Did you think EXPO Chicago is only at Navy Pier? Think twice. It is an EXPO tradition to coordinate city-wide art exhibitions showcasing Chicago’s vibrant artistic spirit in addition to the main exposition. And with 2023 being the 10th-anniversary edition, the programming is more extensive and comprehensive than ever. Spanning from the famed River North through the under-discovered South Side, then venturing into Chicagoland suburbs, there are so many things to see during EXPO art week for artists, curators, writers, or any art lovers in general.
So, in case you are wondering where to start: We’ve chosen eight exhibitions from this year’s alignment to help you build your “must-see” list. And we sincerely recommend you spend a decent amount of time at each exhibition to build a genuine connection with the artwork and the artist or curator’s narrative. After all, art is here to help reframe our perspectives, and that is not something you’d want to rush.
SKINS + MASKS
535 N Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60611
Identity has been the core of many cultural, political, social, and economical discussions over the past few years and new challenges continue to arise against existing stereotypes and misunderstandings. SKIN + MASKS, curated by Vic Mensa and Chanelle Lacy, deploys a seminal text by Antilles-born author Frantz Fanon as a foundation for a group art exhibition aimed at decolonizing art beyond the politics of visibility.
In his 1952 book Black Skin, White Masks, Fanon presented a psychoanalytical tour-de-force, exposing how colonization weaponized skin as an agent of alienation, imposing an existential divide on people. Stepping away from the vantage point of White gaze, SKINS + MASKS features work by a range of Chicago-based contemporary artists and explores meaning of identity from the perspective of individual realities.
Color Club, 4146 N Elston Ave, Chicago, IL 60618
Honey, I shrunk the art fair! BARELY FAIR is an international art fair operated by Julius Caesar. The invitational fair presents a tiny peek inside the programming of thirty contemporary art galleries, project spaces, and curatorial projects during EXPO ART WEEK in Chicago. Included spaces will exhibit works in 1:12 scale booths built to mimic the design of a standard fair.
So, let’s say this: BARELY FAIR takes away the traditional “seriousness” of a high-end art fair but adds playfulness instead. If EXPO Chicago is for artists seeking opportunities and art lovers engaging with the latest masterpieces, BARELY FAIR is the perfect place to take your little ones and cultivate a deep interest in art as early as possible.
Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures (ISAC), 1155 E 58th St, Chicago, IL 60637
This exhibition is part of the ongoing research project Ruins, Rubble, and Renewal: Co-existent Ruins—Exploring Iraq’s Mesopotamian Past through Contemporary Art. This long-term interdisciplinary expanded-media collaborative project seeks to address how it might be possible to have renewed engagements with four ancient Mesopotamian heritage sites (Babylon, Nimrud, Nuffar, and Ur) and the Iraq Museum in Baghdad, by local Iraqi artists in post-conflict Iraq.
The project aims to explore how contemporary collaborative art projects conducted at these key archaeological sites can enable a renewed engagement with this ancient heritage and history and how a new aesthetic where the heritage of ancient Mesopotamia—a region known as ‘‘the cradle of civilization”—is reclaimed for Iraq’s current traumatic identity, and its people’s future.
Arts Incubator 301 E. Garfield Blvd Chicago, IL 60637
Arts + Public Life (APL) presents artist zakkiyyah najeebah dumas-o’neal’s new body of work. Focusing extensively on notions of embodiment, alternative modes of movement, imagining technologies, intimacy, and collectivity in physical and digital spaces, dumas-o’neal, an APL/CSRPC artists-in-residence alumnae, debuts new video and photo work. Ultimately, the artist intends for her work to encourage ways of being and feeling beyond the systems we inhabit.
The opening reception is on April 11th from 6:00 pm to 9:00 pm, including a live performance of The Score(s): V (it was slow and all at once) from i.as.in.we. The Beautiful Ones Are Not Yet Born will be available on view from April 11th thru May 15th, 2023.
Chicago Architecture Center, 111 E. Wacker Dr. Chicago, IL 60601
Chicago has an interesting relationship with wooden architecture. The Chicago Fire was an unforgettable chapter in our city’s history, yet mass timber’s endless possibility of sustainability continues to bring architects’ attention to the world’s oldest building material.REFRAMED: The Future of Cities in Wood tells the story of building with mass timber and features architectural models of mass timber projects worldwide, from public spaces to office buildings and adaptive reuse to new construction.
This exhibition explores the many positive aspects of building with mass timber, including sustainability and safety. It also reflects on biophilia, the human instinct to seek connections with nature. Biophilic design centered around wood creates aesthetically pleasing environments and has been proven to promote well-being and positive mental health benefits among occupants. Echoing Windy City’s history, REFRAMED will also present a striking visual demonstration of the superior ability of mass timber to withstand fire.
Madlener House, 4 West Burton Place, Chicago, Illinois 60610
In her first solo exhibition in Chicago, Graham Foundation Fellow, Katherine Simóne Reynolds continues exploring overhealing from trauma in a new body of work that includes photographs, a two-channel film, sculptures, and other works. Referencing the creation of a keloid—a raised scar-like skin growth that continues to grow beyond the original site of a wound—as an outward representation of healing and a site sensitive to recovery and repair in tandem, the exhibition addresses relationships between perceptions of abandonment and fertility, Black female imagination, and different manifestations of healing by regarding the Rust Belt as a kind of keloidal landscape.
ART WORKS Projects Office and Gallery 625 North Kingsbury Street Chicago, IL 60654
Immigration is one of the most politicized issues in the United States, as politicians across both aisles debate the fate of people fleeing violence, poverty, trafficking, hunger, and political instability. And with Chicago being the home of over 1.7 million immigrants, accounting for 18% of the city’s population (Vera Institute of Justice), casting light onto the reality immigrants face is significant and meaningful to building sustainable and progressive conversations around the communities.
ART WORKS Works Projects and CASE Art Fund present From BordersCruzada to Borderlines: an exhibition and discussion between photographers Will Sands and Oscar Castillo, alongside Cathy Edelman, co-founder of CASE Art Fund. This two-part project explores the lived experiences and geography of border politics and immigration at the Southern border of the United States, outside of the deeply politicized debates which often overshadow the individuals and landscape at the heart of the conflict.
Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 W Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60622
Tragedies have struck the US and the world in many forms in the past few years, and Chicago has had its own heartbreaks with 630 homicides and over 2600 shootings in 2022 (WTTW). When a violent crime takes life away, the ones left behind embarked on a difficult and heartbreaking journey of honoring their memories of the deceased while spending the rest of their life grieving and healing. However, this long and arduous healing process is often under-represented, leaving a dark and ominous atmosphere around the subject matter.
Aesthetics of Loss is a collection of works by seven artists who have experienced the loss of family members recently. Their studios became places for grieving and understanding the sudden vacuum of losing loved ones either suddenly or over a long period of illness. Caregiving, memory, helplessness, loss, and the ultimate mystery of death are explored through painting, print-making, fibers, ceramics, photography, installation, and video. Some artists utilize objects and clothing left behind by their loved ones and transform them into artworks and some use ritual and natural materials as memorial or commemorative actions of grieving and coming to terms.
Featured Image: Installation view of Skin + Masks, in collaboration with EXPO CHICAGO, The Magnificent Mile ® Association and Kavi Gupta. Image Credit: EXPO CHICAGO