Expo Chicago 2024—In Praise of the Small: A Review of Barely Fair at Color Club

New City / Apr 14, 2024 / by Zara Yost / Go to Original

Project Art Distribution, New York. Installation of “Etchskay” at Barely Fair 2024/Photo: Ruby Que and P.A.D.

Hosted at the Color Club in Irving Park, the Barely Fair is a splendid display of creativity. This year, thirty-six booths are dedicated to displaying the works of talented emerging or established artists from prominent international galleries. The smaller-scale booths, built in a one-to-twelve ratio, perfectly mimic the atmosphere of a real fair. The booths are cleverly arranged into three main rows, with six booths on each side, creating a dynamic and immersive experience. As you step into the Color Club, you’ll be greeted by stairs leading up to the entrance and the main lobby on the left. Beyond the double doors, a room with a stage awaits. The booths, elevated on tables and bathed in precise lighting, are the centerpiece of the room.

The fair is not just a fraction of the scale but also a fraction of the cost. As its title humorously suggests, Barely Fair is barely there—as each gallery is miniaturized and displays miniature artworks, making the fair, in theory, more financially approachable for a younger generation of collectors and galleries. In its fourth iteration, Barely Fair has successfully responded to Expo Chicago’s large and usually overwhelmingly expensive event. Expo Chicago tickets range from $45 (for the early bird pricing) to $175 (again, the early bird pricing) compared to a $10 entry fee at Barely Fair.

Tarik Kentouche, “Crystalians,” 2024, stuffed monkey toy, stained glass/Photo: Prairie

The unusual and amusing installations have drawn a crowd and are a testament to the curatorial skills and vision of the organizers. The space limitations on the booths at Barely Fair force a thoughtfulness to the curation that is unique to this event. The challenge of dealing with size constraints, even more so in a gallery space, results in a depth of curation that may not be found elsewhere. Galleries like Mariane Ibrahim, Patron, Corbett vs. Dempsey, and DK Collection have respectfully opted for a more traditional miniature gallery display. In contrast, galleries like Soccer Club Club, Devening Projects, Patient Info and Tiny Table Gallery have stretched the restrictions of their booth with imaginative installations ranging from a fish tank with ceramic works by Scott and Tyson Reeder (Soccer Club Club) to Tiny Table Gallery’s small-scale sculpture works and two-part gallery split plexiglass floor by Amy Yoes.

The fair is charming and diverting. Who doesn’t find anything pint-sized delightful? Some works border on toys, like Cooper Cole gallery’s elegant display of Fin Simonetti’s honeycomb calcite and lock shackle pacifiers, aptly named “Pacifier 9” and “Pacifier 14,” or Tarik Kentouche’s work, “Crystalians,” made of stained glass and a stuffed monkey toy. These also blur the line between art and play.

Alice Tippit, “Wound,” 2024, graphite and watercolor on paper, macaw feather and custom wooden box/Photo: Patron

The galleries Good Weather, Piedras, Patron and Good Naked Gallery have sublime pocket works like “Dreamwave” by Jenal Dolson (Good Naked), a canvas painting with botanical references to the female form, featuring organic shapes and gritty, textured and colorful paint; the elaborate and surrealist “Sphinx” sculpture by George Skoufas (Good Naked); the grand “Nose” and “Dialogue,” two cedar and iron acetate stained sculptures by Max Guy (Good Weather); and the entire booth of Carla Grunauer’s expressive and gestural aniline and ink paper works (Piedras); as well as all of the moving graphite and watercolor “Wound” works by Alice Tippit (Patron). These exquisite artworks, despite their small size, have impressively met the assigned criteria with admirable precision and creativity.

Barely Fair has emerged as a highly sought-after destination for those seeking a glimpse into the programming of various art galleries and projects. The participating spaces boast meticulously thought-out designs that offer an immersive and captivating experience for visitors. From stunning visual displays to awe-inspiring art installations, Barely Fair has something to offer for everyone interested in exploring the intersection of art and curation.

Barely Fair takes place during “Art Week” in Chicago. The fair is organized by the co-directors of Julius Caesar Gallery: Josh Dihle, Tony Lewis, Roland Miller and Kate Sierzputowski, and it has been a resounding success over the last four years, attracting a large number of visitors and generating a lot of buzz in the art community. Barely Fair is on view at Color Club, 4146 North Elston, through April 21.