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Chicago’s Barely Fair makes a small booth for a fairer art world

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The only international miniature art fair in the worldpresented in visitor-friendly mini booths the size of a rodent – ​​is bigger than ever. Held in Chicago during Expo Art Week, barely fair organizes its third edition (April 14-23), with a longer list, an expanded international presence and a generously sized venue for a growing audience. Its goal, however, remains the same as in the past: to showcase artist-run galleries and smaller galleries while building an alternative fair model for affordable art.

The idea of ​​showcasing art that fits in the palm of your hand came from the co-directors of Julius Caesar gallery, a veteran of the Chicago artist-run space scene. In 2019, they launched the first Barely Fair in their gallery, inviting visitors to look inside 24 shoebox-sized mini-stands, each built one-twelfth the scale of a typical fair stand and arranged on tables in neat rows. In 2021, returning from a pandemic hiatus, the fair moved to a hall in the Color Club community center to accommodate six more galleries, as well as buyers and viewers. But this space, too, was cramped. “There was a line up all night,” says Julius Caesar’s Kate Sierzputowski, who is also the Expo’s programming director. “We had 1,000 people when we opened.”

The Blum & Poe stand at Barely Fair 2022 featured works by Tony Lewis and Dave Mueller. Roland Miller

This year, Barely Fair takes over a grand ballroom at the Color Club, though its overall physical footprint is still just over three feet by ten feet. Thirty-six galleries participate; newcomers include London’s Cob Gallery and Harlesden High Street, Berlin’s Scherben and Ghent’s Tatjana Pieters. Fair organizers have also invited commercial spaces to participate (Blum & Poe had a booth last year), in part to help offset costs. Following a sliding scale payment system, artist-run spaces pay $150 for a reduced booth, while commercial spaces pay $1,500.

Different manifold sets

The inclusion of more established galleries also contributes to fair promotion and attracts different sets of collectors who can then be introduced to lesser-known spaces. “The first year was definitely our trial,” says Sierzputowski. “We didn’t have a lot of connections, and it was more about this novelty of being small and seeing who in town for the Expo and the New Art Dealers Alliance Fair might be attracted. But I think the longer we are there, the more serious collectors come. We really tried to build our list of collectors.

“So many projects that we are passionate about thrive on this scale”

Patrick Bova, co-founder, April April

The 2022 edition of Barely Fair featured booths by Massimo De Carlo with artwork by Rob Pruitt, Corbett vs Dempsey with Diane Simpson, Left Field Gallery with Ben Sanders, Good Weather Gallery with Dylan Spaysky and Pickleman showing Yoko Ono and Robert Gober. Roland Miller

For April April, an independent gallery in New York, Barely Fair offers the opportunity to meet and “deepen the dialogue with like-minded peers”, explains its co-founder Patrick Bova. For his first stand, the gallery presents an installation of tiny chairs and drawings by Singaporean artist Lai Yu Tong, whose work explores emotions in the mundane. “We’ve admired previous editions of Barely Fair for its unique settings and high-capacity spirit,” says Bova. “We love to explore what’s possible in a small space; so many projects that we are passionate about thrive on this scale.

Barely Fair organizers aim to eventually bring the event to other cities, but they also want to stay true to its roots. “Each year we learn more about how to create and maintain a fair fair that uses scale to democratize the structure of the fair,” says Sierzputowski. “The more we grow, the more it looks like a traditional fair, which we try to subvert, and you start having all the same problems. So the smaller we keep it, the better.

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