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Last Thursday, EXPO Chicago’s vernissage kicked-off at the city’s Navy Pier, benefitting the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. It was a gorgeous afternoon and evening, with some rare clear skies, offering beautiful views of Chicago’s waterfront, which Whitewall enjoyed from the fair’s VIP lounge while sipping Ruinart champagne.
But the best views were inside the pier’s Festival Hall, where 125 galleries were showing art from 17 countries and 36 cities. There was some fantastic artwork on view at the gallery booths, from both emerging (like in EXPO’s Exposure section) and blue chip artists. Several works we hadn’t seen before from artists like Roxy Paine, Yayoi Kusama, John Chamberlain, and Josh Smith especially excited us.
Kavi Gupta showed totally new work by Roxy Paine (also on view at the gallery’s new location in Chicago in a show entitled “Apparatus”), large-scale dioramas carved from birch and maple wood of a control room and fast food restaurant. We were completely blown away and won over by this new direction in his sculpture.
Yayoi Kusama seemed to be everywhere last year, known for her spotted paintings, pumpkins, and rooms. But we saw at EXPO a work we hadn’t seen before in any of her recent museum retrospectives at David Zwirner’s booth. It was an accumulation of Air Mail stickers on paper, a much more graphic work by the artist who rarely includes text in her work.
At Luhring Augustine’s booth we were also surprised to see an example of Josh Smith’s new painting series, currently on view at the gallery’s Bushwick, Brooklyn location in New York, featuring palm trees and sunsets.
We found two unexpected works at Pace Prints’ booth, as well. There was a stunning linocut mono-print by Sol LeWitt from 2006 and a vertical serigraph with relief print collage by Chamberlain from 1993.
Other standout pieces included Alex Katz’s Ocean, Wind and Sun (2002) at Hill Gallery, a gelatin silver print of Lara Harris (1998) by Robert Mapplethorpe, a small, untitled work on paper by Christopher Wool from 1998 at Luhring Augustine, and several stellar wood veneer works by Alison Elizabeth Taylor at James Cohan Gallery.
Aside from the chance to see great art a day prior to the public, Vernissage-goers also got the VIP treatment with champagne and beverages flowing from Ruinart, City Winery, Effen Vodka, and Lagunitas Brewing Company. But best of all (at least to us) were the delicious canapés and bites doled out by Chicago’s best chefs and restaurants including Phil Stefani’s, 437, Carnivale, Eli’s Cheesecake, Embeya, Gallery Bar, Gemini Bistro/Rustic House, Harry Caray’s, iNG, Jordan’s Food of Distinction, Kapocha, MK, Moto, Paris Club, Pelago, and ZED 451, Chicago being known as a foodie town.
The crowd on opening night was full of Chicago’s elite – both in the arts and business. Attendees included the city’s Deputy Mayor Steve Koch, Billy Corgan (yes, that Billy Corgan), MCA Pritzker Director Madeleine Grynsztejn, Art Institute of Chicago’s curator James Rondeau, Jerry Saltz, Shamim M. Momin, Maria Pinto, collectors Rich and Beth Heller, Dawoud Bey, Angel Otero, and Wendy White, to name a few. Said EXPO’s President and Director, Tony Karman, “It is incredible to see the overwhelming support of Chicago’s cultural, civic and business leaders along with our galleries, artists and institutions for the second annual opening of EXPO CHICAGO and the MCA’s Vernissage.”