EXPO Chicago in Images: The Good, The Bad and Mel Ramos’ Monkey

by Paddy Johnson on September 21, 2013 · 3 comments Art Fair

The view from the Expo

It’s impossible to describe EXPO Chicago without offering a few images to tell the story. This slideshow with commentary do just that. Highlights, lowlights, and everything in between below.


Let's begin by making sure everyone understands the scale of Expo's space; it's got really tall ceilings. Very impressive.

Now for the boring. These Robert Motherwell collages at Bernard Jacobson Gallery are better than most, but they're still the kind of non-offensive abstraction that's strangling this fair. It's very conservative stuff, which doesn't align well with Chicago's edgier contemporary art scene. The fair would do well to incorporate some of those elements. (Dialogues, Expo's panel discussion series, mounted in collaboration with the Art Institute is a good start, as it displays Chicago's love for serious art discourse. Full Disclaimer: I was on one of these panels.) I don't see EXPO making its mark nationally with its current iteration, which is a smaller, more reserved version of The Armory in New York.

John Berggruen Gallery, Installation view. It's hard not to like those Anish Kapoor dish mirrors, but are they anything more than ornamentation for the front foyers in collector homes? In any event, these things are ubiquitous, and will do little to distinguish EXPO as a fair.

Installation view, Alan Koppel Gallery. Chuck Close paints Chuck Close. Koppel is also peddling a popular set of Donald Judd prints. I've seen these prints a million times and they're not my favorite. Judd does better when he's not gridding the shit out of boxes.


I spent a lot of time looking at the Special Exhibitions section of the fair, which is designed to introduced collectors to new cultural spaces in the Mid West. The program includes 25 exhibiting spaces. I wasn't overwhelmed with the showing, but it at least offered some diversity to the show. Above, The Natural Resources Defense Council presented the "pocket biospheres" of Vaughn Bell. I signed a contract promising to preserve the thing (basically I have to keep it wet), but I'm worried I'll never get it on the plane back to New York. I guess I've proven the value of my investment in nature.

Social practice made it into the fair thanks to the St. Louis based non-profit Northside Workshop. This group presented Juan William Chavez's The Pruitt-Igeo Bee Sanctuary, a project that aims to transform a bunch of weeds where the Pruitt-Igoe housing development once stood into a public garden and site for beekeeping. Pruitt-Igoe's destruction is often cited as the fall of modernism, and even has a prominent place in the Francis Ford Coppola-Phillip Glass production, Koyaanisqatsi. The honey is made with the help of underprivileged kids and cost five bucks. I bought some. It tastes like roasted honey.


It's hard to describe Shamin Momin's curated section of the fair as anything other than a failure of vision. It's a bunch of levity and gravity themed art works in aisles close to the galleries selling the chosen artist's work and unless its your job to read press releases, it's impossible to discern any organizing force other than the market. Works in this "show" are placed too far apart to draw any kind of thematic connection, and of course, the theme is broad enough that it's interpreted any which way. In any event, I don't know what to make of Alec Soth's collection of found Polaroids. They capture women without their underwear and while none are glamorous, and some are actively strange, they take on a sameness in this formation that I'm not sure benefits the piece. Seeing five of these images is much like seeing sixty and that rubs the feminist in me the wrong way.

Alec Soth's XGF, a collection of 65 Polaroids

Diana Al-Hadid's busts look like their lost props from a cheap sci-fi movie. This artist's work is over-rated and ultimately vacuous.


EXPO offered free samplings of food at their vernissage ranging from hot dogs and frozen cheese cake to crab cakes on a bed of rosotto with a marmelade and fennel glaze. By far the best dish I tasted was Gemini Bistro and Chef Jason Paskowitz's delicate white veal stew with cooked onions and pickled carrots. Seek this restuarant out.


AFC friend and painter Jose Lerma debuts figurative paintings on mirrors are at once goofy and grand in gesture. We approve. On view at Kavi Gupta

Theaster Gates at Kavi Gupta. I gotta say, the few pieces on display at Expo are more impressive than what's currently on view at the gallery's space Washington BLVD space. That mainly has to do with the construction of the work—these fair works are more polished, and better for it.

Tom Friedman's "Untitled (Whitescape with Blue)", paint on styrofoam at David Zwirner. The crackling of this paint is really enjoyable, but this piece looks like a conservation nightmare. Will it last any more than 10 years without needing serious preservation work?

I appreciate the green walls and assemblage efforts at The Art Institute's booth, but they could have put a little more effort into labeling and manning the booth. Art schools need better professional development programs; I couldn't figure out who to ask about this work or who did it.


It might be impossible to determine whether this Mel Ramos is any good. We're talking about a naked woman in front of a Christ-like chimpanzee. Is the subject matter is stupid enough to veer into the "so-bad-it's-good" category of art. I guess buy it, live with it for a while, and find out? Image on view at: Hollis Taggart Gallery


I don't even like cats, but this Leo Sewell sculpture, "Cat" at The Conservation Center easily topped my list for Best In Show. There's just so much to look at thanks to its material construction; it's made of scraps that include, a belt, a bell, several badges, a button that reads "Dump Nixon" and a blue gem for its eye. That's just a fraction of what's gone into the piece, which would have required the ingenuity of an artist like Llyn Foulkes to pull off.


Edelman Gallery has it all; crying white kids, paintings that actually move and a variety of other cheese ball photographs.

Gregory Scott caught a lot of eyeballs here for his photographs with embedded videos in the windows. In this vignette we see someone work in an empty exhibition space behind the sculpture. It's hard to believe the marvel of video persists post-cinemagraph.


Sanaz September 22, 2013 at 5:49 pm

The SAIC piece is by Spencer Stucky.

Gnosis Sisong September 22, 2013 at 6:58 pm

That’s a chimpanzee not a monkey. Christ-like? Yes! Allegory for you and Josh Baer going at it during the “Art and Writing for the Digital Screen” panel discussion? Eh … maybe. Although Josh is not Christ-like and you were clothed.

Paddy Johnson September 22, 2013 at 10:58 pm

Yeah, I caught the error in the caption, but didn’t change the title.

No idea what kind of allegory that painting could possible make in relation to me and Josh talking at the panel discussion.

Comments on this entry are closed.

Previous post:

Next post: