Originally published in NewCity
Let’s be clear, art fairs are not premised upon aesthetic or educational missions. For most participating galleries it’s a trade show; if they’re lucky, it’s also a sales floor. The products on display may stimulate, enliven, elucidate and even entertain, but what these galleries want to see is not a guy in jeans with a lanyard indicating that he covers a local art beat, but a guy in chinos with a checkbook at the ready.
There’s little profit (of the informative kind) in trying to characterize an art fair or tease out anything more than the vaguest of contemporary trends. While virtually all forms of visual art are present and on display, this writer noted a preponderance of minimalist-inspired Op art at this year’s EXPO Chicago. The critical counter strike against so-called “zombie formalism” seems to have scored a decisive blow contra “the painterly” and hard-edged neo-neo-geo is all the rage in several booths—see Peter Blake Gallery (#702) or DITTRICH & SCHLECHTRIEM.
In an effort to lasso a conceptual framework around the hulking mass of more than one-hundred-fifty exhibiting galleries, I usually set challenges for myself. One year it was “find figurative painting,” this year it’s interesting works on or of paper. You can’t see everything, so make what you can see count. Here then to aid an intrepid viewer is my utterly subjective scavenger hunt that I call “the paper trail.”
I counted three works by the godfather of décollage Jacques Villeglé. The nicest one by far is on display at Diane Rosenstein (#753). “122 rue du Temple, en Juillet” is a classic work from the heady student protest days of 1968 and is probably just shy of museum grade. Featuring a Communist Party poster juxtaposed against an advert for a spaghetti western, its potent statement on the desire to be simultaneously entertained and illuminated resonates again in today’s political climate.
One of this year’s EXPO Projects, artist Samuel Levy Jones’ “48 Portraits (Underexposed)” (#239) is hands down my single favorite work on display. There are many works that are beautiful and as many that are emotionally gripping or intellectually provocative, but there are comparatively few that are all three. The “48 Portraits” of black luminaries in black ink on black paper manages to do all of this while remaining subtle, its visual tenor barely rising above a whisper.
A painter’s painter, the late first-generation Abstract Expressionist Jack Tworkov has recently received a good deal of critical attention. Alexander Gray Associates (# 327) is showing a couple of strong works from the early 1970s. Though nearly fifty years old, the charcoal and paper “DWG #5-70 (CH #5)” feels like the shape of things to come. It’s composed of the artist’s iconic painterly slashes, but coheres into something altogether more cerebral and geometric. Revivalists take note: hard-edged work need not be flaccid.
Believe it or not, there was a time when Larry Rivers was considered an artist of the first order; a New York upstart mentioned in the same breath as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. But a series of mediocre works in the 1970s and eighties as well as the uber-creepy business of him filming his daughters nude has pretty much consigned him to the dustbin of history. All of which makes the appearance of his 1965 drawing “French Money” at Richard Norton (#254) worth noting.
For paper enthusiasts, this year’s EXPO Editions+Books features nine booths devoted to all manner of print media. Standouts include fascinating outsider-like images by artist Sean Sullivan at Devening Projects + Editions (#904), who’s spirographic “oil transfer drawings” on aged found substrates convey a palpable sense of mystery. The delicate, tactile quality of these works are enhanced by their unpretentious hanging.
Just across the aisle, RENÉ SCHMITT (#902) is displaying an equally enigmatic suite of prints by British artist Rose Wylie. Pink-hued copper plate etchings based on an image of actress Nicole Kidman, these works initially read as child-like, but there’s an undercurrent of voyeuristic menace as well.
Viewers who are not by this point tired, hungry or thirsty are advised to seek out a fine selection of drawings by Richard Serra at CarrerasMugica (#711), a trifecta of Thomas Nozkowski oils-on-paper at Pace (#438), a stunning mixed-media lithography by Cy Twombly at Sims Reed (#745) and some fine collage by Andy Burgess at Tandem Press (#704).
Remember: you can’t see it all, so make it count.