November 16, 2014

2014: Expo Chicago Vernissage @ Navy Pier

Above: Michael Rakowitz's installation "The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist," in Expo Chicago's IN/SITU, September 18, 2014, which was familiar to Chicagoans from curator Dieter Roelstraete's "The Way of the Shovel: On the Archeological Imaginary in Art" exhibition in 2013.
Expo Chicago
September 18-21, 2014
Festival Hall
Navy Pier
600 E. Grand Avenue
Chicago, IL 60611

Today, much of the most interesting and relevant artwork produced in Chicago, particularly, is informed by ideology hostile to the market. And, flogging a dead horse, an art fair is a marketplace--which nevertheless depends upon seeming to be "interesting and relevant" in order to attract the attention of dealers, collectors, and critics, not to mention members of the general public.

It's a difficult situation which has made for uneasy bedfellows: (a) those parties involved in the leftist politicization of the art world (e.g., advocates for social practice, identity-based awards, activist criticism, and the operation of not-for-profit galleries) who at the risk being dupes or hypocrites choose to co-operate with a high-value commercial enterprise; and, (b) those art fair administrators who struggle to include some of the more challenging and less predictable elements of the "avant-garde" in their convocations, consequently jeopardizing the comfort, and maybe even security, of those monied individuals upon whom the traffic in fine art depends.

Having acknowledged the dilemma, it was, in a manifold sense, a good year for Michael Rakowitz. For if the artist himself had a "good year" in Chicago, inasmuch as he'd figured prominently in important local exhibitions, it was too a "good year" for Expo Chicago to have had Rakowitz participate in the art fair which it produced, as his presence was some evidence of the event's cachet. Of course, he wasn't alone.

Above: Michael Rakowitz at Expo Chicago after "Every Weapon Is A Tool If You Hold It Right," on September 21, 2014.
Being near to the entrance of Festival Hall, which great room housed the whole affair, the works not only of Michael Rakowitz but also of Jenny Kendler were very difficult to miss. And it's especially interesting that, in the city's big art fair of 2014, the two artists who best enjoyed their placement were found to have shown built structures as artwork. Architecture is a matter of consequence in Chicago--whether Expo is wholly complemented by its own physical location.

Above: Michael Rakowitz's installation "May the Arrogant Not Prevail," in Expo Chicago's IN/SITU, September 18, 2014.
In fact, though it was constructed from various paper products, Rakowitz's facsimile of the Babylonian Ishtar Gate, which the artist entitled "May the Arrogant Not Prevail," proved itself to be a functional threshold through which many fair attendees passed. And here that act of egress connected Rakowitz to Kendler yet more strongly.

Above: A fair patron about to enter Jenny Kendler's "Tell It To The Birds," on September 21, 2014, as seen from the installation's interior, lit with on-camera flash, while looking outwards. Apologies to Kendler for the low quality of the photograph.
Near to Rakowitz, Kendler presented a diminutive but accessible sort-of lodge, “Tell It To The Birds,” which was set before wall-mounted avian statuary en masse. While not intended to be an exclusive interpretation of Kendler's work, one was reminded of those Native American cultures in which some circular enclosure defined a feminine space, emblematic of Mother Earth, wherefrom the cycle of departure and return recalled birth and too death. Really, the same sort of statement might be made in relation to any number of early, Irish low-relief sculptures of a Sheela Na Gig figure--especially when such were found set near doorways.

Above: Jenny Kendler with "Tell It To The Birds," on September 21, 2014, as seen from the fair's aisle. Apologies to Kendler for the low quality of the photograph.
Above: Outside of the context of the Expo Chicago, see a "paraSITE" structure created by Michael Rakowitz, from a series of such projects running over a two decade (?) period of time; and, compare it to Kendler's "Tell It To The Birds," shown previously.
To the extent that there was a "story" about art to be found at Expo, I think that it involved the relationship between Rakowitz and Kendler, and the negotiation between the fair and the two artists. In addition to the aforementioned points of formal contact, both artists were representative of causes with contemporary importance--causes which might have inflamed the passions of fair attendees. What are we doing in the Middle East? What will become of our environment?

Did the fair co-opt or enhance such dialogue as might have originated in the experience of Rakowitz and Kendler's respective works? Realistically, it was a very difficult task for the managers of Expo to satisfy the demographic which I represented: I neither bought nor sold contemporary art; rather, I sought novel and "authentic" experiences within the arts. And, by their very nature, art fairs almost always frustrate the visual pleasure necessary to sustain a patron's interest: exposure to too much similar material, all of it packed densely in a confined space, numbs rather than excites viewers, in most cases.

It's a well-known problem, in response to which Lori Waxman had suggested a move towards something like Documenta in Kassel, even as Tony Fitzpatrick championed the Prospect Biennials of New Orleans. In Chicago, we didn't get Documenta or Prospect. We got the third iteration of the renewed Expo--featuring Shaquille O'Neal and attended by George Lucas--at the very moment when our Museum of Contemporary Art was given over to David Bowie. The fanfare heralding the "celebrities" was more than embarrassing; it was a finger in the eye of everyone laboring in anonymity to build the city's cultural capital. And one wonders when will Chicago cease to be imitative--in its planning, funding and promotion--choosing rather to foster those peculiar talents native to itself. Whether native, the selection of Rakowitz and Kendler, both having demonstrable long-term investments in the city, was a step in the right direction.

If at Expo the feminine was present metaphorically, then the masculine was present graphically. In a booth devoted to Raymond Pettibon, The Renaissance Society from The University of Chicago recycled the vitrines which were used to house Haris Epaminonda and Daniel Gustav Cramer's "The Infinite Library" within Hamza Walker's "Suicide Narcissus" exhibition from 2013. Like Epaminonda and Cramer, Pettibon's work within the vitrines consisted of artist books with interventions. Unlike Epaminonda and Cramer, Pettibon's intervention consisted of penis drawings.

Above: Raymond Pettibon's "Thinking of You" in The Renaissance Society's booth at Expo Chicago on September 18, 2014.
More, Pettibon had work on display in David Zwirner's booth at Expo Chicago, wherein an upright bat could be read as having phallic implications. "Phallic implications" might also have been drawn from Terry Adkins' work at Salon 94. Hanging out into the aisle, the phallus itself returned as a part of Aime Mpane's anatomically correct sculpture at Haines Gallery. Luis De Jesus Los Angeles' artist Ken Gonzales-Day's IN/SITU banner too implicated the cultural taboo of male nudity. And someone from Expo Chicago made the decision to serve hot dogs to its vernissage attendees.

Above: At left, Raymond Pettibon's work on paper in David Zwirner's booth at Expo Chicago on September 18, 2014.
Above: At top, Terry Adkins' work in Salon 94's booth at Expo Chicago on September 18, 2014.
Above: At right, Aime Mpane's sculpture in Haines Gallery's booth at Expo Chicago on September 21, 2014.
Above: At top, Ken Gonzales-Day of Luis De Jesus Los Angeles in Expo Chicago's IN/SITU program on September 21, 2014.

With apologies for omissions, what follows is an incomplete 42 image "who's who" of local art world attendees of Expo Chicago. Most, if not all, photographs were taken within a single hour (I'd never before received so much unsolicited advice on the operation of the camera as I did within that hour) at the fair's Vernissage on September 18, 2014.

Above: Contributor to Artforum, University of Chicago Department of Visual Arts' Zachary Cahill.
Above: The University of Chicago Logan Center's Kate Barutha, Ria Roberts of Medium Cool, and Tenspeed Hero's Aleia Murawski.
Above: The Mission artist and Aspect/Ratio collaborator Jeroen Nelemans
Above: Monique Meloche Gallery artist Heidi Norton.
Above: Galerie Laurent Godin director Sibylle Friche (formerly of Rhona Hoffman Gallery) with contributor to Artforum, The School of The Art Institute of Chicago's Dr. Dan Quiles.
Above: Mickey Pomfrey of Courtney Blades, foreground, with Diamond Stingily, background.
Above: Chicago Artists' Coalition's Stacia Yeapanis, Jenny Kendler, and Brent E. Fogt.
Above: Linda Warren Projects' Linda Dorman, Robin Dluzen, and Tom Torluemke.
Above: Artist Mika Horibuchi with ArtSlant's Joel Kuennen.
Above: Bill Beach and Carrie Secrist of Carrie Secrist Gallery with a painting by Andrew Holmquist.
Above: Newcity's Assistant Art Editor Matt Morris (has no clue who I am) framed by Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger.
Above: Linda Warren Projects' artist Eric Edward Esper with Linda Warren and director Chris Smith.
Above: Western Exhibitions' artist Geoffrey Todd Smith with Jaime DeGroot
Above: Artists Connor Creagan and Tim Mann
Above: Artist Tara Hills with ACRE's Emily Green.
Above: ACRE, Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and Bad at Sports' Dana Bassett.
Above: Scott Speh of Western Exhibitions.
Above: Photographer Barbara Kasten with Monique Meloche of Monique Meloche Gallery.
Above: Western Exhibitions' artist Stan Shellabarger.
Above: Columbia College's Sabina Ott with Dutes Miller.
Above: Expo Chicago's President and Director Tony Karman at far right, with Sondra Karman at center right.
Above: Kavi Gupta Gallery artist Scott Reeder at left, with Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit director Elysia Borowy-Reeder at center.
Above: Still photographer and cinematographer Chuck Przybyl.
Above: Video and installation artist Edyta Stepien.
Above: The University of Chicago's Dr. Scott Hunter.
Above: DePaul University's Dr. Richard Renfro.
Above: Terriah Proechel and T.J. Proechel with Museum of Contemporary Photography and ACRE's Kate Bowen.
Above: LVL3's Assistant Director Anna Mort working the Chicago Design Museum booth.
Above: Wes Charles, a/k/a Mr. Vibe, quite possibly the rowdiest guest at Expo Chicago.
Above: Antena's Miguel Cortez, Out of Site's Carron Little, and artist Saul Aguirre.
Above: Artists Tish Noel and Liz McCarthy.
Above: Critic Erik Wenzel with artist Matthew Lane.
Above: ArtSlant and Expo Chicago's Stephanie Cristello.
Above: Street photographer Oscar Arriola, The Art Institute of Chicago's Anna Simonovic, and Juan Alvarez.
Above Gallerista's Joshua Herrington at center with Linda Warren director Chris Smith at right.
Above: Queer Thought's Luis Miguel Bendaña and Sam Lipp at left.
Above: Monique Meloche Gallery artist Cheryl Pope.
Above: Corbett vs. Dempsey's John Corbett.
Above: Artist and creative producer Cristy C. Corso.
Above: The Hills Esthetic Center's Ron Ewert
Above: LATITUDE, Filter Photo, and ArtSlant's James Pepper Kelly.
Above: The official Expo Chicago after party on the Mystic Blue, docked at Navy Pier.
The end.

Images (1-5) and (7-54) September 18-21, 2014;
Copyright Paul E. Germanos.
Image (6)
Copyright Michael Rakowitz, reproduced for the purpose of making a comparison in a work of criticism.

Sixteen links to additional coverage of Expo Chicago in 2014: