EXPO Chicago 2017 Highlights

EXPO Chicago, like many of its art fair counterparts, contains the requisite grabby, show-stoppers we’ve come to expect. However, after the initial lure of the spectacle fades, the eye begins to locate the stronger, more contemplative works emerging from the depths of the exhibitor booths. The works of these six artists are prime examples of pieces that reward a slower viewing, that expand, deepen and reveal more, the longer you look. – Robin Dluzen, Chicago Contributor


Elise Ferguson | Bats, pigmented plaster on MDF, 40" x 30"

Elise Ferguson at Romer Young Gallery, San Francisco

Amongst all the mirrors, neon and glitz that inevitably abounds at an art fair, Brooklyn-based artist Elise Ferguson’s super-matte geometric abstractions are a welcome anomaly. Her symmetrical forms are somewhere between patterns and figure-ground compositions, with a vivid graphic aesthetic that catches the eye from afar, and tactile surfaces punctuated by subtle discrepancies upon closer inspection. Ferguson’s screenprint on plaster pieces are a contemporary take on classic fresco techniques, lending an aura of timelessness in an environment so saturated with trends.


Rodrigo Valenzuela at Klowden Mann, Culver City

Chile-born, LA-based artist Rodrigo Valenzuela is completing a residency at The Drawing Center in New York, and his installation at EXPO, Sense of Place and New Land, combines photography and mark-making to create complex sensations of space. Here, multiple printed canvases are suspended edge-to-edge on a wooden armature, creating a panorama of a desert landscape. With chalk and acrylic, Valenzuela renders a series of rectangular forms with multiple forced perspectives across the canvases. This booth-wide installation engulfs the viewer, pulling her into this illusionistic space that equal parts familiar, precarious and other-wordly.


Installation view of Rodrigo Valenzuela's Sense of Place and New Land at EXPO Chicago. Photo by Robin Dluzen


Paula Wilson at Island Press, St. Louis

Paula Wilson’s collagraph, In The Desert: Mooning, is an unlikely kind of print. Humans and cacti commingle in a vignette made to look like a carpet on a wooden floor; the whole thing is printed on muslin and freestanding, thanks to a curved support made of wooden slats. Bare butts feature prominently in Wilson’s practice, and here, the form presides over the thorny landscape. Directly below the booty sits a trio of figures on a blanket, the juxtaposition of clothed and unclothed bodies putting one in mind of Manet’s The Luncheon on the Grass; though, unlike that male-centric picture, Wilson’s nude is ungendered, and the gaze likewise ambiguous.


Paula Wilson | In the Desert: Mooning, 2016, collagraph on muslin from two plates, handprinted collage on muslin and inkjet collage on silk, mounted on canvas and wood, 69 ½ x 43 ¾, edition of 10, made in collaboration with Island Press. Photo by Robin Dluzen


John Divola at Maccarone Gallery, New York

An art fair is an atmosphere specifically calibrated to highlight the value and allure of the booth offerings, though LA artist John Divola’s photographs hinge upon the opposite. In Divola’s Abandoned Paintings series, discarded student paintings are carefully hung amongst the rubble of dilapidated houses (an oft photographed environ throughout Divola’s long career). Not only do Divola’s photos succeed in elevating these naive cast-offs into something far more meaningful than they are on their own, but his photos are also a reminder of all the bad stuff an artist creates and abandons during their professional journey --something that is rare to find in an art fair with the pressure to be showing the best of the best.


John Divola | Abandoned Painting F, 2008, archival pigment on Rag Paper, edition of 3, 44" x 54" via divola.com


Hank Willis Thomas at Maruani Mercier Gallery, Belgium

In “Alabama God Damn,” Hank Willis Thomas recalls Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto’s famous hook of printing a figure on a mirrored surface, creating the experience of a viewer literally seeing herself in the artwork --and in this day and age, probably taking a selfie in it. Depicted here is a Black man in a jean jacket bearing the the work’s title along with a confederate flag. A Vietnam button on his hat signals the image’s Civil Rights Era origins, but as Thomas’ work reflects its contemporary surroundings, it also creates a secondary sensation of feeling like the figure is here at EXPO with us. “Alabama God Damn” reinforces that our often insular-seeming art community is not exempt from the harsh realities of the world.


Hank Willis Thomas | 2017, glass, silver and digital print, 60" x 40." Photo by Robin Dluzen


Philip Hanson at Corbett vs Dempsey, Chicago

Chicago artist Philip Hanson is best known as a member of the Chicago Imagist group, the city’s most famous art movement, which emerged in the 1960s. Hanson shares the penchant for vibrant palette, skilled craftsmanship and vernacular imagery of his contemporaries, but his practice certainly stands apart from theirs --especially evident in his current work, like 2017’s Voices of the Children (Blake) on display at EXPO. This work is emblematic of much of what Hanson creates of late, incorporating poetry texts into his dense, textural compositions. This painting is no illustration of the poem’s content, nor is the painting visually dependent upon the poem’s readable, linear structure. Instead, Hanson creates an entirely different experience in which words are alternately formal and meaningful.


Philip Hanson | Voices of Children (Blake), 2017, oil on canvas. Photo by Robin Dluzen