Expo Chicago was, in its fifth year, what I would consider a great success. I took it all in during a four-hour stretch on Sunday afternoon, after the majority of the collectors had been through, and most of the gallery reps in their respective booths were letting a little loose and starting to talk teardown and number of sales and so on. It was a great atmosphere; there were plenty of exciting Chicago artists represented, and, of course, as I'm wont to find most exciting, the local project spaces, art colleges, and "exposure" galleries (young galleries) held some of the most exciting work. And of course it wouldn't have been complete without an extemporaneous, ironic performance by a couple of artists in white t-shirts and navy shorts on step stools, stariing deadpan into the middle distance. Something a little weird to keep us from feeling too comfortable with the ultra-commercial.
I find myself drawing that line a lot nowadays: Stylistically, what's commercial? Is it bad? Is there a boundary between sort of commercial and too commercial? Is it a problem? I admit that I was a little tired by some repetitiveness, like half a dozen galleries carrying Mel Bochner "Blah Blah Blah" paintings or some variation thereof, and even a little worried by the overall trend of scooping up black artists' powerful artistic statements of personal identity, which in this highly commercialized atmosphere made it feel as though it was presented for the trend and promise of money by timing sales with a current cultural and political climate, as opposed to necessarily supporting the significant statements the artists were actually trying to make. It's a fine line; the quantity and the context made it jarring, but there's where I'm spoiled by a well-curated exhibition as opposed to an art fair.
Overall I was most impressed by an installation presented by Chicago Artists Coalition, a space by Leonard Suryajaya (see header image), a 2015 MFA graduate of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, who presented portraits of his mother, aunt, sister, and childhood caregiver in an installation environment that read like a kaleidoscope of cultural identity and visual ebullience. The takeaway booklet read, "Sentiment and spectacle are deeply suspicious words in contemporary art spheres, but one would be remiss not to evoke these terms ... Applying the same level of disregard to social taboos as to the conventions of image making, Suryajaya renders visible that which cannot be named, seen or acknowledged in society at large. This endeavor is not carried out alone but rather with a cast of characters including family members, friends, and acquaintances who become props in his subversive game." (Yesomi Umolu, curator at Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts)
Another major favorite was an Exposure gallery, Romer Young out of San Francisco, which showed paintings by two female artists, Shara Hughes and Pamela Jordan. I could barely tear my eyes away from them.
It seemed to me that Expo Chicago has begun to come into its own as an event, and I'm certainly keen to check it out next time!
Artists from top to bottom: Leonard Suryajaya (header), Ebony Patterson, Sarah Cain, Jannis Varelas, Arlene Shechet, Lorna Simpson, Bernard Frize, Leonard Suryajaya, Neil Raitt, Peter Bonde, Sarah Dwyer, Carmen Neely, Shinique Smith, Shara Hughes, Shara Hughes/Pamela Jordan, and artists/performers (I didn't get their names).