EXPO Chicago 2022: Our Reflections on the Annual Art Fair at Navy Pier

The 2022 EXPO Chicago took place April 7-10 in Festival Hall at Navy Pier with 140 leading galleries from 25 countries and 65 cities from around the world. As in years past, the festival displayed an impressive and diverse representation of the contemporary art world. Some of the main themes we noticed were artworks that showed the artists’ process within the work when viewing. There was also a noticeable juxtaposition between many poetic, quiet-colored works with thunderous works of intense color. No matter the media used or the palettes in the works at EXPO Chicago, the commonality was immensely thought-provoking work from all over the world with messages that followed us days after the festival came to a close. 

Although it is very difficult to discuss only a few galleries at EXPO, in this piece we will be focusing on several works spotlighted by four galleries based in Chicago and beyond that especially drew us in this year. 

1. Corbett vs. Dempsey:

This Chicago gallery opened in 2004 by Jim Dempsey and John Corbett and represents dozens of artists from Chicago and around the world. As we noticed as a running theme throughout the exposition, quieter works were displayed alongside works of intense color. 

Chicago-based artist, Diane Simpson’s Workbelt, a sculptural work from 2005 composed of birch plywood, corrugated plastic, and electrical cord, is quiet in appearance. Simpson’s piece reads like an extended metaphor about the meditative labor of the artist as it comments on the aesthetically pleasing fruits of that labor. It is difficult to not think of the late Louise Bourgeois’ plate, Untitled from 1990 as part of her book, the puritan. The shapes on Simpson’s workbelt where tools would be held very much echo that of this plate by Bourgeois and that is an enticing revelation and intriguing way to further consider Simpson’s piece. 

Diane Simpson, Workbelt, 2005

California-based artist Brian Calvin’s 2022 acrylic on canvas, Blue Skies, is a definite visual mood switch from Simpson’s quiet work as it grabs a viewer’s attention with its candy-colored palette. Depicting two people facing one another in profile with the background a calming sky-blue, the figures are abstractly figurative and both are gazing up into the sky. The work is very textured with Calvin’s detailed use of line in each figure’s hair and the expressive and decorative elements on the figures’ eyes and nose in particular. Although it is very color-driven, there is also a calmness along with a tone the figures express, a tone of engrossed focus on the sky above along with a slight tension as the one figure also appears to be looking up and into the upturned eyes of the other figure. 

Brian Calvin, Blue Skies, 2022.

2. Galeria Nara Roesler:

This gallery founded in 1989 by Nara Roesler has locations in São Paulo, Rio de Janeiro, and most recently, New York. Highlighting works by Brazilian and international artists, this gallery represents mid-career artists as well as emerging artists. The many artists represented by the gallery work in an array of media from oils and acrylics on canvas to sculptural works and photography. This gallery also had works at EXPO that evoked this theme of color and quiet we noticed in many of the galleries this year.

Cristina Canale’s paintings that adorned the gallery’s booth at EXPO caught our eye instantly. Based in the figurative, the artist also adds elements of abstraction giving the paintings a dizzying effect where the thoughtful use of color creeps into view. There is a quality of wanting to get close and then move back to take in all that is happening in the works and in the artist’s use of their chosen medium. In Pink Nails, an oil on canvas from 2021, the viewer can see Canale’s process with kinetic brush strokes lending to this intriguing dizziness that also possesses a poetic feel. The works on display at EXPO are essentially figurative portraits, but  abstraction comes in as well as the figures are faceless and other details are highlighted on the figure. In this case, the focus is very much on the nails but the flesh of the figure is a quieter focal point. 

Cristina Canale, Pink Nails, 2021

Elian Almeida’s paintings also drew us in as they celebrate principle and important African-American figures who have often been ignored throughout history. In the painting, Elizabeth Eckford (Vogue), an acrylic and oil pastel on canvas from 2022, the artist shows not only a deftness in his chosen medium where the artist’s process is apparent, but it also places the Little Rock Nine figure on a cover of Vogue. This appropriation of the famous fashion magazine adds to Almeida’s determination to place these figures where they should have been all along: on a publication that is not only recognizable but one that often ignores such important historical figures. Eckford and other students of the Little Rock Nine were the first to attend a previously all-white high school in Little Rock, Arkansas, after the famous Brown v. Board of Education ruling. Eckford does not have any facial features in the painting, but Almeida very much portrays her as a regal figure adorned with gold earrings and seated for a portrait showcasing her significance. The artist keeping the figure featureless illustrates the importance of the figures so integral to these significant moments of racial justice. 

Elian Almeida, Elizabeth Eckford 2022

3. Petzel:

The Friedrich Petzel Gallery was founded in 1994 with two locations in New York City. Petzel represents many prominent figures in contemporary art including Yael Bartana, Hiroki Tsukuda, Nicola Tyson and many others. The gallery also deals in artworks by seminal artists including Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Robert Gober and Mike Kelley. 

Pieter Schoolwerth, Mail Woman #5 2014

Pieter Schoolwerth’s works were prominent in the Petzel booth at EXPO and toggled between a quieter palette and composition to potently colorful palettes spinning dizzying narratives. His oil, acrylic and inkjet on canvas from 2014, Mail Woman #5, is quieter than many of the other works by Schoolwerth at EXPO. There is a collage quality to his work and that comes through in this work in particular. The presence of shadowy gray figures in silhouette commingle with interjections of color giving the work a levity while also acting as a powerful study of movement. 


Pieter Schoolwerth, Rigger Self-Portrait (Rigged #2) 2022

Another multi-media work by Schoolwerth that intrigued us was Rigged Self-Portrait (Rigged #2) from 2022. Counter to Mail Woman #5, this work highlights his ability to inject color while retaining a softness that calms the dizzying narrative that unfolds on the canvas. The inclusion of “rigged” in the title conveys the possibility of deception or manipulation but also an action of hastily rigging something together, so there is instantly a mood of cheekiness and lighthearted scheming. The abstract figure in black looks to be confounding the other two figures in the work. That figure’s head and body are skewed almost from a high-speed motion as if the figure is riotously entering the domestic space of the other two figures. The discernible part of the figure’s body is the hand reaching out of his jacket looking to be ready to catch himself as he falls to the floor. The figure is becoming disembodied as it seems to blend in with the female figure and even into the shoes of the gray male figure that reads as a computer-generated form that would result from 3-D printing. There is a lot to unpack in this work and all of Schoolwerth’s work that graced the Petzel booth during EXPO, but they command a tireless connection with the viewer. 

4. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC):

The private art school located in the Loop that has been named “the most influential art school” always has a deeply engaging booth full of students from SAIC and this year was no different. Running the gamut of photography to film to sculpture and mixed media. This special exhibition was titled, Citizen: Artist and showcased work by Alayna N. Pernell, Jennifer Teresa Villanueva, Kari Lane, Wuchao Feng, and Rong Bao and Carolina Pereira. There is also an online exhibition showcasing work by Barbara Karant, Maximiliano Cervantes, Yuge Zhou, Anavi Bhushan Nugyal and Meha Ray, as well as Killian Dunne and Désirée Coral. 

Run for Ice Cream from 2020 is a two-part work. The film is by Rong Bao and the accompanying sculpture of clay and wool yarn depicting the colorful, melting ice cream that initially inspired Bao’s video of ice cream melting on the street. The film and the sculpture created by both Bao and SAIC alumnus Carolina Pereira is a meditative comment on how a global pandemic could invite much pondering about life, freedom, and the interactive experiences that were constant pre-COVID. The sculpture quotes the motion the video outlines for the viewer and the sculpture's tactile presence very much adds to the film and the collective work’s deep, almost existential meaning. 

Rong Bao and Carolina Pereira, Run for Ice Cream 2020

Kari Laine’s How Best to Live and Die within the Threads from 2021 is a work made up of pigment prints from colloidal negatives. The collodion process is a wet plate process stemming from the days of early photography. There is a coating of the photograph and a process of coating, exposing and developing in a short window of time.

The result of Laine’s work is a collage-like display of over a dozen prints that seem to float on the gallery wall. These photographs depict a range of subjects including a ball-jointed doll and abstract still lifes of animal fetuses that look to be developing in the womb, flowers and other surreal visual moments. As a whole the work is another quiet and meditative work that juxtaposes nicely with the vividly colorful Run for Ice Cream that was situated next to it in the booth. These works and the other works on view at EXPO and in the accompanying online exhibition illustrate not only the need for community amid a pandemic but also how artists as citizens are essential to keeping viewers thinking and illustrating the beauty in the seemingly mundane and the surreal. 

Kari Laine, How Best to Live and Die within the Threads 2021

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Carrie McGath

Carrie McGath is a poet and art critic is who is currently at work on her second collection of poetry, The Luck of Anhedonia. She teaches writing and lives in the Logan Square neighborhood with her sassy tuxedo cat, Sophie. You can follow Carrie on Instagram and check out her website.