EXPO Chicago 2019 Review

by Michel Ségard


This year’s EXPO Chicago had some notable differenes from recent years, both in content and in quality.

First, there was a discernible improvement in the overall quality of the art shown. There were fewer “decorator art” pieces and a greater emphasis on finished craftsmanship. However, that meant that the sketchier artistic styles that are at least partially influenced by street art, for example, were missing. A similar trend was observed at the Whitney Biennial, with only two artists, Jennifer Packer and Marlon Mullen, who would easily fall into that category. Or is this style just going out of fashion in the commercial market? After all, this kind of painting is alive and well in Chicago galleries, especially the smaller alternative spaces. But EXPO is about selling art to collectors, not setting or exploring aesthetic directions.

The next “trend” that was observed was the increased presence of large scale portraiture. Most notable were the works of Danny Ferrell (Marinaro Gallery), Devan Shimoyama (De Buck Gallery), and Kehinde Wiley (Galerie Templon). These three artists also shared an LGBTQ subject matter connection. All three deal with gay and/or transgender sitters, but their works emphasize the emotional sensitivity of the subjects, not just their sexuality—a dramatic change from LGBTQ art of past decades. It is a bit of a surprise to see this change manifest itself in such a commercial space. Was it EXPO’s way of comemorating the Stonewall anniversary?

Third, there was an extraordinary amount of small-scale sculpture—sculpture suitable for interior spaces. In recent years, small-scale sculpture played a minor role in Expo’s offerings. This year, there were dozens of pieces from which to choose.

There were a couple of Louise Nevelson wall pieces, a Picasso bronze shown by Richard Gray, a hanging piece by Diane Simpson at the Corbett vs. Dempsey booth, and some Claire Zeisler pieces in Rhona Hoffman Gallery’s booth, to name some superstars. There were also a large number of hanging pieces, mostly made of wire. Galeria Nara Roesler had a booth full of work by Artur Lescher.

There was a wide variety of styles and materials in this sculpture category. Philip Martin Gallery presented Nathan Mabry’s Nostalgia of the Infinite (Le Portrait), a rather large (105 inches tall) stainless steel, bronze, and aluminum piece was noteworthy for its humor. A hawk is perched on this “Calderesque” work all painted in a deep orangey red, reminding Chicagoans of the pigeons on Calder’s Flamingo. A complex wall piece at the Galerie Templon booth by Iván Navarro was particularly colorful, with yellow, orange, green, pink, beige and white neon animating a form in the shape of a hand. On a more intimate scale, James Cohan showed charming, small ceramic pieces that were not quite bowls by Kathy Butterly. Similarly, Monique Meloche Gallery showed a wall piece by Sanford Biggers made from an antique quilt and birch plywood and meant to be hung in a corner.

On a larger scale, David Gill Gallery had an installation by Barnaby Barford call “The Apple Tree.” Taking up nearly the entire booth, 80 apples made of painted bone china were hung on a large brightly painted steel tree. Its cartoon-like presence made one smile while at the same time caused one to reflect on the symbolisms associated with apples, like the garden of Eden and pioneer folklore.

With that much inventory on display, there were bound to be a couple of areas that were less than ideal. First there were far too many John Chamberlain pieces available. His works made of colorful, crunched auto body parts lost their luster many years ago. It seemed that there was a deaccessioning campaign afoot. The other “glut” was the presence of highly polished stainless steel pieces (some may have been chromed). They were available in all shapes and sizes, and in the context of this fair, became an instant cliché.

Overall, this year’s EXPO felt more civilized and the art more sincere (less hucksterism). And word is that it was also financially successful and that many galleries are anxious to be back next year. That is good news for an event that, in one form or another, has been going on for 38 years.


Michel Ségard is the editor in chief of the New Art Examiner.

Dan Gunn, Bad Scenery, 2019. Acrylic, stain, furniture finish on birch plywood with nylon rope. 57 x 110 inches. Photo courtesy of moniquemeloche.

Top: Danny Ferrell, Pansies, 2019. Oil on canvas stretched over panel, 48 x 36 inches. Courtesy of the artist and Marinaro, New York.

Center: Kehinde Wiley, Portrait of Tahiatua Maraetefau II, 2019, Tahiti Series. Oil on linen, 68 7/8 x 57 1/8 inches. Photo courtesy of Galerie Templon.

Bottom: Devan Shimoyama, After the Black Ecstatic, 2019. Oil, colored pencil, rug, sequins, collage, glitter, jewelry and Flashe on canvas stretched over panel, 84 x 72 inches. Photo courtesy of De Buck Gallery.

Kathy Butterly, Crossed Arms, 2019. Clay, glaze, 6 1/4 x 6 1/4 x 6 1/4 inches. Shown by James Cohan Gallery, NYC. Photo by Michel Ségard.

Sanford Biggers, Untitled, 2019. Antique quilt, birch plywood, 30 x 30 x18 inches. Shown by moniquemeloche. Photo by Michel Ségard.

Leonardo Benzant, Black Joy Takes Courage, 2019. Upholstery fabric, string, monofilament, leather, gel-medium, acrylic, pony beads, semi-precious stones and seed beads, 48 x 98 x 5 inches. Image courtesy Claire Oliver Gallery.



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