The 10 Best Booths at EXPO Chicago 2022
Installation view of Steve Turner’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Steve Turner.
If there was one phrase uttered more than any other at Thursday’s opening of EXPO Chicago, it was “great energy.” The art, the booths, and most of all the fair itself were suffused with it, according to both gallerists and visitors. That attitude might not be surprising considering this is the first time the event has returned to the city’s Navy Pier since fall 2019—both 2020 and 2021 in-person events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
This outing marks not just a return to the pier, but also a new timing for the fair, which moves from the autumn to the spring, when it will be hosted for the foreseeable future. With more than 140 exhibitors at this year’s edition, EXPO Chicago 2022 is a sprawling but not bloated homecoming with plenty to enjoy, especially the 10 standout booths below.
Main Section, Booth 334
With works by Ed Atkins, Atiena R. Kilfa, Gillian Carnegie, and Diamond Stingily
Installation view of CABINET Gallery’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of CABINET Gallery.
Among the many booths that didn’t shy away from color or size at this year’s edition of EXPO Chicago, CABINET’s stall was almosting shockingly austere. But this less-is-more approach to curation made the works from Diamond Stingily all the more powerful. Her Sandra (2022) is made of braided tresses of synthetic hair hung from the wall that unfurl across the floor, winding like so many creeping vines. It is an empowering yet elegiac reference to the artist’s childhood—as a child, the Chicago native spent time in her mother’s salon—but also a symbol tinged with violence and a reminder of systemic oppression.
Stingily’s other pieces here, which make up the majority of the works in the booth, are similarly discomfiting, placing the viewer in the position of witness, interlocutor, and voyeur. Prints and paintings by the other artists exhibited complement, rather than compete with, hers in this smartly curated space.
Profile Section, Booth 319
With works by Pixy Liao
Pixy Liao, installation view in Chambers Fine Art’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Chambers Fine Art.
There is no explicit nudity in Pixy Liao’s photographs, but there’s a vibrating sexuality to each of her images. Part of EXPO Chicago’s Profile section, which features booths dedicated to a single artist or collective, Chambers is highlighting works from her long-running “Experimental Relationship” series, which complicates traditional ideas of dominance and heterosexual relationships.
Made with her boyfriend, these images find the couple interlinked in innocent yet highly charged ways: hands cupped, one above the other; digits enlaced over piano keys; a finger slipped through a zipper. In a culture suffused with overt sexualization, these pictures redefine eroticism through their subtlety and undeniable warmth.
Main Section, Booth 242
With works by Orkideh Torabi and Monsieur Zohore
Installation view of Half Gallery’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Courtesy Silvia Ros Photography and Half Gallery
Iranian-born painter Orkideh Torabi’s works poke fun at the patriarchy by deploying a cast of seemingly self-aware characters: Burly men wrestle snakes and one another; a mustachioed group smokes cigarettes and plays cards; a battered boxer grins through blackened eyes. Her vibrant compositions incorporate Persian patterns in a sly nod to her homeland, acknowledging its mercurial attitudes when it comes to stereotypical gender roles. These are socially aware works that project confidence without taking themselves too seriously.
They’re a natural fit to be paired with Monsieur Zohore’s mixed-media pieces. Rendered on canvas or with towels, the Ivorian American artist’s work upends well-known images with allusions—both subtle and not—to queer culture. Rod Blagojevich wears a leather harness. A Chicago-style hot dog hovers over Phil Jackson’s crotch. A teddy bear sports a studded collar. These two artists work in tandem to undermine systems of oppression with their humor and creativity.
Exposure Section, Booth 276
With works by Marcos Castro
Marcos Castro, installation view in MACHETE’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of MACHETE.
MACHETE, out of Mexico City, is showing in EXPO Chicago’s Exposure area, which hosts solo and two-artist presentations by galleries 10 years and younger. Its booth splatters Marcos Castro’s paintings across its walls, overlapping them into a scrapbook of hallucinogenic Mexican imagery. A volcano climaxes as a skeleton swings a guitar. Nearby, a contented cat radiates hearts as, in a piece abutting it, two primates have sex. Smiley faces twist and melt as mushrooms spring up out of a dark background.
Castro deploys a barrage of teal and fuschia across his works, giving the whole display the buzz of neon, the sense of walking down a busy street on a Friday night, tipsy off mezcal. There’s no booth as singularly electrifying at EXPO Chicago as this one.
Main Section, Booth 133
With works by Amy Bessone, Michael Dotson, Aaron Johnson, Dan Oliver, Nevena Prijic, Mark Whalen, and Cha Yuree
Installation view of Over the Influence’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Over the Influence.
Taking trippiness to the next level is Over the Influence, which is exhibiting a lab’s worth of psyched-out works. The figure in Michael Dotson’s magma-fied The Painter (2021) grips their brush like a knife, while the eyes in Cha Yuree’s painting Here, somewhere (ca. 2022) stare out from behind poppy-like plants.
Aaron Johnson opens the viewer’s third eye by literally adding one to many of his pieces. Best among them is Emergence (2022), a fever dream of couplings where pairs of figures commune, colorful birds sprouting from their facial features as toothy smiles add an air of anxiety to the scene.
Exposure Section, Booth 381
With works by Alexa Hatanaka and Marigold Santos
Installation view of Patel Brown’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Patel Brown.
Another booth in EXPO Chicago’s Exposure program, Toronto’s Patel Brown is showing the paintings of Marigold Santos and the sculptures of Alexa Hatanaka. Santos, who immigrated to Canada from the Philippines with her family in the late 1980s, fills her works with enigmatic, inky figures. With allusions to her migrant story and the complexities of identity that it entails, these works are pensive, simultaneously calm and probing.
Hatanaka’s work is grounded in her Japanese Canadian identity and uses kamiko, the practice of sewing garments out of konnyaku starch–strengthened paper. Here, repurposed materials and hand-treated papers are transformed into fish and robes, imbuing reminders of the past with an environmentally focused urgency that belongs entirely to the present.
Main Section, Booth 339
With works by Ann Agee, Elijah Burgher, Jimmy DeSana, Kyle Dunn, Chris “Daze” Ellis, Joe Houston, Dinh Q. Lê, Astrid Terrazas, Chiffon Thomas, and David Wojnarowicz
Installation view of P.P.O.W.’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of P.P.O.W..
Ann Agee’s earthenware Madonna and Child sculptures are a highlight not just of P.P.O.W’s booth, but of EXPO Chicago as a whole. Part of the ongoing series “Madonna of the Girl Child,” begun during a residency in Florence at the studio of fellow ceramicist Betty Woodman, these angular figures are inspired by 17th- and 18th-century salt cellars and invert the traditional Christ narrative by making the savior female. Homages to Cubist traditions can be seen throughout, and the simple patterning Agee applies to the surfaces renders some of these figures almost tribal—truly stunning works from a pioneer of feminist ceramics.
Also notable in this multi-artist display are Elijah Burgher’s large-scale watercolor and colored pencil works that cheer queer culture and draw on the occult, as well as Joe Houston’s hyperrealistic “Tourch” paintings, which capture hands striking matches in the dark.
Main Section, Booth 229
With works by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Olga de Amaral, Jagoda Buić, Luba Krejci, Barbara Levittoux-Świderska, Bertina Lopes, Aurelia Muñoz, Ida Applebroog, Miriam Schapiro, and Su Richardson
Installation view of Richard Saltoun’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Richard Saltoun.
Why would you exhibit 50-year-old works at a contemporary art fair? When they look as strikingly fresh and modern as the ones on view at Richard Saltoun’s booth, the answer is obvious. While the vast majority of pieces here are from the 1970s or ’80s, these textiles feel as though they could have been made last week.
Aurelia Muñoz’s massive macramé seems angelic, its two side sections reaching heavenward. Barbara Levittoux-Świderska’s wood and sisal Caltrop (1983) is less threatening than its name suggests, a delicate sculpture in which the artist seems to have frozen time to capture the fibers midair. And Sue Richardson’s crocheted Travelling Man with bag (1979–80) lets everything hang out, his tongue and genitals protruding from the backdrop.
Main Section, Booth 119
With works by Jingze Du, Bianca Fields, Ania Hobson, Kate Klingbeil, David Leggett, Natalia Gonzalez Martin, Kevin McNamee-Tweed, Zachary Ochoa, Dickens Otieno, Shirley Villavicencio Pizango, Thomias Radin, Camilo Restrepo, Gabby Rosenberg, Terron Cooper Sorrells, Brittany Tucker, and Yung Jake
Installation view of Steve Turner’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Steve Turner.
Kevin McNamee-Tweed’s ceramic paintings are nothing if not humorous. Whether it’s a scowling ape playing with a flower, a giant seagull being fed from the second-story window of a house, or a person feasting on a raw bird, the artist is able to elicit a smile with almost all his works on view. The charms are further enhanced by their scale—these detailed scenes are rendered on shards of ceramic that are often only six inches on a side.
Steve Turner’s booth is exhibiting a litany of artists at this year’s EXPO Chicago, so be sure not to overlook the work of Bianca Fields and Terron Cooper Sorrells. Fields’s emotionally charged, thickly layered acrylics are filled with pent-up energy as screaming visages leap out of chaotic, abstract assemblages. Sorrells’s monumental Bill of Sale (2022), in which Black women labor over a quilt as a trio of suited individuals haggle over the work, is a stunningly detailed critique. While each patch of the quilt contains its own story, the broader work upbraids not just the art world, but society’s broader exploitation of Black labor.
Main Section, Booth 332
With works by Christy Matson and Jonathan Muecke
Installation view of Volume Gallery’s booth at EXPO Chicago 2022. Courtesy of Volume Gallery.
The two-person display by Volume, a local Chicago space, is far from loud. The words meditative, contemplative, and serene all come to mind when standing amid Jonathan Muecke’s sculptures and Christy Matson’s acrylic-colored, woven geometric textiles.
While Muecke is best known for furniture and architectural design, his works on view here are aesthetic pieces above all else. They float on the edge of contradiction, with heavy materials made to feel light and more frail ones made to feel solid. These tensions never reach too far, though, and his works seem fully comfortable with themselves. The same can be said of Matson’s wall-hung pieces, which are as rooted in modern and contemporary art history—elements of minimalism, color theory—as they are in the lineage of craftwork that undergirds weaving. In her pieces, we see new and old balanced in a reflective harmony.