Most art fairs involve a frenzy of art handling: packaging, shipping and unloading, followed by careful arrangement. But to prep for a new art expo in Chicago, galleries can pack light — the art simply has to fit booths that are slightly larger than shoe boxes.
This is the unique challenge at Barely Fair, which is dedicated to contemporary miniature art that mimics the layout of a traditional art fair, except reduced to a 1:12 scale. Organized by Julius Caesar, a veteran Chicago artist-run space, it opens Sept. 20 with two dozen international exhibitors. Among them are the New York-based Coustof Waxman and, from Milwaukee, Outlet Gallery, a single electrical wall socket that shows plug-based installations. At Barely Fair, Outlet’s booth will host 10 sockets, each powering a different section of one artwork.
“Many of these galleries are on the small side,” said Kate Sierzputowski, a co-director at Julius Caesar. “I’ve been intrigued with how they create platforms for artists with superlow overhead, so we wanted to show a range of these spaces.”
The responses from exhibitors are diverse. Some have invited artists to create new works, like Serious Topics from Los Angeles, whose booth will burst with tiny art by 23 artists. Others will bring existing pieces that take on refreshed meaning in a scaled-down context. Case in point: the Chicago-based collection gallery Lawrence & Clark, whose blue-chip booth will feature matchbooks with photolithographs by Barbara Kruger, an Anish Kapoor maquette and brass stencils by Lawrence Weiner.
Barely Fair coincides with a series of heavy-hitting fairs occurring this month in Chicago, from the eighth edition of Expo Chicago to the inaugural Chicago Invitational, presented by the New Art Dealers Alliance. The timing is intentional. With a booth rental fee of $25, the mini fair pokes fun at the exclusivity of its companion fairs, for which galleries must spend thousands of dollars to attend. “We’re giving these spaces a chance to be seen with very minimal barriers to entry,” Ms. Sierzputowski said.
That’s not to say that participants have completely shunned the fair circuit. Two galleries, Green Gallery in Milwaukee and the Little Rock-based Good Weather, will have booths at both the Chicago Invitational and Barely Fair.
For Haynes Riley, who runs Good Weather, Barely Fair is a chance to highlight art without catering to collectors’ tastes. “There’s a bit more freedom with what you can present,” he said. “We’re not approaching it as an opportunity to sell work.” Taking over Good Weather’s mini booth is an installation by the Tokyo artist Cobra, comprising a rat trap and a painting of cheese. (Its title? “Rat Museum for Rat.”)
Julius Caesar is hopeful that Barely Fair will become an annual event, although future editions might occur elsewhere. “I’d like to bring this to different cities,” Ms. Sierzputowski said. “It would be very easy to travel because it is so small.”