Since his early days at Chicago’s RSVP Gallery, the concept retail space of the late Virgil Abloh and Don Crawley, Isimeme “Easy” Otabor has been known for his wealth of knowledge across fashion, music, and contemporary art.
He’s continued mixing it up over the years, launching the likes of Infinite Archives, with clothing inspired by defining moments in pop culture history. Recently, the brand collaborated with KAWS on a special-edition tee shirt, with all proceeds benefiting Theaster Gates’s nonprofit Rebuild Foundation.
A few years ago, Otabor opened Anthony Gallery, which shows works by both emerging and internationally renowned artists in Chicago’s Fulton River District. It is part of his mission to make the art world more inclusive. “I want to create spaces that put people in the room that wouldn’t normally see each other… Places where everyone is welcome,” he said in a statement.
Throughout 2022, the gallery has been in residence at the Rebuild Foundation’s Stony Island Arts Bank (SIAB). There, it has hosted exhibitions such as “Tom Sachs: Furniture”—the artist’s first solo show in Chicago, not to mention the first of his furnishings in two decades—to help amplify the Windy City as a cultural destination while making art more accessible on the South Side.
Meanwhile, Otabor has been working with Nina Chanel Abney and Pharrell Williams on GODA (Gallery of Digital Assets), a new NFT marketplace for contemporary artists.
Between that and opening Anthony Gallery’s latest show, “Come As You Are” (through December 11)—the sixth and final installation of its SIAB residency, featuring works by artists including Abney, Sayre Gomez, Alfonso Gonzalez Jr., Chase Hall, Lauren Halsey, Rashid Johnson, Barbara Kruger, Sterling Ruby, and Sachs—Otabor found some time to respond to our Valuations questionnaire.
What is the last thing that you splurged on?
Audemars Piguet’s Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin Anniversary 50th Anniversary wristwatch. I value my time, obviously.
What is something that you’re saving up for?
A house in Los Angeles. I’ve previously lived in L.A. and have a great network of friends and business associates there. Plus, an escape from Chicago winters wouldn’t hurt.
What would you buy if you found $100?
More socks; can never have too many brand-new socks.
What makes you feel like a million bucks?
A good wardrobe. I love the quality and craftsmanship of Visvim, a Japanese menswear brand.
What do you most value in a work of art?
Can I live with it forever? Lauren Halsey’s hieroglyphic-like and Alfonso Gonzalez Jr.’s , which has a mirror attached, will always exist in one of my homes.
What, in your estimation, is the most overrated thing in the art world?
The dinners after art shows. I just want a nice meal.
Who is an emerging artist worthy of everyone’s attention?
Henry Swanson. His juxtaposition of fine-art techniques and inexpensive materials (found rugs, linoleum floor panels, etc.) is a reminder not to take yourself too seriously while still showcasing his skills.
Who is an overlooked artist who hasn’t yet received their due?
David Leggett is incredibly talented. The way he incorporates pop culture, racial injustice, and relationships in his art is wickedly smart.
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What is your most treasured possession?
My peace of mind.
What’s been your best investment?
When I finally decided to start investing in myself—working out, eating better. I take time to watch informative videos like Shankar Vedantam’s TedTalk, “You Don’t Actually Know What Your Future Self Wants.”
What is something small that means the world to you?
A pair of Nike Air Jordan 4 Breds. They bring back so many great memories from throughout my life.
What is your greatest asset?