What the art crowd wore to opening night of the Midwest’s largest art fair

Who shows up to the preview evening of EXPO Chicago? Easily some of the most fashionable people in the city.

The outfits at EXPO Chicago
The opening night of EXPO Chicago attracted artists, gallerists and collectors who wore their finest. From left to right are Saumitra Chandratreya, Kwamé Gomez and Donna Pajerski. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ
The outfits at EXPO Chicago
The opening night of EXPO Chicago attracted artists, gallerists and collectors who wore their finest. From left to right are Saumitra Chandratreya, Kwamé Gomez and Donna Pajerski. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

What the art crowd wore to opening night of the Midwest’s largest art fair

Who shows up to the preview evening of EXPO Chicago? Easily some of the most fashionable people in the city.

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Camaraderie, collectivity and creativity: This was the feeling of the opening night bash for EXPO Chicago, the Midwest’s largest art fair, which drew artists, gallerists and curators from around the world.

“The Chicago art scene, I think it’s really unique,” Chicago artist Mina Crow said. “There’s all sorts of people, and you can fit right in no matter who you are and make a place for yourself, too. There’s tons of outsider and insider art that you can discover.” (Click here to read about seven emerging locals to collect now.)

Tons of art, indeed. Many of the people at EXPO’s opening night said they made their livelihoods through art, whether by creating it, buying it or displaying it in their galleries. There was a distinct sense that everyone knew each other, because they did. But the interesting art wasn’t just on the walls; meticulously curated outfits were spotted throughout EXPO.

“I was actually really inspired by a lot of stylists on Instagram and Pinterest,” said China Wehr, an artist who works at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. “I feel especially here at EXPO, just seeing everybody in their various styles and aesthetics, it is the perfect place whether you’re into the paintings or if you’re into fashion, you can find inspo anywhere.”

WBEZ dropped in on the party, camera at the ready.

Kwamé Gomez
Kwamé Gomez is an art student in Chicago. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Kwamé Gomez, Chicago, student-artist

“I like how experimental [the art scene] has gotten over the years. I’m not from Chicago originally, I’m from Ohio, so the art scene from Ohio, small town, Chicago is very different. For me, it’s just how much it’s grown but also how big it is from my perspective.

I thrifted this entire outfit today. I wanted to go with all pink and was like ‘Oh, I want to put some teal in it so they match my shoes that I painted.’ ”

Victoria Fuller
Victoria Fuller creates art with found objects. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Victoria Fuller, Chicago, artist

“I make art with found objects. But then I also do another branch of work that’s nature-based —or nature-themed — and it’s about the environment. It’s environmental art.”

Michael C. Thorpe
Michael C. Thorpe’s work is currently showing at Anthony Gallery in Chicago. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Michael C. Thorpe, Brooklyn, artist

“I knew I wanted to experience a bunch of different feelings of making different bodies of work. I wanted to feel what it meant to be a sculptor, I wanted to feel what it meant to be a performance artist, I wanted to feel what it meant to make figurative work. And once I started doing those processes, I was like, ‘Wow, I got all I needed from that.’

I think I’ve noticed a trend where people like to get answers. They’re like, ‘what does this mean?’ … No. I’m like, ‘well, this is what it means to me today. Check back in a week, five years, it could be completely different.’ ”

Darling Shear
Darling Shear is a Chicago-based dancer. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Darling Shear, Chicago, dancer

“I’ve performed at EXPO in previous years. And I have a few friends who exhibited here as well, over the years. I look at it as camp, art camp.

I’ve been thankfully able to be surrounded by a really lovely community that’s bringing people together so that they can be their authentic selves and move forward in creating heaven on Earth.”

Monique Meloche and Lela Hersh
Monique Meloche and Lela Hersh both used to work at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Monique Meloche, Chicago, gallery owner, and Lela Hersh, Chicago, art buyer

Hersh: “I hired Monique at the MCA in the ‘90s, and look at her now!

I’ve been in the arts since I started working at the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1983. And I was there 20 years, Monique came in in the ’90s. Then I went out on my own in 2003.”

Meloche: “I think there’s like a really wonderful collaborative spirit that’s here in Chicago that is not in other major cities. Not that there isn’t competition, but there’s much more willingness to collaborate. So many of the visiting curators and visiting collectors say the same thing; there’s just a vibe here that’s super welcoming.

And yet you have the caliber of art that’s within the fair, and within our city and our institutions, that’s world class.”

Ciera McKissick and Roland Santana
Ciera McKissick owns cam.contemporary, a gallery currently displaying Roland Santana’s work. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Ciera McKissick, Chicago, owner of cam.contemporary gallery, and Roland Santana, Chicago, artist

McKissick: “I’ve been working with Roland for a long time, since the beginning. A lot of the artists I’m showing in the booth right now I’ve been working with for five to 10 years, since bringing them along for like solo exhibitions. Being able to show them at a platform like Expo has just been really great, amazing.”

Santana: “What I love about Ciera is that she connects literally every single bubble of the art scene in Chicago. Music, fashion, writers, like you bring everyone together. You know, it’s not just fine art, it’s not just one certain type or style of work, but it really is a whole collective vibe and so many different types of people in the room.”

Assata Mason
Assata Mason matched opening night fashion with an original painting at EXPO. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Assata Mason, Chicago, artist

“I am wearing a high low white gown from Akira. It has really pretty lattice beading at the top with mesh underneath, and it folds over to the back. It’s almost like an apron dress. It was inspired by fairies. Ethereal, very magical. Also, I wanted to kind of play off of one of my paintings that’s in the booth that I’m in, booth 350!

My gallery [Kravets Wehby Gallery in New York City] picked me up through Instagram. I don’t think [social media] has affected my work, just simply because I don’t do reels. I just post as a way to not only document, but so people can also see it. But I do acknowledge the fact that, without Instagram, I would not have gotten picked up as easily or as quickly.”

China Wehr
China Wehr got fashion inspiration from social media. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

China Wehr, Chicago, artist

“So funnily enough, this is all thrifted. So what I’m wearing, I actually got this at the Village Discount here in Wicker Park, and which is fabulous. And I just found this really nice, navy blue bridal skirt that I actually trimmed because it was really long. And so I just cut it at the ankles, this polka dot dress. And then I found this really cute tank top as well that I layered over it.

To the young artists out there, if you have the chance to come out to EXPO, do! Or if you have a chance to really immerse yourself in a space with other artists, do it. You know, no matter what your anxieties are, it’s totally worth it.”

Mina Crow
Mina Crow thrifted a look for EXPO. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Mina Crow, Chicago, artist

“I got everything from the thrift store. My tie I made myself, but I also got it from the thrift.

I don’t post a lot on social media. But if I do, I do it anonymously. I think it’s really hard to tie your life into your art and what people perceive you as.”

Saumitra Chandratreya
Saumitra Chandratreya is a textile artist and instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Brittany Sowacke for WBEZ

Saumitra Chandratreya, Chicago, artist and instructor

“I teach in the fashion department at SAIC [School of the Art Institute of Chicago]. And currently, I’m working on self portraits that I use making cyanotypes.

[Chicago art] is all very powerful. It’s all really high caliber that has a lot of emphasis on good concepts. Chicago is also the birthplace of really good architecture, so I love seeing that kind of influence. I also love seeing how visual art, music, theater and all these things go together in the city in an amazing way.

The clutch is from this women’s collective in India; it’s called Kala Raksha. It translates to ‘protecting the art,’ and the person started it to empower women in this village in the desert region, to invest in India. And this clutch was made using recycled plastic bags.”

If you go: EXPO Chicago will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday. For more art events around the city, see our EXPO guide.

Sofie Hernandez-Simeonidis is a digital producer for the Arts & Culture desk. Brittany Sowacke is a freelance photographer.