Viewing my eighth edition, I’m reminded of how far Expo Chicago has come. President and director Tony Karman’s vision supported by a lean powerhouse of badass art workers (who spend most of their year in long, detailed conversations in preparation of this moment) brings something new to each edition. Developing an ecosystem that cuts across galleries, museums and large institutions, Expo’s focus on regional development and international partnership remains unparalleled. This year, hosting its ninth Curatorial Forum in partnership with Independent Curators international (ICI), more than fifty curators have come together to groupthink issues of labor, accessibility and community engagement amongst other emergent themes. As ICI expands to the Midwest, this furthers its mission in encouraging and expanding the realm of curatorial work, broadening the scope of the fair as a platform for critical collaboration internationally.
To critically consider fifty-to-sixty booths was a mission I’d given myself. With social and politically charged works at booths like Human Rights Watch, Art At A Time Like This+NRDC, and Center for Native Futures, one also found pearls in the presence of masters; notably a generous showcase of Manuel Mendive at Cernuda Arte, Helen Frankenthaler and Kenneth Noland at Yares Art, and Miyoko Ito at Corbett vs. Dempsey. Local institutional showcases courtesy of AMFM and Hyde Park Art Center presented strong curated exhibitions featuring works by Lola Ayisha Ogbara, Erol Scott Harris II, Erin LeAnn Mitchell, Kelvin Kweku Haizel and Modou Dieng Yacine, and Houston native Regina Agu and Kuwaiti-born Farah Salem respectively.
Here are some of the standout booths.
Instituto de Visión (Bogotá, Colombia), 370
Cristina Camacho’s multilayered sculptural paintings on canvas resist disciplinary constructs. Painted, spliced, woven canvases stand as portals into the mystic feminine, exceeding formalist conversations on pattern and abstraction. Reminiscent of the primitivity and symmetry of Indian sculptor Mrinalini Mukherjee, I found these exquisitely paired with the poetic abstractions of Ivan Krassoievitch. Krassoievitch’s “Transcreaciones” questions and dissolves language with cryptic symbology, presenting us with geometric and abstract translations of different works in screen-print and gold leaf on panel. Their collective works read as civilizationary, translating and mistranslating gesture and form in space, speaking to the cultural specificity of non-western abstraction.
Galerie Poggi, (Paris, France), 302
Juxtaposing freshly commissioned work by Azerbaijani artist Babi Badlov alongside works by Kapwani Kiwanga, Galerie Poggi arrives with a profoundly strategic position on colonial oppression and the pervasiveness of structural violence. In Badalov’s textual wall hangings, hybrid painting-poetry forebodes “Beware of Capitalist Estetik” and “I have a Scream” suspended just above eye level. On an opposite wall hangs a selection of Kiwanga’s printed and framed extracts from the 1961 “Green Book.” Two light sculptures, “Glow #1, 2019” and “Glow #2, 2019,” stand as monolithic sentinels, referencing the power of visibility and its antipole, the unjust surveillance of Black bodies, while simultaneously standing as relics or “tombstones” of ancestors whose struggles preceded our own.
Sean Horton (Presents), (New York), 103
A solo presentation of Minneapolis-based Lauren dela Roche dips us into the interiority of expressly mindful, full-bodied, thigh-high-stocking-wearing, robust women with heaving thighs and well-rounded buttocks, seated or lying in repose in what seem to be courtyards or semi-indoor/outdoor domestic spaces. Perspectively misplaced archways and staircases float in and out of backgrounds expressed in full saturation. Painting with oil on found cotton feedsacks that appear to be sutured and repaired in patches, dela Roche’s adept use of pigment and line seductively teeter on uneasiness, as female nudes appear to lean in, listen, rest and repair while otherworldly presences loom within the depths of her frame.
Anthony Gallery, (Chicago), 175
Another solo presentation, this time by twenty-seven-year old Andrew Park who lives and works in Los Angeles, offers a series of masterfully painted analog video-game stills rendered in spray paint on gessoed board. With each painting measuring a little over or under 18 x 24 inches, Park summons the haziness of the early nineties from 8-bit video games on old television screens, replete with static lines and sunglares. Transporting us to the good old days of lo-fi, Park’s impressionistic use of color makes for a Gen-Z Monet moment. Anthony Gallery’s director Isimeme ‘Easy’ Otabor explains, “These images are vehicles to unpack larger ideas about memory and adolescence. Moments of distortion ground us in this common experience, a recollection of a past that makes us who we are today.”
Since it was impossible to draw up a list of five, the fifth spot is an amalgam of works and booths. Chicago’s Document, 219, showcases works by represented artists Julien Creuzet, Anya Kielar, Elizabeth Atterbury, Kiah Celeste, Paul Magi Sepuya, Erin Jane Nelson and Sara Greenberger Rafferty that sit together uninterrupted by the charge each work carries. Ortuzar Projects, 337, presents three seldom-seen paintings by conceptual artist Julia Scher that are an absolute treat as viewers gravitate toward and reel from the presence of a surveillance camera hung directly above a front-facing large-scale triptych welcoming collectors to a two-person presentation at the booth. Heidi Hahn’s deep saturated warm-toned oils on canvas at Kohn Gallery, 311, drew me into their materiality. Heavily layered, impasto, large-scale, melancholy female figures occupying the entirety of a canvas—what’s not to love? And since you’re there, don’t miss Kerala-based Siji Krishnan who’s also showing a large scroll painting capturing scenes from her village, rendered through personal and communal memory in watercolors on rice paper. (Shoutout to Patel Brown, 171, for introducing me to Punjabi Canadian Mia Sandhu’s playful diasporic nymphettes painted in black ink and gouache.)