EXPO ART WEEK is back, and buzzier than before

Claire Voon

Chicago’s art scene is truly heating up this fall. Brace yourself for what is likely the most jam-packed calendar of art fairs and exhibitions the city has seen in recent memory, all of which will ignite cultural sites in various neighborhoods. For the second time ever, EXPO CHICAGO coincides with the Chicago Architecture Biennial; add the inaugural Chicago Invitational, presented by New Art Dealers Alliance, and you have a super trifecta of art affairs, all happening during the same week. Sure, it’s not quite as extreme as Basel, but the itinerary is still daunting. Relax—we’re here to help you parse through it all so you make efficient use of your time.

Let’s kick off with the veteran of this group, EXPO CHICAGO—or, more formally, the International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art. The premier art fair, which has a reputation for being way more chill than your standard art expo, takes over the lakeside Navy Pier for its eighth year. 135 galleries are fighting for your attention in this maze-like space, and we suggest you don’t miss the following.

It would actually be pretty impossible to just stroll by Peres Projects’ booth, which will be dedicated to Ad Minoliti’s zany, Deco-inspired paintings in eye-popping colors as well as human-sized sculptures of dressed-up, furry foxes. Nearby, Bortolami will pair Richard Aldrich’s abstract oil and wax paintings with verdant pieces by Virginia Overton—including a milk crate filled with real plants. Luhring Augustine brings a touch of playfulness a selection of Janine Antoni’sphotographs and Charles Atlas’ videos, while David Nolan caters to the Chicago crowd with works by Julia Fish and the late, great Ray Yoshida. Lorna Simpsonfans will want to head over to Hauser & Wirth, here at EXPO for the first time, which is dedicating its booth to recent paintings shown at the artist’s recent solo exhibition, “Darkening.”

Speaking of solo booths, take a walk northwards to check out the PROFILE section, where five galleries are showing tightly focused thematic exhibitions. Find moments of uncanniness by Caroline Achaintre in Arcade’s booth—think hand-tufted wool works that evoke creatures and near-grotesque ceramics. For a taste of psychedelia, visit Anat Ebgi, where Chicagoan Sarah Ann Weberpresents dizzying, yet sinister watercolor works. More artists on the verge can be found in the aptly named EXPOSURE section. Our picks for exciting work: Michael Bauer and Andrea Heimer (Nino Mier), Danny Ferrel (Marinaro), Brook Hsu (Deli Gallery), and Alex Gardner (The Hole).

By this point you might be overcome with hunger, so on your way to the dining area, keep an eye out for the site-specific pieces scattered around the hall. Curated for the IN/SITU program, these tend to be larger contributions by exhibitors. Some highlights: Rodney McMillian’s flat, 1:1 scale representation of the facade of his former Los Angeles home (Vielmetter Los Angeles); Dan Peterman’s installation made of reprocessed plastic (Rhona Hoffman); and Lena Henke’s purple-hued play on modernist sculpture (Bortolami).

Ready for some fresh air? Head to Polk Bros. Park, where the Ilya and Emilia Kabakov Foundation presents the famous, The Ship of Tolerance, a large boat with a sail made of stitched-together paintings by local students. If you have a relatively free afternoon on Saturday, there will be an open air concert with performances by a middle school band and children’s choirs.

Meanwhile, in the heart of downtown, the hotly anticipated Chicago Invitationaltakes over the historic Chicago Athletic Association Hotel. Having appeared in Miami and New York City (although this year’s was cancelled), NADA’s arrival in the Windy City is a huge deal—a signal that Chicago is getting increased recognition (as it rightfully should!) as a significant market hub.

NADA, generally, is more enjoyable than concurrent fairs, partially due to its modest size. In Chicago, the experience will be a little quirky, too, given the location in a publicly accessible building that houses—in addition to a hotel—a Shake Shack and four very popular bars (pro tip: make a reservation for Cindy’s on the rooftop to enjoy some of the best views of Millennium Park). Spread across three floors, 39 exhibitors from 19 cities will fill not only spaces that were once a pool area and basketball court, but also hotel rooms... so expect some creative displays. Case in point: Parisian Laundry from Montreal will emphasize, rather than gloss over, the particularities of its temporary lodging space with works by David Armstrong Six, Karen Kraven, Michelle Bui, and Veronika Pausova. Photography fans will want to visit DOCUMENT, which will show images by the skilled studio portraitist Paul Mpagi Sepuya. Searching for glorious, imaginative paintings? Head to Night Gallery, whose roster will include joyous scenes by Marisa Takal, or Derek Eller, where Melissa Brown blurs the borders between reality and fantasy. Brown, by the way, will also curate a poker tournament here on Wednesday evening, during which players can wager original artworks. Winner takes all—an entire art collection!

If you’re feeling overwhelmed by all the contemporary art, that might be your cue to walk over to the Chicago Cultural Center, where the nucleus of the Chicago Architecture Biennial opens on Thursday. (It runs through early January, so you might want to make the fairs a priority if you’re in town past the weekend.) This year’s theme is “...and other such stories,” and artists will explore architecture’s relationship to culture and history, with an emphasis on social justice and collective memory.

Among those participating is Chicago native Theaster Gates, who will present projects that examine land ownership, and Oscar Tuazon, who will share his ongoing work Water School. Created in response to climate change, the structure will invite visitors of all ages to enter and address socio-environmental issues, like clean water, solar power, and land rights. Other highlights include Berlin-based Clemens von Wedemeyer’s heavily researched films that merge space and time, and Do Ho Suh’s fabric sculptures that evoke profound feelings of home and belonging. There are plenty of other projects taking over partner sites (you’ll want to get a weekly CTA pass, or plan to hop in a lot of Ubers); one that we’re super excited about is at the Jane Addams Hull-House Museum, which will host a new site-specific work by Tania Bruguera and her Asociación de Arte Útil (School of Arte Útil). It will takeover the historic building’s former library and present resources on how art can be used as a tool for social change.

A word of advice for CAB: Make sure to plan ahead of time because there are a number of exciting performances. The renowned Alexandra Pirici will stage her piece Re-collection, which meditates on the potential of moving bodies to evoke memories. Note that it runs for a week, starting on Thursday. Descendances du nu, a performance by Jimmy Robert, will have a longer run, starting Monday and running for ten weeks through the end of November. The piece refers to Marcel Duchamp’s 1912 painting Nu Descendant Un Escalier and reinterprets it with a diverse cast of performers.

And now for the smaller—but no less dynamic!—events. High on our list of recommendations is “In the Absence of Light: Gesture, Humor and Resistance in the Black Aesthetic,” which, as the title suggests, spotlights paintings by artists of the African diaspora, like Glenn Ligon, Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, and Henry Taylor. It opens Thursday at the Stony Island Arts Bank—a former bank building Theaster Gates bought for $1 and turned into an arts center—which, if you haven’t visited yet, is well worth setting aside some time to explore. The historic institution houses a number of significant collections, from the Johnson Publishing Archive + Collections to drawers filled with over 60,000 lantern slides of art and architectural history.

While you’re on the South Side, you’ll want to see three shows on the University of Chicago’s campus. First up, LaToya Ruby Frazier’s first Chicago exhibition at the Renaissance Society. “The Last Cruze” showcases 60-some photographs the artist took at Lordstown, Ohio of factory workers and their family after General Motors ordered the plant to be ‘unallocated’ last year. For the first time, Frazier has created an immersive environment in which to view her portraits, which speak, with anger and sorrow, to the utter failures of capitalism and democracy. A short jaunt away, Samson Young is having his first-ever US museum exhibition at the Smart Museum. The poetically titled, “Silver Moon or Golden Star, Which Will You Buy of Me?” features three videos that consider the notion of progress. One new one, commissioned by the museum, is the result of a year-long research project that draws on the American idealism of the 1933 World’s Fair. Finally, head a block north to the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society for a different perspective from the artist-activist Martha Rosler. “Passionate Signals” will show 25 years of flower and garden photographs, plus some early videos and one earthwork. Yes—we, too, can’t wait.

Up north, you could catch the tail end of the much-hyped Virgil Abloh exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art, which ends on Sunday, September 29. Aside from garments, the retrospective features some sculptures, video works, and its own pop-up store (obviously).

If you’re on a time crunch, though, the alternative would be to venture to the galleries, which are putting on some excellent shows. Take Kavi Gupta’scelebration of Jeffrey Gibson: at his first solo show there, the Choctaw-Cherokee artist will present eight new paintings that incorporate text, plus a never-before-seen series of quilts. The exhibition is inspired by four years that Gibson spent living in Chicago in the mid-1990s. More Chicago art is found over in West Town, where Rhona Hoffman recently opened an exhibition of works by Gladys Nilsson, a member of the Hairy Who. Once your mind has absorbed the painters’ playful portraits of undulating figures, move on to Western Exhibitions for more delights. There, the Iranian painter Orkideh Torabi is showing cartoonish paintings that gleefully poke fun at men, depicting them as lumbering oafs. Highly decorated with dyed cotton, they recall scenes from children’s books, except rendered for young feminists-to-be. They’re a great reminder that a busy week like this one should still be fun, even if you aren’t getting as much sleep as you’d like.