What to See During EXPO Chicago 2024

From Max Guy’s mischievous making at Good Weather LLC to Sif Itona Westerberg’s aerated concrete sculptures at the Driehaus Museum

BY Denny Mwaura in Critic's Guides | 11 APR 24

Selva Aparicio | DePaul Art Museum | ​14 March – 4 August 

Selva Aparicio, Remains, 2023–24. Photograph: Bob

‘[My parents] named me Selva (Jungle),’ the Spanish-born, Chicago-based artist Selva Aparicio said in a recent interview. ‘Like my namesake, I was immersed in the natural world, where handmade objects and animals filled my day-to-day life.’ ‘In Memory of’, Aparicio’s solo exhibition at the DePaul Art Museum, plunges us into this world; one in which the artist exposes the alchemic charm through which she transforms natural materials into visual metaphors for the fragility of life, death, decay and repair. Aparicio is a remarkable craftswoman: her works exhibit a careful grace. Dominating the museum’s entrance and immediately visible from the museum’s façade is Remains (2023–24), a work that appears to recreate the large rose window of the Santa Maria del Pi church in Barcelona, and which one might assume from afar is stained glass. Upon close inspection, you realize it is made from dried lettuce leaves pressed between plexiglass. What’s notable is that each work seems to have once occupied living quarters. A remarkably laborious carved carpet-like sculpture evokes memories of one from her childhood; a wooden rocking chair draped with a crotchet blanket layered with honey locust thorns emits a threatening ‘don’t touch’ aura. Cicada’s wings, sewn from strands of hair from Aparicio, her mother and nephew, form a delicate translucent mourning veil. It’s mournful, but it's not quite right to call the show morbid: it’s rather elegiac, thanks to the care of curator Ionit Behar, who has distilled it into a stately experience.

Max Guy | Good Weather LLC | 29 February – 27 April 

Max Guy, ‘Running from One Time’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: Travis Roozée and Good Weather LLC

It takes a lot to resign from your full-time job to cultivate a creative practice. Many artists can’t afford to take such a risk, though Max Guy decided to do so after his first institutional show at the Renaissance Society in 2023. He knew success wasn’t promised but, as subjective as measures of success are, Guy has apparently had 10 shows this year, after racking up 23 in 2023. I’m dubious about this ambitious declaration, which Guy mentions in the self-penned press release for his solo show ‘Running from One Time’ at Good Weather LLC. ‘I know the lies I’m capable of when stressed. The fallacies I pitch under duress, my cornered equivocations,’ he writes. The show, however, is not deceitful but forthright. It clarifies how he works and his interests in measuring time. Its centrepiece, Matrix (2024), is a table sprawling with various works and technological apparatuses (a portable record player, a small Braun clock, bed scanners, sound recording equipment), collages and print ephemera found in his studio. There’s no mystery at this site of production and existential inquiry, the spirit of which is captured in his attempt to make a not-so-accurate Foucault Pendulum that hangs from the ceiling. Guy’s ways of making and knowing are somewhat mischievous. Below the table is Morpheus #2 (2024), a pair of loafers with blind spot mirrors. They reflect a sketchbook stapled underneath the table, containing anime sketches from his childhood and graffiti-inspired scribblings from his adolescence. Guy’s introspection of his artistic development is evidence of his continued pursuit to be an artist who is not afraid to be playful in his slippery, conceptual practice.

Sif Itona Westerberg Richard H. Driehaus Museum | 16 February 14 April

Sif Itona Westerberg, Ascendance, 2023, polished bronze and fermacell. Courtesy: the artist and Gether Contemporary, Copenhagen

In Plato’s Symposium, the ancient Greek playwright Aristophanes recounts how primeval humans had four arms, four legs and two heads. Zeus, fearing the protohumans’ powers, split them into two, forcing them to forever roam the earth in search of their other half. Danish artist Sif Itona Westerberg’s aerated concrete low-reliefs and bronze sculptures in ‘Twin Flame, Double Ruin’ at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum are a contemporary study of the lessons ancient Greek tragedies can teach us about passionate devotion to love. Two figurative sculptures, Ascendance (2023) and Surrender (2022), anchor the concept of doubling and soulmates. Despite their detached distance – the former on the first floor and the latter on the second floor of the Gilded Age mansion – these works address the tragedy’s peculiar lesson that in search of wholeness, fulfilling profane love also ushers in sorrow and transformation. Westerberg created the exhibition in response to the loss of her partner, working primarily with aerated concrete, a light material with which she sculpts reliefs using an X-Acto knife to bring on to the surface flora, fauna and figures from Greek mythology, including the Pleiades, seven sisters who were transformed into a cluster of stars. The Copenhagen-based gallery Gether Contemporary will display more of her work at Navy Pier for EXPO.

Robert Earl Paige | Hyde Park Art Center | 6 April 27 October

Robert Earl Paige, ‘The United Colors of Robert Earl Paige’, 2024, installation view. Photograph: Chenya O’Hara

Only now, at 87, is the Chicago-born artist and textile designer Robert Earl Paige honoured with his first solo museum exhibition in his home city. It’s surprising, given his involvement with the Chicago Black Arts Movement and the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists (AfriCobra). At the Hyde Park Art Center, ‘The United Colors of Robert Earl Paige’ spans from 1964 to 2024, years during which he designed album covers and produced commercial textiles for Sears, Roebuck & Co. stores, Walmart and Italian manufacturers. In the Cleve Carney Gallery, Paige’s recent ceramic works, textiles, drawings and sketches gathered from his archive are complemented by large, rhythmic wall murals painted by Dorian Sylvain, another artist inspired by West African motifs. The show’s maximalist ornateness isn’t overwhelming. It’s no surprise that the Nigerian-British fashion designer Duro Olowu curated ‘Power to the People’, Paige’s first solo show at Salon 94 Design in New York. In a vitrine are samples from Paige’s vibrantly colourful 1973 Dakkabar Collection, which sold at Sears Roebuck stores in 56 US cities. While Paige’s commercial projects may have kept him from enjoying the recognition his fellow AfriCobra peers have accrued, this exhibition shows him to be, first and foremost, an experimental artist. A member of faculty of the Black Arts Movement School Modality, a free alternative school that revives the lasting legacy of the Black Arts Movement, Paige has encouraged his students to doodle (an essential aspect of his practice) as an entry point for tapping into the unconscious. I think of him whenever I listen to jazz singer Sarah Vaughan’s song ‘Doodlin’ (1959). 

Men I Have Ever Met’ | Co-Prosperity | 8 March – 14 April

‘Men I Have Ever Met’, 2024, installation view. Courtesy: Eugene I-Peng Tang

You don’t need to go inside Co-Prosperity in the Bridgeport neighbourhood to see ‘Men I Have Ever Met’, organized by artist Sungjae Lee. It’s publicly visible on the site’s storefront windows, on which hang strips of yellow paper with numerous transcribed texts narrating the artist’s dating adventures with men whom he met mostly through the gay dating app Grindr. Sincere moments at bars, hotels and bedrooms have been cut out and censored to prevent vandals from smashing the glass windows. Certain areas of the paper are folded and crumbled, leaving one guessing how to piece the parts together to form a cohesive narrative. Peep through the cut-outs to observe Vincent Chong’s portrait paintings, Jay Carlon’s hanging clay mobile sculptures and Eugene I-Peng Tang’s photographs. Lee invited his fellow queer Asian friends to be a part of this autobiographical chronicle – a sort-of lateral kinship structure that highlights the dialogues these artists find their voices and audiences.

Main image: Robert Earl Paige, ‘The United Colors of Robert Earl Paige’, 2024, installation view. Photograph: Chenya O’Hara

Denny Mwaura is a curator and writer based in Chicago, USA. He is the Assistant Director of Gallery 400 at the University of Illinois, Chicago.