Next Thursday, the fifth edition of EXPO CHICAGO will open its doors with a cohort of booths from 140 galleries across the globe. Housed in Chicago’s historic Navy Pier, on the shores of Lake Michigan, the fair will gather both modern and contemporary work from some of today’s most sought-after artists, like Bruce Conner and Derrick Adams, and up-and-coming unknowns, like Evelyn Statsinger, alike. Below, we’ve scoured the preview to bring you our top picks at this year’s fair.
The late California artist Conner’s pioneering body of work—which searingly captured both the anxieties and exuberance of post-war American culture—is getting its due this year in a current, over 250 object-strong retrospective at MoMA. This work comes from his seminal group of assemblages (a similar piece, The Box, 1960, is part of MoMA’s permanent collection) which entomb wax, shredded cloth, and other detritus in wooden boxes. The resulting free-standing sculptures, which resemble dusty relics discovered in a long-forgotten basement, give form to the anxieties that riddled 1950s America—namely, the fear of nuclear apocalypse.
Last fall, Richard Gray Gallery mounted a long overdue retrospective of Statsinger’s daring paintings, sculptures, and photograms—three months later, she passed away at the age of 88. The show celebrated her integral contributions to Chicago’s boundary-pushing Monster Roster movement, which comprised a group of artists (Leon Golub, Nancy Spero, and H.C. Westermann among them) who incorporated existentialist content into their practices. The Monster Roster artists also laid the groundwork for the Chicago Imagists. This spellbinding painting is typical of Statsinger’s mid-career work, which is populated by fantastical forms that embody the mysterious landscape of the mind.
New York-based artist Adams has had a busy year, complete with a whopping five solo exhibitions. The shows featured his vibrant collages, sculptures, and performances, which brim with a cast of black characters and intricate patterns inspired by popular culture, both contemporary and historical. This work comes from his recent series “Floaters,” which brings together painted collages depicting young black subjects lounging on an assortment of pool floats—those big, buoyant swans, donuts, and sharks likely filling your late-summer Instagram feed—often wearing bathing suits covered in traditional African motifs. Like all of Adams’s work, this series fuses exuberant content with an ongoing investigation of identity politics.
Sime’s stunning compositions, forged from e-waste found in the sprawling Addis Ababa market in Ethiopia’s capital (circuit boards, electrical wire), created a buzz when unveiled in his first commercial gallery exhibition, at New York’s James Cohan, last year. The intricate wall works, which resemble bird’s-eye views of patchwork countrysides and labyrinthine cities, are pieced together in Sime’s Addis Ababa home—an artwork in its own right, covered floor to ceiling in the artist’s elaborate wood carvings, sculptures, and vast collection of scavenged objects. This new piece mingles a monochromatic, angular green backdrop with swirling areas of bright blues, reds, and oranges inspired by Ethiopia’s land and age-old artistic traditions.
Lorraine O’Grady, Miscegenated Family Album (Cross Generational), L: Nefertiti, the last image; R: Devonia’s youngest daughter, Kimberley, 1980-1994
Alexander Gray Associates, Booth 327
This striking collage, in which images of Nefertiti and O’Grady’s niece face each other, comes from her celebrated Miscegenated Family Album, one of the artist and critic’s most political and personal works. The piece originated as part of O’Grady’s influential 1980 performance, Nefertiti/Devonia Evangeline, in which she compared her fraught relationship with her deceased sister, Devonia, to Nefertiti’s similarly trying relationship with her own sister, Mutnodjmet. O’Grady, who will celebrate her 82nd birthday later this month, was a U.S. government intelligence analyst and a rock music critic before focusing in on art in 1980. Today, she’s best known for her potent, graceful photographs, collages, and performances which explore black identity and diaspora.
Lynn Hershman Leeson, Roberta’s Construction Chart #2 (Suggested Alterations), 1975
Anglim Gilbert Gallery, Booth 343
Hershman Leeson, whose pioneering work in performance and new media as early as the 1970s paved the way for contemporary movements like Cyberfeminism, has finally begun to receive the recognition she deserves. In 2015, solo exhibitions of her work were mounted in New York, Oxford, Hamburg, and Karlsruhe, followed by the publication of a comprehensive retrospective catalogue. This piece comes from one of her early and most ambitious projects, Roberta Breitmore (1974-8), for which she assumed the role of an alter ego, Roberta Breitmore, and lived as the character in San Francisco’s Dante Hotel for two years. The project foreshadowed today’s preoccupation with identity curation, fueled by digital platforms like Facebook.
Sanford Biggers, The Danger (QC), 2014
Monique Meloche Gallery
Before 2016 comes to a close, the New York-based Biggers will have mounted four solo exhibitions at institutions across the globe, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and London’s Massimo De Carlo among them. Biggers is known for paintings, sculptures, and video which layer techniques and materials associated with the history of African-American craft and references to contemporary black culture and race politics. This work is a strong example of Biggers’s quilt paintings. Here, he’s adorned a patchwork blanket, which conjures associations to the quilts used on the Underground Railroad to signify safe houses, with painted patterns recalling soccer balls and the beams of police flashlights.
In advance of Argentinian, New York-based Guagnini’s 2017 solo exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis, Bortolami brings two of the artist’s vitrified ceramic sculptures to Chicago. This piece, which at first resembles a melted Futurist bronze, à la Boccioni, at closer glance is a composite of roughly modeled hands, ears, feet, and phalluses. While these gilt forms could be inspired by the jumbled body parts of any human—perhaps all humans—the title suggests differently. Does the sculpture honor the late economist John Maynard Keynes, or is it poking fun? We can’t be sure. But in any case, this mesmerizing work carries the rubber-necking, carnal allure of Guagnini’s best work.