REVIEW | EXPO CHICAGO: the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art

EXPO CHICAGO: the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art September 18 – 20, 2015

What EXPO CHICAGO does, and does incredibly well, is to celebrate how very much Chicago is a city in love with art (in every form) and invites the rest of the world to try and match that adoration and passion. The price of admission? Bring to us your very best, your most innovative, most critical, and most beautiful. What happily ensues is a gorgeous parade of sincere and fantastic work from not just some of the heavy hitters like Anish Kapoor, Uta Barth, William Wegman, or Ai Weiwei we all want to see; but also from artists I am less familiar with (though no less notable) like Bryan Graf presented by Yancy Richardson Gallery, Minako Abe presented by BASE Gallery, or Jennifer Dalton presented by Charlie James Gallery (her sticker series pictured left was hilarious and spot on). As I strolled the long aisles, I found a lot to be engaged by and to question and more still to fall in love with.

So, in the spirit of and a toast to the fair and the city it salutes, here are my top ten and a half (what can I say? sometimes a girl needs a half) favorite pieces from EXPO CHICAGO 2015:

No. 10.5 Its always interesting, and uncommon, when the unique environment of an art fair feels like the perfectly appropriate location for an artwork. No Shirt, No Shoes, You’re Probably Rich by Alejandro Diaz, presented by Art + Cultural Projects is precisely that kind of work. Humorous, provocative, and on trend, Diaz’s ability to blend politics, entertainment, and activism continues to strike a chord.

No. 10 Ghost Vines (Yellow Gold) by conceptual artist Teresita Fernandez, presented by Anthony Meir Fine Art, consists of two layers of CNC-perforated mirror polished brass that stand off of the wall; just enough to give them a true sense of depth and visual dimension. Either up close or at a few paces, the irregular and oversized form morphs between topography to letters to vegetation to mechanized figures. Fernandez’s interest in perception and the psychology of looking, genuinely looking, is ever prevalent by her use of material: the reflective surface casts back my own image in two dueling, distorted layers. It is a work that in viewing it as an object, I, in turn, glimpse myself in jagged and terse intersections and then disappear completely in its voids. It raises an interest dichotomy between the partial and the whole and which role I currently fill.

No. 9 From three windows by Daniel Buren, part of the In/Situ project and a welcome departure from the exhausted cones from previous fairs, is a stunning array of eighteen rectangular panels subdivided into twelve transparent Perspex squares, both clear and colored, then suspended from the ceiling. It is large but not crushing, its multiplicity echoing the architecture of the pier and the linear format of the fair. It is nearly impossible not to associate these to windows in a cathedral as they activate the space in much the same way: they illuminate, enlighten, and offer a subtle means of viewing both inward as well as outward.

No. 8 Non-Portrait IX and Non-Portrait IV from the Anonymous Series by Rafael Díaz at Galeria Alvaro Alcazar literally stopped me in my tracks. Two women, in profile, each with porcelain skin and distinctive hair lose their faces (the usual means of identification) to the deep, black abyss of the background. Working as an artist and as a physician, and in conflicting mindsets: the rational and scientific vs. the creative and spontaneous, Díaz thoughtfully explores ideas about privacy and confidentiality – often through photographing strangers. By concealing the identify of each woman, something both parties agree to, these actually become what Diaz refers to as “non-portraits”. The concentrated, white light reveals race and hair color, but only hints at age and style; all without specifics or confirmations of assumptions. Social commentary aside, each image is a compelling, comprehensive study of the beauty and variety of the human figure.

No. 7 Amid all the giant sculptures and installations smattered throughout the fair, two exquisitely introspective works by Japanese performance and installation artist Chiharu Shiota, presented by Galerie Daniel Templon, quietly command attention. As is typical of her most celebrated works, Shiota creates an impenetrable environment of thread seizing a recognizable object or form: a dense maze inciting ideas of confinement and anxiety, of remembrance and loss, of treasure and burden. In State of Being (Green Dress) and State of Being (Skull) Shiota references the body, one in actuality and one in absence; but also infers death with a reference to memento mori and an empty, frozen gown. Both objects are preserved in a never-ending state and I can’t help but feel sadness in and from both pieces – gentle reminders of what it means/feels to be and that one day it will end.

No. 6 Love him or hate him, Damien Hirst is a force to be reckoned with. Presented by White Cube, Fear is a striking, shiny steel and glass cabinet full of methodically organized surgical tools that is the standout piece of a diverse and substantial presentation. As always, Hirst thoughtfully dissects the complex relationship between art, life, and death (specifically the “unacceptable idea” of death) from a unique scientific perspective on the inevitable uncertainties of the human experience. And all the while, he seduces me with a minimal but gorgeous vitrine: both a window and a barrier that exists to frame, contain, and objectify his objects. Quite often Hirst’s work is dismissed as purely provocative and without substance, but I would disagree. Here he touches on a number of ideas: that medicine can be translated into precious objects, that the possibility of maintaining or saving life is to be kept out of reach (for all or some is another question), the substitution of surgical tools to represent individual lives or, more importantly, the feelings of helplessness. I could even infer a reference of the medical to the beautiful that leads to the very boundaries between art and science (though one could argue Hirst has blurred this type of distinction all along). It is a staggering collection riddled in its own infinite reflection.

No. 5 What I have always adored about Gabriel Orozco’s work is his ability to move between and across mediums, so I was delighted to see one of his photographs: Isadora's Necklace presented by Cristin Tierney Gallery. A master of merging art with reality, this heavily cropped image wonderfully displays both. A knotted and torn string, appearing both precarious and harmless, is tied around a young woman’s neck just above a faint tan line. Nothing else is in view other than the back of her neck and soft wisps of light brown hair. She is completely removed from all context, leaving it up to me to decipher what action, what emotion, what direction should be applied here, if any or all. It is a bewitching yet innocent image that has remained with me, only now I begin to visualize her features as she turns her head to look in my direction. Orozco, as always, provides so much with so little.

No. 4 Tucked away behind a half wall in Lisson Gallery’s booth was Troia by Jason Martin: a gorgeously lush and decadent gestural painting in the absolutely most beautiful shade of blue. Singular in color, Martin crafts the brushstrokes (and combstrokes) across the surface, allowing the paint to bulge beyond the boundaries of the plane, yet curve back just when it seems they will disappear over the edge. These intentional grooves become a hiding ground for light, creating depth among the crevices, and asserting themselves as objects rather than mere impressions bathed in color. It is stunning in its complex simplicity.

No. 3 Not twelve steps inside the fair entrance, I found two of my favorite works: Among the weeds, plants, and peacock feathers (pictured right) and Among the weeds, shoes, backpack and stones by Jamaican artist Ebony G. Patterson, presented by Monique Meloche. Stunning and large, both appeal to my innate desire for all things sequined and beaded and embroidered, which is exactly what Patterson had in mind. She masterfully weaves a beautiful multi-layered surface to lure me in, covering the surface in elaborate texture and vivid color. It is only after closer inspection that Patterson’s examinations of conventional gender roles, particularly those of her home country, and swirling narratives of violence become more dominate. It is a fine line between captivating and overwhelming, and Patterson masterfully navigates between both so that her principal message isn’t lost within her powerful and inviting materials.

No. 2 Perhaps the quietest but most engaging works of the fair were the Deadly Friends Series by Patrick Lee presented by Ameringer | McEnery | Yohe. These photorealistic graphite drawings of Los Angeles gang members, outlaws, and drifters beckon me to come closer, to match their direct and steely gazes, to dare to connect. Lee’s deft portraits, complete with scars, tattoos, and profanity, undoubtedly capture the masculinity and assumed aggression of his subjects; but through his delicate and almost tender rendering, he finds a way to depict their humanity. They are, in a way, romantic; but even more so, they feel convincingly honest.

And finally, my very favorite: No. 1 From sketches in pen on leather in custom silver-plated cast bronze frame like Pretty Girls to delicious mini-beasts made of fur, cast bronze, leather and carved ebony horns to a serious of sexy hand-thrown porcelain works dripping in gold – every single work by the Haas Brothers, twins Nikolai and Simon, presented by R & Company captured my attention and left me wanting more. Each piece contains a delightful element of surprise in their unique selection and combination of materials that then crescendos into intrigue when you dive into their conceptual pursuits, which includes ideas about nature, sexuality, psychedelia and science fiction. Unapologetically, these are the works that I’m still thinking about. Want more information about these artists and galleries, visit: And be sure to make plans to attend next year’s fair: September 22 – 25, 2016 Images (from top to bottom): Chiharu Shiota, State of Being (Green Dress), 2015, metal frame, green dress and black thread, 71 x 43.25 x 33.5 inches; Jennifer Dalton at Charlie James Gallery; Alejandro Diaz, No Shirt, No Shoes, You’re Probably Rich, 2015, lightbox with duratrans film, 20.4 x 30.4 x 2.8 inches, edition of 20; Teresita Fernandez, Ghost Vines (Yellow Gold), 2015, brass, 92.5 x 130.5 x 4.3 inches; Daniel Buren, From three windows, 5 colors for 252 places, work in situ, 2006, 18 aluminum frames and transparent vinyl (blue, yellow of now, orange, pink, red, green) on Plexiglas panels; hanging system, dimensions variable, photo: Courtesy of the artist and Lisson Gallery, London, © DB-ADAGP; Rafael Díaz, Non-Portrait IX Series "Anonymous", photograph, diasec system with mineral pigment print on baryta layer, canson paper on methacrylate and dibond, 47.20 x 35.40 inches and Non-Portrait IV Series "Anonymous", photograph, diasec system with mineral pigment print on baryta layer, canson paper on methacrylate and dibond, 47.20 x 35.40 inches; Chiharu, Shiota, State of Being (Skull), 2015, metal frame, skull and white thread, 15.75 x 15.75 x 10 inches Damien Hirst, Fear (detail), 1994, glass, stainless steel and surgical instruments, 70 7/8 x 35 7/16 x 14 3/16 inches; Gabriel Orozco, Isadora's Necklace, 2003, Fujicolor crystal archive C-print, 16 x 20 inches, edition 1 of 5; Jason Martin, Troia, 2013, mixed media on panel (China blue), 20.5 x 17.3 inches; Ebony G. Patterson, Among the weeds, plants, and peacock feathers, 2014; Patrick Lee, Deadly Friends (Eagle Rock) (detail), 2015, graphite on paper, 40 x 30 inches; Haas Brothers, unique mini-beasts, 2014, fur, carved ebony, cast bronze, leather

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