“Slow burn” could be EXPO Chicago’s unofficial tagline, a phrase echoed in chorus by gallerists who describe the way Chicagoans buy art: at a later date. That means it’s collector’s choice on the floor. And finally, four years after the fair was revived in 2011 by Tony Karman, galleries are learning what sells well in Chicago: mid-priced works by mid-career artists. Still, surprises abound, making the trek to the end of the tourist-ridden Navy Pier worthwhile.
This edition, which closed on Sunday, was EXPO’s largest yet, with 140 galleries taking part. Single artist booths, such as Garth Greenan’s presentation of Victoria Gitman, lured sales and gawkers alike. The gallery showed three of Gitman’s hyperrealistic oil on board paintings of fur and beaded purses. Two of the Argentina-born, Miami-based artist’s exquisite paintings sold for $50,000 each, no doubt partially thanks to the dramatic staging of the shoebox-sized works on big white walls.
Another single-artist booth, of paintings and sculptures by JJ PEET, wooed collectors, nearly selling out. PEET’s gallery, On Stellar Rays, was in Chicago for a third year and always mounts a darling display. The artist was awarded an annual purchase prize by Northern Trust Bank, which bought a 2015 painting for the Arts Club of Chicago. “Sales at this fair are always pretty solid for us,” gallery owner Candice Madey told Artsy. Nearby, PEET’s handsome sculptural object of a small camera,GHOST_VIEWER (2014), drew onlookers. It sold to a private Chicago collector.
Big artworks by Ebony G. Patterson were popular at Monique Meloche Gallery, especially the Jamaican artist’s casket sculptures; the set of six sold for $45,000 to a museum. At nearly nine feet tall, the coffins on poles, decorated with patterned fabrics, lace, and glitter, were created for a funeral procession performance in Kingston, Jamaica. Fifty of the sculptures were previously installed at Art Basel in Miami Beach in 2014. The works weren’t for sale at the time but are now flying into collections.
Competing Kehinde Wiley oil paintings, at Roberts & Tilton and Galerie Daniel Templon, respectively (two of Wiley’s four galleries), each sold for $125,000, the artist’s “standard price,” said one dealer. The 2015 paintings featured young men against the artist’s signature Baroque backgrounds. Wiley is in demand as his retrospective exhibition tours. Yet he still manages to find time for projects like a mural at the U.S. embassy in the Dominican Republic, which features portraits of local art students.
Rhona Hoffman Gallery reported gross sales of over $200,000 for works by Vito Acconci, Natalie Frank, Spencer Finch, and Sol LeWitt, while a powerful, museum-worthy Leon Golub unstretched canvas went without a buyer—for now. Heavyweights aside, the unexpected hit of Hoffman’s booth was gallery newcomer John Preus, whose cube stools, each crafted from desks and other recycled materials found in shuttered public schools, sold for $800 apiece. A dozen more are currently on view in the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.
Large works by heavy hitters like Daniel Buren and Anish Kapoor were on view at London’s Lisson Gallery. However, the gallery instead reported the sale of one of its emerging artists, Haroon Mirza. His solar-powered light, sound, and circuitry sculpture attracted a buyer at $28,000. Mirza’s recent accolades—the Nam June Paik Art Center Prize and the 2011 Venice Biennale’s Silver Lion, among them—make his technologically playful works a good fit for emerging collectors of new media art. Director Sam Chatterton-Dickson told Artsy that sales at EXPO are often steady for smaller works at lower prices. “It’s fine,” he says. “We expect that, and it’s definitely worth being in Chicago.”
Despite having the most talked about booth at the fair, Isabella Bortolozzi Galerie reported zero sales. (She was the only gallerist willing to go on record as such.) She hauled 17 life-size puppets, or urban-dressed scarecrows, by Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys to Chicago from Berlin. “They’re too dirty for Chicago,” joked the gallerist, who was in her fourth year at EXPO and is on its European gallery selection committee. The gallery was asking €25,000 for each of the frightening burlap dolls, and Bortolozzi noted some were pre-sold before traveling to Chicago.
Patron, a new gallery that opened in the fair’s hometown this month, sold eight works by Alex Chitty, a promising Chicago sculptor, for between $3,500 and $15,000 each. “Chicago stepped up to support a new gallery,” Emanuel Aguilar told Artsy. He and co-director Julia Fischbach launched their new venture after working together at Kavi Gupta Gallery.
Another newcomer, Roberto Paradise Gallery from San Juan, made a strong debut with Caroline Wells Chandler’s crocheted wool wall pieces depicting joyously sexual characters. Six of the large figurines from his series “Cowbois in Paradise” sold on the range of $6,000–$12,000, ahead of the artist’s solo show at the gallery later this fall.
The fair-within-a-fair EXPO Editions + Books noted sales, with about 20Math Bass offset prints (in an edition of 50) selling for only $150 each at No Coast; design-meets-art concept artist Sterling Lawrence selling a unique collage print at DOCUMENT for $500; and a small, unique series of collages by Nora Schultz selling to benefit the Renaissance Society for between $4,000–$4,500 each.
And finally, one of the biggest sales at the fair, Martin Puryear’s iron sculpture, Shackled (2014), at Matthew Marks Gallery, went to a Chicago collector for $450,000. The acquisition is smartly timed with the artist’s forthcoming exhibition, slated to open at the Art Institute of Chicago in spring of 2016.