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EXPO Chicago 2019 Sets the Bar for Autumn Fair Season

Ugo Rondinone

EXPO Chicago Director Tony Karman has finally made the leap from organizing a Chicago art fair to facilitating a Chicago Art Week. This year, his main event coincided with the first ever NADA (New Art Dealers Alliance) fair in Chicago, along with dozens of museum and gallery openings around the city and the opening of the 3 rd Chicago Architectural Biennial.
What made EXPO 2019 extraordinary, however, was not what else went on around town but the democratic curation of the fair itself, which somehow represented not only the giants of the art world but also the giantness of the art field. Yes, of course there were plenty of heavy hitters among the 138 dealers in the show, which together showed 3000 artists from 24 nations—otherwise, it would not be worth going. But despite gems like the tiny Calder and Louise Bourgeois drawing at Tina Kim Gallery, the terrific Bernar Venet sculpture at Kasmin, and a perfectly representative Ugo Rondinone rock stack sitting beside a delectable John Chamberlain at Timothy Taylor’s booth, such discoveries were not the stars.
My highlights instead came courtesy of a smattering of works occupying that rare-yet-instantly relatable-position somewhere between fine art, outsider art, folk art, social practice art, political art, absurdist art, and something else that makes people forget they are looking at art altogether. For example, the glazed ceramic Tittypots (2019) and, excuse the pun, fantastically hung Hangbrüst installation by the almost unknown artist LETO in the booth of West Hollywood’s Nino Mier Gallery both amused and wowed me with their simultaneous humor, self-awareness, and depth of method. Similarly, three bombastic, garish, LCD sculptures by Italian-born, Brooklyn-based artist Federico Solmi hanging in the booth of Luis De Jesus, another Los Angeles-area dealer, held my gaze until my retinas burned. I enjoyed multiple encounters returning again and again to watch all types of people taking selfies in front of Good Times, a painting by New York artist Deborah Kass hanging in Kavi Gupta’s booth. The simple black and blue canvas festooned with the words good times in white neon was easily the most selfied thing at the fair, in fact, but nary a single, bouncing giggler seemed to realize the somber undertone of the glowing message: black and blue, symbolizing police violence against people of color, overshadowed by a neon spectacle. Good times for whom? The best work at EXPO 2019, however, was not in a dealer’s booth, nor was it by only one artist.

Bernar Venet

It was an uncanny-looking European advertising kiosk plopped at the end of a line of media booths across from Hannah’s Bretzel. Organized by Detroit-based artist Scott Reeder, the kiosk was covered with hundreds of handmade paper advertisements, offering everything from spiritual advice to real estate services, each made by other artists Reeder invited to participate.
Inside the kiosk, donning a top hat, was Reeder, selling arbitrarily-priced strips of colored vinyl—bumper stickers without messages. Despite the money and vanity that so often overshadows authentic aesthetic experiences at these fairs, EXPO Chicago 2019 managed to bring together some dealers and works that reached all types of viewers—from museum directors to aging millionaires to new money to small children to event staff to resentful artists only there to sneer—and keep them interested from VIP afternoon until the final hours of the fair. Such an accomplishment is undeniable.

Phillip Barcio

Volume 34 no.2 November/December 2019 pp 16-17

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