Top 5 Gems at EXPO Chicago 2019

Cauleen Smith's SOJOURNERS, taking center stage as a part of this year's IN/SITU program, curated by Jacob Fabricius (Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark).

As the latest edition of EXPO Chicago has passed Chicago is left with the impact of 135 national and international art galleries that showcased boundary-pushing, diversified, and aesthetically intoxicating works. My personal top five booths integrate newer artists with remarkable narratives. 

 

Johnson Jenkins

Johnson Jenkin’s booth focused on creating a dialogue of colonialism, and bringing focus to the marginalized community, while also exploring the manufacturing of identity. They exhibited works by artists like Ming Smith, Lavar Munroe, Turiya Magadlela, Caroline Kent, Ben Aronson, Scott Frazer, and new artist Enrico Riley, Alex Jackson, Dewey Crumpler, and Chiffon Thomas. The variety of artists touched based on different racial experiences. Munroe’s work explored income disparity and racism with new pieces from the ‘Redbone’ series. Riley continues to expand on the painting of the black body and dives into themes of past and current violence, and the middle passage. Smith reveals her documentation of the black urban lifestyle through photography that integrated experimental post-photographed techniques. Kent’s work explored how language and abstractness intersect in painting. Thomas’s work explored narrative through person cultural references and personal memories. Overall Johnson Jenkin’s booth gave an overwhelming and beautiful understanding of the various black experiences through various mediums.

 

Georgia Scherman Projects/ TORONTO, CA 

Georgia Scherman made an amazing impact last year at Expo with Esmaa Mohamoud who explored gender fluidity in her ballgowns modeled on masculine males. This year Scherman showcases more by Mohamoud in which she expands on how sports have a direct link to racial identity politics and power dynamics in our contemporary society. A Seat Above the Table fully confronts the ignored achievements of blacks and since there has not been room at the table we must take a seat above the table. The height of the chair responses to the lack of equal representation and the qualified individuals that still do not have a seat at their respective tables. The peacock chair also resembles the chair of the black panthers. Not only does a seat above the table carry head meaning but its stature and intricate design had been on looks inquiring into details of the purpose of the chair and the why. At the end of the day, the chair leaves spectators questions the purpose of the “table” and that means we measure our accomplishments by.

 

21C/ Facility/ CHICAGO, IL 

21C/Facility is a chain of hotels that offer a space for museum-grade collections and exhibitions for specifically contemporary art. The newest edition to the chain of hotels in the former James hotel in Chicago, IL located in Ontario and Rush. The museum will be admitted free and open to the public. Inside the booth were prints of Nick Cave’s sound suits wall to wall. The mission of Facility, the Chicago studio that Nick Cave and Bob Faust work out of having a mission to create a nurturing environment within the art community. The studio is located in the Old Irving Park neighborhood and is located across the street from a Chicago public school. Within the booth were panels of contact paper of Nick Cave’s sound suits for sale, and kaleidoscopic floral yoga mats with all proceeds going to scholarships, opportunities and programming partnerships for emerging artists. During the exhibition Cave and Faust gave Q&A while having yoga mats spread across for patrons to come sit on. Unlike many booths 21C/Facility wanted people to interact, to touch, to feel apart of the work around them. The booth was more than a meet and greet but a moment of mind exchanging ideas and making art that is not readily accessible to the public in a tangible intimate setting. 

21chotels teamed up with Nick Cave and Bob Faust of Facility to create artist-designed contact sheets and yoga mats.
21chotels teamed up with Nick Cave and Bob Faust of Facility to create artist-designed contact sheets and yoga mats.

 

Mariane Ibrahim Gallery/ CHICAGO, IL 

This is Mariane Ibrahim’s third year at EXPO Chicago, and in all honesty each year she just gets better and better. The gallery showed works by some newly rostered artists including Jerrell Gibbs and Amoako Boafo. Both of their work took a glimpse into the daily life of the Black body, more specifically exploring figures and how the body is represented. Artist Clotide  Jiménez and Ruby Onyinyechi Amanze showcase large scale drawings that explored the body in regards to imposed limitations while Amanze dived deeper into her diptych dreams. Lina Iris Viktor illuminated the booth with a piece from her constellation series. Lastly, in anticipation of Florine Démosthène’s upcoming show in November two new works were on display. 

 

Claire Oliver Gallery/ NEW YORK, NY 

New York-based Claire Oliver Gallery exhibited the works of Bisa Butler and Leonard Benzant. The narrative quilts of Butler reconstruct the stereotypical conventions of women’s craft. Her quilts unite the characteristics of fine art and textile work. Her quilts provoke physical and mental warmth through the construction of the quilt and the colorful depictions of African-Americans on her quilts that show a bright enlightened image of the black community that isn’t always shown. Benzant’s work integrates influences from the African diaspora with personal elements like recovery and addiction. Between the intimacy and vulnerability of Benzant’s work and the warmth of Butler’s quit the viewer experience an intimate exploration into the Black experience. Both artist’s work tackles western ideas while exploring secular notions.

About Caira Moreira-Brown

Caira Moreira-Brown is a Chicago-New York based art and culture writer and arts professional with experience in museums and galleries. She holds a B.A. in Art History with a concentration in African-American Art from The Ohio State University. She has held positions at Fredrich Petzel Gallery, Kim Heirston Art Advisory, 67 Gallery, Castor Gallery, Joseph Editions, The Wexner Center for Art, The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and EXPO Chicago.In addition to her writing, Caira was photographed by Andres Serrano for his America Series that comprises about 100 portraits of people from many different walks of life.