds down the creative center, while well-heeled blue chips pop up sporadically, pedaling familiar “big names” from the last century as well as this one. In past years, I noted a preponderance of sweetly sellable abstraction, and it still abounds, but mirroring broader cultural shifts, figurative works are having a moment, particularly depictions of the black body by black artists.
While the vast majority of works at EXPO are two-dimensional and conveniently scaled for home display, there’s always a share of institution-ready large works. An impressive Tomory Dodge (“Goodbye Dragonfly” at Miles McEnery Gallery #267) and mixed-media work by Polish-born artist Marcin Dudek (Harlan Levy Projects #250) caught my eye as being both big and nice—a tough trick to pull off.
But this year my north star was the little works, minor surprises and unexpected thrills almost overlooked in a sea of just-the-right-size-for-that-empty-wall-in-the-hallway types.
Often, these little pleasures are tucked away in the nooks and crannies that pepper the fair’s booths. But some galleries aren’t afraid to lead small. At Deli (#254), a suite of modest pieces by painter Brook Hsu invite the viewer to look closely and linger. Painted black, the surfaces of these works are delicately inscribed with dental instruments to form finely crafted calligraphy. At Zucker Art Books (#108) reimagined Icelandic postcards by influential European conceptual artist Dieter Roth hold the east wall and clock in at a meagre thirteen centimeters.
Even artists whose work I’ve never liked benefit from the intimacy that a small surface imparts. At Timothy Taylor (#119), a quick jaunt into their storage area reveals a series of studies by painter Alex Katz. Absent the brio and bombast of the traditionally overcompensating-for-something scale of his most well-known work, the delicate “Cindy” is a beautifully hued and sensitively handled portrait.
An intrepid viewer should also make for Devin Reynolds’ hidden gems in the back of L.A.’s Royale Projects (#272). Typographic drawings on what looks to be found paper, this untitled series of seven images in the booth’s off space, is light, fun and utterly charming.
Of course, what constitutes small works is debatable, and though I tried to keep my selections under 8.5 X 11 inches, inevitably some larger pieces snuck through. Márton Nemes’ “Nobody Changes 01,” at Annka Kultys Gallery (#454) is 10” X 13”. Nemes’ luminescent brand of party abstraction reflects West Coast dance culture and, despite modest proportions, is as big as a husky loop at maximum volume. Along the same lines is Carrie Moyer’s eye-popping sixteen color lithograph at DC Moore Gallery ( #115). At 22” X 30” it can’t be considered a small work, but like many of the pieces I’ve noted, it’s tucked away in the back, so it counts.
Lastly, one shouldn’t miss the almost-hidden neon work by Steve McQueen at Marian Goodman (#229). Perched above the closed door to their back room, the sign simply reads “Remember Me,” a fragment of a much larger installation from 2016 and a fitting way to end EXPO 2019. (Alan Pocaro)
EXPO Chicago runs through September 22, at Navy Pier in the Festival Hall, 600 East Grand.