A Visit to Barely Fair During Art Fair Weekend

Soccer Club, Prairie, and Osmos booths



Operated by the Julius Caesar artist collective (presently comprised of artists Josh Dihle, Tony Lewis, Roland Miller, and Kate Sierzputowski) and hosted at Irving Park event venue Color Club, Barely Fair is a miniature art fair presenting works at 1:12 scale. Exhibitors are given 20 x 20 inch booths, organized in “aisles” along several tabletops, to mimic the floorplan of a standard art fair. Though diminutive in size, the fair, now in its fourth edition, is considerable in its scope; in 2024 it plays host to thirty-six galleries, project spaces, and curatorial projects, including spaces from New York, Los Angeles, London, Paris, Tokyo, Ireland, Toronto, Montréal, Buenos Aires, and Belgium, among others. 

When the fair first launched in 2019, it was clever in concept, sharp in execution, and read as a deliberate send-up of an art fair circuit that had, by then, ballooned to a reported three hundred fairs a year globally. Five years and four editions later, Barely Fair comes across as something more precious; less tongue-in-cheek industry critique than self-serious fair attempting to imitate the manner of its life-size counterparts. While there have always been booths that indulge, experiment with, and skirt the prompt, the tactics now seem shopworn. One large painting that fills the entire volume of the booth–check. Scaled down 1:12 works that are simply miniaturized versions of the artists’ standard works–check. Inclusions of twee furniture and/or tiny gallery goers, egregiously elaborate installations that often spill over the open top of the booth, aggressively minimal booths the likes of which you would never see at a real commercial art fair–check, check, check. Perhaps the limits of the model have been reached, or perhaps inviting exhibitors of its concurrent full scale citymate EXPO to participate results in the small fair becoming an afterthought for some dealers.

That said, much of the work on view in the fourth edition still delivers on its own merits. Patient Info’s decision to recreate the entirety of their gallery, replete with its iconic medical chaise and sink, has a great deal of charm, while Amanda Ross-Ho’s graphic t-shirt installation in ILY2 pokes gentle fun at her monumental garment installations inspired by Katherine Hamnett’s quintessential ‘80s slogan shirts. Nearby, in Chris Andrews’ booth Bea Fremderman’s nervous, Gober-ish fish tin (ham can?) installations toy with scale in a more subtle and passive manner. 


Mini gallery goers at OCHI


A few galleries took greater risks, yielding varying rewards. It’s difficult to see Soccer Club Club’s fish tank installation (replete with at least two rather lethargic fish, at the time of this report) as anything other than gimmicky, while Devening Projects’ fluorescent pattern-drenched booth playfully showcasing the sculptures of Alberte Tranberg and Christopher Michlig delivers on every level, satisfying the tenet of scaling the works appropriately while making no sacrifices in their value as objects. 

When galleries play it too straight, they tend to bypass the format’s potential altogether. Corbett vs. Dempsey’s booth of seven small paintings hung 2-3-2 in a single line across the booth’s walls feels disappointingly void of any real intentions; a stark contrast to their booth across town at EXPO, which was brimming with giddy energy in the form of small scale Ellen Berkenblit’s, glitter-drenched Gabrielle Garland’s, and a just plain strange Roger Brown bearing a shelf full of monstrously large taxidermy seagulls. 

By way of programming, Barely Fair will once again host Minor Matters, a “small symposium on the economies of scale.” While the symposium is scheduled for the afternoon of April 20th, a list of speakers and panel subjects was not yet available at the time of this report. If the format remains unchanged from the inaugural event in 2023, I encourage other institutions (small and large themselves) to sit up and take note of a lesson learned: thirty minutes is plenty for most any panel discussion. 

While it still makes for an entertaining stop on the ever-expanding itinerary of satellite events surrounding Expo, Barely Fair risks being reduced to a mere novelty if nothing changes in the years to come. Nevertheless, without fail it upholds what may be its greatest virtue: it's still an art fair you can see in one day. 


Barely Fair runs through April 21 




16 – 19 APR, 1 – 6 pm
20 – 21 APR, 11 – 6 pm

BARELY FAIR is host to MINOR MATTERS, a small symposium on the economies of scale, on Saturday, 20 APR from 2-5PM. For more information on last year's symposium, visit the MINOR MATTERS page here


Installation view of the fair