The 10 Best Booths at EXPO Chicago’s Online Edition
More than a year after the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic set in and art fairs around the world canceled their plans for the foreseeable future, Chicago’s EXPO fair is holding its 2021 edition online, rescheduled from the fair’s usual in-person time slot in September. This year’s edition, known as EXPO CHGO ONLINE, gathers presentations from more than 80 U.S. and international galleries showcasing both contemporary upstarts and well-known figures working in painting, sculpture, fiber art, and much more.
In addition to regular gallery programming, the fair also includes a special presentation of ecologically minded works curated by New Orleans Museum of Art curator Katie A. Pfohl, a section dedicated to highlighting solo and two-person exhibitions from galleries 10 years or younger, and a special exhibition section featuring nonprofit institutions and museums. The fair’s online portal opened to the public on Friday, and will run through Monday, April 12th. Here, we look at some of the digital fair’s standout presentations.
With works by Stephen Towns and Tina Williams Brewer
New York’s De Buck Gallery has brought together an exciting array of new and recent mixed-media works by Stephen Towns and Tina Williams Brewer. Towns’s intimately rendered portraits of Black subjects, taken from the artist’s forthcoming solo show “Declaration and Resistance,” opening in 2022 at the Westmoreland Museum of American Art, radiate a warmth that is enhanced by subtle decorative elements like the copper-leaf halos in Two Roses (2021) and Two Navy Soldiers (2021), or the hints of metal and silver leaf in the barbershop scene Shaping Up (2021).
The booth’s main focus, however, is its fabric works. Towns’s contributions, all executed in 2020, draw on Black spirituals for inspiration, rendering narrative scenes of subjects placed along multi-textured coastlines and against vast star-studded skies. Brewer’s textile work shares a similar penchant for textural juxtaposition, combining a wide array of materials including Peruvian woven fabric, domestic taffeta, shibori, rayon, batiked medallions, sequins, and more. The resulting works are gestural, collage-like objects, layering abstract forms over figurative elements and piecing together fabrics from around the world in an almost ecstatic fashion. Collectors seem to be excited about the works, too: As of this writing, three out of the five works by Brewer on offer have sold.
With works by Amy Bennett, Sara Birns, Jackson Casady, Baldur Helgason, Sean Norvet, Justin Liam O’Brien, Paco Pomet, Charlie Roberts, Max Rumbol, Orkideh Torabi, and Dustin Yellin
Richard Heller Gallery’s booth features a host of contemporary artists pushing figuration into uncanny, occasionally uncomfortable realms. Take the subject of Baldur Helgason’s Patty at Metro 1991 (2021), with its massive welling eyes and pair of pained-looking smiles, or the distorted, near-alien figure in Sara Birns’s Wrong Concentration (2021), which ripples with an uncomfortable sheen that places the subject just on the far side of human.
Other works take a subtler, more intimate approach. Justin Liam O’Brien’s nightlife scene Take Me Out Tonight (2021), which had sold by the fair’s opening day, and Amy Bennett’s Backscratch (2021) both place their central subjects in familiar, even desirable situations—the bar, the living room—but an ambient dread looms in both, whether from the gawking stares of fellow patrons in Take Me Out Tonight or the creeping shadows at the edges of Bennett’s living room scene. Dustin Yellin’s glass-and-collage sculpture Theia Study (2020) brings these explorations of bodily discomfort into three dimensions, featuring a central human figure encased in glass and gushing water from its limbs—a foreboding and cautionary image of the body’s self-destructive capabilities.
With works by Carlos Sagrera, Johan De Wit, and Thijs Jansen
Amsterdam-based Rutger Brandt Gallery’s booth is broadly concerned with the spatial possibilities of interiors of all kinds, making for an interesting thematic exploration of what “inside” even means anymore. In his acrylic paintings of empty rooms, the Spanish painter Carlos Sagrera inserts details both mundane and otherworldly, layering totemic household staples like lamps or bookshelves with flashes of mirage-like color—a wavering green growth on a cluttered desk, a bookshelf seemingly torn away to reveal streaks of metallic purple and yellow. As of the afternoon of Thursday’s preview, all but one of Sagrera’s paintings has sold; only Siurell (2019) is still available, for $11,000.
Johan De Wit’s sculptural works, made of paper, resin, and acrylics, extend Sagrera’s domestic explorations, rendering pillows, vanities, and stacks of books into something resembling monuments. All of De Wit’s works are still available as of this writing, and range in price from $2,000 to $8,700. Thijs Jansen rounds out the gallery’s presentation with a trio of claustrophobic paintings—on offer for figures between $4,500 and $9,000—of elevator interiors, their doors shut, reflecting nothing but a fluorescent sheen. The paintings, all executed in 2020, carry the weight of that hemmed-in year, and make for an excellent knot in the booth’s interior focus.
“What ties these artists together in this particular presentation is the different ways domesticity is translated into art,” Rutger Brandt said. “A subliminal look into everyday life, trying to find meaning by modification of the corporeal.”
With works by Alina Perez
For its booth, Brooklyn-based Deli Gallery brought together a series of new works on paper by current Yale MFA candidate Alina Perez. Perez’s tense and often sexual portraits vacillate between scenes of lush romance, as in Caught Between Her and I (all works 2021) or Stargazing, and portrayals of vast and enveloping loneliness, as in Something Always Happens When I’m Not Around or Cutting Off Loose Tongues.
“Perez’s vibrant pastel and charcoal drawings immerse viewers into complex, speculative scenes drawn from a place of deep love, converting the mundane into fantastical and tenderly treated moments,” explained Max Marshall, founder and director of Deli Gallery. Perez’s strength comes from her deft manipulation of the textural possibilities of her chosen media, washing her subjects in a chromatic pastel haze or leaving them stranded in murky charcoal depths. Perez’s approach seems to be paying off, too—four out of the six works on offer had already sold by the afternoon of Thursday’s preview. At the time of writing, the remaining two works were still available for $12,000 and $18,000.
With works by Dawoud Bey, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Lynne Cohen, and Lewis Baltz
Stephen Daiter Gallery’s booth devoted to black-and-white photography spotlights the medium’s capacity for capturing details and specificity. Dawoud Bey’s 1988 series featuring Black subjects on the street, for example, is remarkable for its ability to convey each sitter’s personality through pose, dress, and background; Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Rue Mouffetard, Paris (1954) finds the same sort of unguarded personality in a seemingly candid shot of a little boy proudly lugging two bottles of wine.
Other works find rich ground in the particulars of living spaces—Lynne Cohen’s photographs of empty living spaces might have the most personality of any work in the booth, despite featuring only furniture, while Bey’s crepuscular, haunted Untitled #22 (Farmhouse) (2017) conjures up the specific eeriness of a house in the woods at dusk. At the time of writing, all works were still available for purchase, with prices upon request.
With works by Davide Balliano, Ha Chong-Hyun, Suki Seokyeong Kang, Minouk Lim, Tania Pérez Córdova, Kibong Rhee, Park Seo-Bo, and Lee Seung Jio
The works in Tina Kim Gallery’s booth broadly mine the intersection between patterned linework and freestanding structural works. A host of works by Korean modernists form the core of the booth, with Suki Seokyeong Kang’s steel and thread sculptures finding a delicate balance between intricate linear grid and interlocking three-dimensional structure, and Ha Chong-Hyun’s “Conjunction” paintings finding strength in the accumulation of simple, repeated brushstrokes. As of this writing, all of these works are still available, with Kang’s sculptures going for figures between $13,000 and $24,000.
Elsewhere in the booth, experiments in linearity continue, whether with Davide Balliano’s looping plaster, gesso, and varnish works—available for figures between $3,500 and $24,000—or in Tania Pérez Córdova’s Contour #2 (2020), which the artist created by pouring bronze into sand, resulting in a rectangular, mirror-like structure. Not all the works fit into the paradigm, however. Kibong Rhee’s stunning nature scene Riverflow to 9 (2019), available for $55,000, doesn’t have much to do with linework or sculpture, instead focusing on a fog-laden riverbank that recedes into an impenetrable background of fog.
With works by Candida Alvarez, Sanford Biggers, David Antonio Cruz, Brendan Fernandes, Dan Gunn, Kajahl, Ben Murray, Cheryl Pope, Karen Reimer, David Shrobe, and Nate Young
Chicago-based Monique Meloche Gallery used its EXPO booth as an opportunity to celebrate the diversity and formal range of its excellent program. “Unlike other fairs where we focus on solo or two-artist presentations, our hometown fair EXPO Chicago gives us the opportunity to curate a meaningful group presentation of our gallery artists,” Monique Meloche said. “Although not curated on a theme, we always tease out the interconnections between our diverse roster of artists both conceptually and formally.”
The works on display are wildly divergent in terms of medium and subject matter, but they are united by a love of color and a penchant for collage-like juxtaposition. Take, for example, Candida Alvarez’s pastel-hued Swarm (2014), made of acrylic, enamel, walnut ink, and metal flakes, or Cheryl Pope’s Mother and Child on Blue Mat (2021), with its mix of needle-punched wool and cashmere fields (priced at $18,000)—not to mention Sanford Biggers’s antique quilt and gold-leaf assemblage Tumbler (2021), priced at $55,000.
With works by Tomory Dodge, Inka Essenhigh, Beverly Fishman, Rico Gatson, David Huffman, Raffi Kalenderian, Tom LaDuke, Douglas Melini, Michael Reafsnyder, Daniel Rich, Patrick Wilson, and Guy Yanai
Miles McEnery Gallery’s presentation of paintings by artists on its roster is another explosion of color and form, with works that range between gestural and geometric abstraction, surrealist landscapes, and vibrant figurative scenes. Standouts include Guy Yanai’s romantic pastel-hued portrait Claire and Her Boyfriend (2021), available for $32,000; Inka Essenhigh’s ethereal dusk forest-scape Blue Spruce and Waning Crescent Moon (2021), available for $44,000; and Tomory Dodge’s manic bricolage Lush Thicket (2021), available for $60,000. Raffi Kalenderian’s Christine Minas (2021) builds layers of impastoed strokes and vivid patterns around its central, titular figure, while Tom LaDuke’s The Blow That Hurts The Ones That Don’t (2021) obscures its slippery central figure behind splashes of pigment and long errant brushstrokes.
With works by Michelle Grabner and Nick Schutzenhofer
Nick Schutzenhofer, untitled, 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Mickey.
Chicago-based gallery Mickey’s dual presentation of works by Michelle Grabner and Nick Schutzenhofer offers an interesting mix of wall-based works that focus on accretion of layers and textural interplay. Grabner’s enigmatic untitled tile sculptures, made of brass and bronze, feature textile patterns and weaves that appear frozen in time by the metal-casting process, half-lodged in an immutable and unmoving substance, an assertion “that even the most domestic patterns on textiles reverberate with political connotations,” according to an accompanying artist’s statement.
Michelle Grabner, untitled, 2020. Courtesy of the artist and Mickey.
Schutzenhofer’s works find the artist layering paper and ceramics over canvas to create slightly raised subsections on the picture plane, which the artist then washes in rapid gestural marks and figures that verge on the nightmarish in a process “analogous to jotting down notes in the margins of a book,” according to a statement. As of this writing, all of the works are still available, and range in price from $1,500 to $9,000.
With works by Josef Albers, Vija Celmins, Melvin Edwards, Ray Johnson, Ellsworth Kelly, Norman Lewis, Brice Marden, Gladys Nilsson, Ken Price, Martin Puryear, and Suellen Rocca
Vija Celmins, Ocean Surface (Dark Paper), 1992. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery.
Ellsworth Kelly, White Forms on Blue, 1962. Courtesy of the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery.
Matthew Marks Gallery’s selection of works on paper from 1944 to 2020 brings together some of the biggest names in the medium, offering an array of formal experimentation with an incredibly high pedigree and consistency. Standouts include a woodcut by the Latvian-American artist Vija Celmins, titled Ocean Surface (Dark Paper) (1992), available for $45,000; a densely layered linear etching by Brice Marden that was on offer for $22,000, but has sold; and an ethereal, abstract work of oil on cream paper by Norman Lewis, available for $60,000. Works by some of the medium’s heaviest hitters, including mid-century icons like Ellsworth Kelly and Josef Albers, are also still available, with prices upon request, while the booth’s most contemporary work, a 2020 lithograph by Martin Puryear, is available for just $7,500.
Thumbnail image: Justin Liam O’Brien, “Take Me Out Tonight,” 2021. Courtesy of the artist and Richard Heller Gallery.