Sep 30 2014

Asian Art at EXPO CHICAGO 2014

by Paul Laster

 AI WEIWEI, Han Dynasty Vases in Auto Paint, 2014, Han Dynasty vases, auto paint, set of two: 51 × 51 × 54 cm; and 50 × 50 × 50 cm. Courtesy Chambers Fine Art, New York/Beijing. 

The presence of Asian art galleries at Expo Chicago has increased exponentially since its inaugural edition at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall in 2012. That year there were just two Asian exhibitors—Chambers Fine Art, based in Beijing and New York, and James Cohan Gallery, which is also based in New York as well as Shanghai. In 2013, the fair exhibited four galleries from China and Japan. This year’s edition, which was on view from September 18 to 21, featured eight exhibitors from China, Japan, Korea, Singapore and Australia.

“We’re reintroducing Chicago to many of the Asian galleries from around the world,” Expo Chicago president and director Tony Karman told ArtAsiaPacific, prior to the event. “There’s a deep institutional commitment to art from Asia here in the city, and a lot of major collectors of historical Asian art are based in Chicago. I’m very hopeful that we will not only continue to build stronger ties with the Asian art community but also represent the world as an international art fair should.”

Chambers Fine Art, which had exhibited in Art Chicago before getting on board with Karman’s new fair in 2012, brought works by Ai Weiwei, Zhao Zhao and GAMA. Ai’s presentation contrasted his slick Han Dynasty Vases in Auto Paint (2014) with a dozen, intimate photographic self-portraits from the time he spent living in New York’s East Village, from 1983 to 1993. Zhao was represented by sublime, yet witty, monochromatic paintings from his “Mouse Droppings” series, made over the past few years. Meanwhile, the Mongolian-born, Germany-trained painter GAMA offered surreal, sophisticated takes on his country’s folklore, rendered in a style related to the New Leipzig School movement.

HIRAKI SAWA, Aurora, 2013, single-channel black-and-white video with custom monitor: 1 min 30 sec. Courtesy James Cohan Gallery, New York/Shanghai. 

CHOSIL KIL, Goalkeeper, 2013, cowhide, lambskin leather (black, purple, dark purple, white, blue), thread and wood, 160 × 200 cm. Courtesy One and J. Gallery, Seoul. 

James Cohan Gallery turned its booth over to Nigerian-British superstar Yinka Shonibare, MBE, who curated a group exhibition titled “WIND,” which was meant to capture “the symbolic, metaphorical and phenomenological aspects of wind.” A tribute to the “Windy City”—one of Chicago’s nicknames—the show mixed Chinese painter Yun-Fei Ji’s works on paper depicting the wind with Japanese artist Hiraki Sawa’s video of the night sky in motion, as well as with an intriguing selection of historical works and contemporary pieces by other artists from the gallery.

Tokyo’s Whitestone Gallery made an impact with an informative display of artists from the 1950s and ’60s avant-garde art group Gutai, which included colorful abstractions by Kazuo Shiraga and Atsuko Tanaka. The gallery gave up half of its booth to a dynamic show of intricate, monochromatic paintings, prints and wood sculpture by 94-year-old Gutai master Chiyu Uemae. Tokyo’s Shoichiro gallery, however, took a decidedly more Pop-Art approach. It dedicated part of its booth to a painting by Andy Warhol alongside appropriation artists that used his work for their point of departure—including Elaine Sturtevant and Richard Pettibone from America, as well as Japan’s Hidemaro Takeda.

Other standouts were Chosil Kil’s abstract constructions made with dyed animal skins, shown at Seoul’s One and J. Gallery, and Minako Abe’s trippy landscapes at Tokyo’s BASE GALLERY. Michael Janssen, from Berlin and Singapore, also offered a striking, abstract canvas by Iranian-born Shaan Syed, alongside the gallery’s roster of American and European artists. 

Countering these group presentations was Melbourne’s Tristian Koenig, which went out on a limb with a powerful, solo presentation of paintings by British-born, Melbourne-based artist Oscar Perry. The booth was filled with luscious, expressionistic canvases, a dilapidated sofa, crushed beer cans and metal ashtrays sporting fake cigarette butts that the artist humorously created by squeezing out tubes of black, white and brown paint.

Asian artists were also highly visible in other American and European booths, with London’s Blain Southern giving prominent placement to Michael Joo’s recent interpretation of the Greek mythological figure Pistis. An equally symbolic creature made by Huma Bhabha, from mostly found materials, accompanied her large works on paper at New York’s Salon 94. Colorful, mixed-media collages of fantastical goddesses by Saya Woolfalk shined at New York’s Leslie Tonkonow Artworks + Projects, while coveted Israeli photographers Ilit Azoulay, Barry Frydlender and Sharon Ya’ari dominated New York’s Andrea Meislin Gallery. Elsewhere, historical photographs of radical artists, digitally transformed by Kota Ezawa, caught viewers’ eyes at San Francisco’s Haines Gallery.

And with a solo show of engaging new works by Japanese-American artist Glenn Kaino at Chicago’s Kavi Gupta, and Ai Weiwei’s celebrated display of Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010) at the Adler Planetarium (as part of Expo Chicago’s “IN/SITU Outside” exhibitions), Asian contemporary art was alive and well in the “Windy City.”

MICHAEL JOO, Man Made Monstrous (Pistis) 2, 2012, water-based enamel paint on cast polyurethane resin, 73.7 × 61 × 35.6 cm. Courtesy Blain Southern, London.

HUMA BHABHA, Carriage, 2014, clay, wood, cork, wire, Styrofoam, leaf, paper, oil stick and acrylic paint, 163.8 × 63.5 × 104.1 cm. Courtesy Salon 94, New York. 

Expo Chicago was held from September 19–21, 2014, at Navy Pier, Chicago. 

Paul Laster is New York desk editor at ArtAsiaPacific.