Between the blue-chip centres of Los Angeles and New York, Chicago has established its own fertile ground for a dynamic, less commercially driven art scene.
With the opening of EXPO CHICAGO between 7 and 10 April 2022—the first in-person edition since the start of the pandemic—the coming month presents an opportune moment for exploring the city's offerings.
While an art fair at its core, extensive programming allows EXPO CHICAGO to extend beyond its location at Festival Hall at Navy Pier on Lake Michigan. Engaging some of the key players in the city's art scene, events such as '/Dialogues' have been co-organised with the School of Art Institute of Chicago to provide space for dialogue with leading arts professionals.
Highlights include a conversation on Friday 8 April between Hans Ulrich Obrist and members of AFRICOBRA (The African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists)—a collective that originated in Chicago in 1968.
Acting on the fringes of the mainstream arts community, AFRICOBRA sought to formulate a Black aesthetic guided by a community-centred ethos. Gerald Williams, Jae Jarrell, Wadsworth Jarrell, and Sherman Beck will join Hans Ulrich Obrist to consider the collective's legacy.
With a wealth of world-class institutions, including the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, The Renaissance Society, and the Art Institute of Chicago—the home of the largest Impressionist collection outside of France—the city also provides the ideal backdrop for the fair's inaugural 'Directors Summit'.
Taking place with events throughout EXPO CHICAGO and centring on two public conversations on 8 and 9 April, the Summit brings together museum leaders from across the U.S. to consider the challenges of institutional leadership today, with panellists including Adam Levine (Toledo Museum of Art), Halona Norton-Westbrook (Honolulu Museum of Art), Miki Garcia (Arizona State University Art Museum), Cameron Shaw (California African American Museum), Christina Vassallo (The Fabric Workshop and Museum), Amy Gilman (Chazen Museum of Art, University of Wisconsin), Louise Bernard (Obama Presidential Center Museum), and Julie Rodrigues Widholm (SAIC MA 1999, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive), moderated by museum consultant Jill Snyder on both days.
Newly appointed chair of the National Endowment for the Arts, Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, will give a keynote presentation for the programme on Saturday 9 April at the University Club of Chicago.
Beyond the artworks on view at fair booths, large-scale installations, including film, video, and sculpture, will be presented within the vaulted architecture of Navy Pier as part of 'IN/SITU'.
Curated by Marcella Beccaria, Chief Curator and Curator of Collections at Castello di Rivoli Museo d'Arte Contemporanea in Rivoli-Torino, Italy, the sector includes digital works by aaajiao and Keiken + George Jasper Stone in collaboration with Daata, as well as physical works at the fair by artists including Guglielmo Castelli, Liz Larner, and Cildo Meireles.
Other branches of the fair's programming see art placed in the civic context, such as 'IN/SITU Outside', which presents public installations including two sculptures by Nancy Rubins from her 'Diversifolia' series, in which industrial objects are rendered as monumental, fluid forms.
Artworks will be displayed digitally in the city, also, as part of 'OVERRIDE', making use of the Chicago Digital Network to bring contemporary artworks to publics, by artists including Sanford Biggers and Gerald Williams.
This network of artworks in the city will be extended through Chicago's galleries and institutions, whose programmes will complement those of the fair as part of EXPO ART WEEK (4–10 April 2022). Highlights include the final chapter of Meriem Bennani's dystopian film trilogy Life on the CAPS reflecting what it is to live in a state of limbo at The Renaissance Society (26 February–17 April 2022).
Galleries such as Kavi Gupta, meanwhile, feature extensive presentations, with four exhibitions spread across its Elizabeth Street and West Washington Boulevard spaces, including paintings by Devan Shimoyama, who will be in dialogue with Vanity Fair columnist Nate Freeman at EXPO CHICAGO on 7 April at 5pm.
Over at Mariane Ibrahim, Zohra Opoku presents a new series of indigo collages on linen layering imagery of the artist's body with trees, offering modes of thinking around healing and restoration (I Have Arisen... The Myths of Eternal Life, Part One, 8 April–14 May 2022).
At GRAY, Cong Square Theatre Company and Theaster Gates's Rebuild Foundation join forces with the gallery to present performances of What to Send Up When It Goes Down (31 March–16 April 2022)—a 'play-pageant-ritual-homegoing celebration' by Aleshea B. Harris that enquires into American desensitisation towards the loss of Black lives.
Back at the fair, an array of colourful gestures and masterful forms complete the city's circuit of art, from Albert Irvin's 'exploration of being in the world' through large-scale abstract paintings at Gazelli Art House to complex structures drawn from nature—of minerals, leaves, and seeds—rendered as grainy epoxy and nylon reliefs, manzanite and nickel branches, and subtle watercolour on paper paintings by Loris Cecchini at Diana Lowenstein Gallery.
Such structures—both within and beyond EXPO CHICAGO—offer new ways to perceive the fabric of the city. —[O]