International art fair of miniatures brings big impact, ideas to Chicago

By Dyana Daniels, Staff Reporter

Ignacio Calderon
Flyweight Projects, a Brooklyn exhibition space, presented a collaborative piece by Samantha Bittman, Cameron Granger, Barb Smith and Alessandro Teoldi.

In an unassuming neighborhood, situated down the street from a family community center and a church, sits the home of a small, international art fair. With an industrial look on its exterior, the side of the building is covered in vines with a sign that reads “Arts.” In order to get into the fair, a patron must call or text the number written on a piece of blue electrical tape stuck to the door.

The Barely Fair, 3311 W. Carroll Ave., is a contemporary art exhibition space that puts a new twist on the concept. From Malta to Canada to America, 24 pieces of miniature artwork are on display Sundays through mid-October.

Created by an artist-run project space known as Julius Caesar, co-directors are switched out each year among School of the Art Institute of Chicago graduates. This year, artists Kate Sierzputowski, Josh Dihle, Tony Lewis and Roland Miller are in charge of the fair.

“At the beginning of this year, I was talking about wanting to do an exhibition of all miniature art spaces inside of the gallery,” Sierzputowski said. “[Dihle] suggested that we do an art fair instead.”

Each artist was given the prompt of creating a piece of work that would fit in the size of a shoebox. For each booth, Julius Caesar charged galleries $25, rather than thousands, to participate.

Ignacio Calderon

Barely Fair was asked to be a part of  the New Art Dealers Alliance panel. Julius Caesar came up with the idea to create three, 15-minute panels on the “Economics of Scale,” or how artists make their living, especially if they have a 9-to-5 job.

“I saw that there were a couple of other spaces in Los Angeles that were involved, people who are basically my neighbors and friends,” said Daniel Bowman, a participant in the panel held last month and co-founder of Bozo Mag, an artist-run gallery. “They made it sound enticing. They were trying to do something funky and alternative to expo and to NADA.”

Bozo Mag, located in L.A., contributed two pieces to Barely Fair, one by Adam Rabinowitz and the other by Hayley Barker.  Barker’s piece is a drawing. Rabinowitz’s piece, “Earth Revisited 2,” is a textile printing on canvas that sits inside the shoe box booth, leaning against the booth’s back wall.

“I think [about] size and the largeness of spaces, the amount of money that people spend to rent a booth, essentially,” Bowman said. “Everything is modular, so it is all about size, money, extremes. Almost like the grotesque nature of contemporary art.”

When Julius Caesar was trying to find people interested in participating in Barely Fair, they reached out to the people who are in their network.

Some galleries opted for more interactive booths, instead of just installations. “It was interesting to see how everyone interpreted it,” Sierzputowski said.

The Barely Fair is open for one more Sunday in October, but the creators hope this is just the beginning of their prompt.

“We definitely want to expand it outside of Julius Caesar,” Sierzputowski said. “We would love to do it in Chicago again, but possibly some other cities as  well. I like the scale. I like 24 spaces. It feels manageable, but I feel like that’s something that could also change in different or future iterations.”