At Expo Chicago, the World is on Display With Over 170 International Art Galleries

This week kicks off Expo Chicago, the biggest annual celebration of all that the city’s art scene has to offer.

But before Navy Pier officially opens its doors to the public Thursday, artists, galleries and creators of all mediums are pulling out their finest paint brush for Expo Art Week: celebrations throughout the city leading up to this weekend’s main event.

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“I think for our 10-year anniversary, our motto was, ‘more, more, more,’” said Kate Sierzputowski, director of programming for Expo Chicago. “Make it bigger, just increase everything.”

That’s no exaggeration. With more than 170 international galleries featuring artwork from 36 countries and 90 cities, Expo Chicago’s 10th anniversary is leaving no art unturned.

“It’s important to show the fresh new artist and galleries on the scene because that’s where it starts,” Sierzputowski said.

“A really cool program we do is called ‘Override’ with the city of Chicago and DCASE, and that allows us to connect local unrepresented artists with internationally unrepresented artists from galleries that are doing the fair and digital billboards across the city,” Sierzputowski said. “So it really places these unrepresented local Chicago artists with these internationally unrepresented artists to have a really large platform.” 

That’s not the only way to see emerging talent.

Multidisciplinary artist Erol Harris will be showing in a group exhibition in the West Loop at Boil, Toil + Trouble. The exhibition explores the role water plays with witchcraft, healers and alchemists — all executed through contemporary art. 

Harris created a window installation consisting of paint and water gathered from Lake Michigan to process the loss of his cousin who drowned there.

“I started mixing that water with blue pigment and started painting with it and putting it on my body,” Harris said. “I wanted to connect to my cousin that was lost. … I had no idea what I was going to do, I just knew I needed a window. Then it turned into a cathedral type of window that was excavated from something. It’s been magical where people can peer off into the distance and dream, but still see Chicago through the little plastic pieces.” 

Video: Erol Harris details his studio practice in creating the piece for Boil, Toil + Trouble.

Another new extension of Expo this year is “South Side Nights,” an initiative geared toward engaging the public with artists from that area of the city.

“What they needed was infrastructure to help them have a platform to do their work … because before people had to leave their community to get their shine, and if there’s investment in that area, it’s only going to get better,” said puppeteer Samuel Lewis.  

Comprised of 12 galleries, museums and exhibition spaces on the South Side, “South Side Nights” will offer later viewing hours in addition to special programming. Lewis is one of the featured artists; he’s currently dabbling in the crankie puppeteer art form. 

Video: Samuel Lewis details the heroic story of a ancestor with the use of a crankie puppet.

“There are no limits to how you can tell the story,” Lewis said. “People are more willing to use their imagination. It reminds me of cartoon animations. You can fly one second or get crushed by a boulder and pop back up. It allows you so much more flexibility in storytelling. It captivates. Lots think it’s just for kids, but it captivates people from 8-80.” 

Whether visitors are at Navy Pier or on the South Side, Expo’s overarching goal is geared toward elevating local emerging artists with the rest of the world. 

“In their hometown, it allows them to really be elevated,” Sierzputowski said. “Having international curators see their work on display and studio visits — we really try to connect all of the national and international curators to artists and bring them to the national and international platform.”

Note: This article was updated on April 12 with additional information.

Follow Angel Idowu on Twitter: @angelidowu3

Angel Idowu is the JCS Fund of the DuPage Foundation Arts Correspondent.

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