This is the third iteration of Barely Fair, an international art fair operated by Julius Caesar. The invitational fair presents a tiny peek inside the programming of thirty-six contemporary art galleries, project spaces, and curatorial projects. Included spaces exhibit works in 1:12 scale booths measuring twenty-inches-by-twenty-inches, built to mimic the design of a standard fair.
The most striking booth in Color Club’s gymnasium-esque exhibition hall is easily New York’s Flyweight, featuring the work of Yael Eban and Jeni Emery. I was unsurprised to learn that operators Clare Torina and Jesse Cesario run their own 1:12 scale space in Brooklyn, established in 2018. Emery’s clay burger towers tantalize; the borderline surrealist totems consist of constructed stacks of pocket-sized patties and cheese precariously piled between pink and green buns. The floor consists of tiny mirrored planks that cast discoteque shadows around the display. The walls are lit from below (by the reflective ground), behind (by light boxes), and above (by the fair’s track lighting). Eban’s delicately inlaid thumbnail-sized slides feature found photos of anthropological objects. The backlit salon-style hang with beautifully rounded edges is reminiscent of something you might find at the newly rebranded Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (fka Oriental Institute). This fever dream secured the #1 spot in a unanimous vote between myself, my partner (Not An Art Person), and my consultant Martin (age five).
My heart sank when I first encountered Tif Sigfrids’ exhibition of Joe Sola. My mind raced to rationalize why I was gazing upon what appeared, at first glance, to be an empty booth. Desperate to decipher what I was looking at, I initially interpreted the seven blips (no larger than the head of a straight pin and arranged in a perfectly horizontal line) as minuscule art hanging magnets. Perhaps they were acting as placeholders for a forthcoming showcase, or inviting a performance/interaction. After all, given the two-week run of the show, there is ample time for evolution.
Upon consulting fair staff I learned that these compact compositions were in fact Lilliputian landscape paintings with measurements ranging from 5/128 x 5/64 inches to 5/64 x 4/64 inches. There is something deeply impressive about their quietude, discipline and restraint—offering an intermission from some of the bolder maneuvers in the fair. Despite diminutive dimensions, there is a great deal of bravado in Barely Fair’s presentation. These oil paintings were delightful to discover, and I respect the ability of such a small gesture to a guttural and alarming response. Tif Sigfrids, we forgive you for yanking our collective chains.
The most fully realized diorama in the show is Buffalo-based Rivalry Projects’ showing of Nando Alvarez-Perez. This bleak and immersive installation proffers an iota-sized homage to Samuel R. Delaney’s 1975 science-fiction novel “Dhalgren.” The story is set in dystopian Bellona, a fictional Midwestern city isolated after an unknown catastrophe. The milieu is allegedly inspired by the Rust Belt post-industrial landscape of Buffalo.
This post-apocalyptic topography is punctuated by more pop-culture references than you can count, but not of the Deuxmoi variety (visualize a headshot of George Washington, a cutout of the recently scandalized Michelangelo’s David, and a poster for the 1998 film “Armageddon”). Surfaces and finishes oscillate between dusty and luxurious. Desperate gestures like meticulously rendered backs and bottoms, inaccessible to the viewer, elicit the pathos of Mike Kelley: the Midwest’s tragic protagonist. Koonsian 4 inch x 6 inch prints on aluminum elevate commercial objects to precious pieces worthy of studio-lit still lives, sexily secured together with chains and jump rings. This miniature montage of hopeless Americana elicits nostalgia for the era of booming industry, and grief for the detritus its fall left behind.
Coming in at #4 with the best overall execution is California’s Left Field. Featured are the provocative paint and textile assemblages of Allison Reimus with pearl-clutching titles such as “Fuck You in Blue.” These stretched canvas collages would hold their own in a life-sized white cube, but also feel right at home in the 20″x20″ version. The fiber facades feature tough textiles studded with pumice, granular gel, mica and dryer linen. Basic elements of form and color are elevated and punctuated with machine stitching on rough burlap. These scratchy paintings are stretched and ensconced in wee floating frames. Kudos to this booth for understanding the assignment with this commanding display of distressed two-dimensional compositions.
LA’s Murmurs was one of two sites that featured a scaled-down model of a fully realized exhibition, Benjamin Asam Kellogg’s “Sanctus Stone.” The Imagist-adjacent ritualistic altar looks like an architectural model for a dark Masonic Temple with sigils including a fetal bird, the elements fire, water, air and earth, and wide-open eyes. This imagery is laden on column-like canvases flanking a flickering battery-powered fireplace. This seductive scene begs to host the world’s smallest seance.
Lonesome Dove deserves an honorific in a separate category for providing tiny amenities including doll-sized exhibition checklists on a pizza table next to a 1/12th scale folding chair. It’s important to rest those weary EXPO bones!
Every Meta Chicago Moment
Shout out to Pickleman’s compact “Cloud Gate,” Harlesden High Street’s showing of Meitao Qu’s resin-cast Nissan Skyline in the style of Wolf Vostell’s “Concrete Traffic,” and Adrian Wong at 4th Ward Project Space with an organic olfactory spectacle that’s a few condiments short of a Chicago Dog. The Mirepoix Is Present.