Isimeme “Easy” Otabor is one of those digitally ubiquitous figures whose presence is often seen in the periphery of luxury's new guard. The frequent traveler sits in the front rows of Paris Fashion Week's hottest shows, finds time to visit blue chip art galleries, and always seems to be in the most popping places at the most popping times.
The 33-year-old got his start in Chicago's RSVP Gallery, wearing many hats as a buyer, manager, and general plug before taking his talents to Saint Alfred, the Windy City's most-tenured purveyor of covetable kicks and the kind of goods where fashion, streetwear, and great taste all meet in the middle. In 2015, he founded Infinite Archives, a label informed by nostalgia and an appreciation of honed aesthetics. It's a platform he's used to work with artists like Georgia Bayliss, Yue Wu, and Matt McCormick.
“I think there are other lanes where fashion and streetwear could still go,” says Otabor, a self-taught art collector and advocate for breaking barriers in the art world. “Even if you can't afford a KAWS piece, maybe starting with a [KAWS x Dior] wallet, you feel just as involved, and when you do get the money to finally [buy a piece], that was your gateway. I believe in creating more gateways.”
Late last year, Otabor opened Anthony Gallery in a converted garage at 470 N. Milwaukee Avenue. He started with two pre-opening shows before debuting “1988,” the gallery's first official show, during NBA All-Star Weekend. The exhibition is a group show featuring 26 new works from an eclectic array of 19 established artists, including Wes Lang, Sterling Ruby, Nina Chanel Abney, Sayre Gomez, Dr. Woo, Koichi Sato, Erik Parker, Matt McCormick, Yue Wu, and Tyrrell Winston among others.
The name of the show is a not-so-subtle nod to the last time NBA All-Star Weekend took place in Chicago, an era when Michael Jordan and the Bulls dominated the basketball scene. As such, much of the works pay homage to his royal Air-ness, but others diverge and instead explore the mythology of Chicago itself. Otabor has a very laissez-faire approach to his collecting, but no doubt has a very trained eye from his years as a fashion buyer. It manifests in the variety of artists whose works complement each other in different ways. Otabor is also no stranger to supporting new artists but doesn't necessarily see the act as a way to make an early investment.
“If it turns into something else later where it's worth some money, that'd be great. But if it doesn't, at least I can wake up every day, really enjoy looking at it, and know I helped a creative person out in their way of living,” he says. “Ultimately I'm just trying to show people you don't have to be a rapper or a basketball player. You can design the jerseys, you can do stage design, you can do the art for the album cover. There are other ways to get involved in the culture.”
Anthony Gallery is currently on view by appointment only, but in the meantime, Otabor walks us through several pieces in the “1988” exhibition that have a special significance to him.
Nina Chanel Abney Easy 88 Spray paint on canvas 36” x 48” 2020
“I'm 33 years old. [Nina] didn't know that. It just happened. It even has the year on it — 1988. I like the stars, the red stripes, and I just really love that color green and how she layered it. It's very vivid.”
Sayre Gomez Toon Town Acrylic on canvas 30 x 24” 2020
“Man, the Roger Rabbit movie was one of my favorites growing up as a kid. In that movie, they were trying to get rid of Toontown in order to build all these highways and stuff. So there are all these different underlying things in this painting where it's like, if you know, you know — and if you don't, maybe you'll look it up. It's a very downtown Chicago story right now.”
Matt McCormick A Silent Prayer Like Dreamers Do Graphite/Ink/Watercolor/Charcoal/Oil on Paper 22" x 30" 2020
“Matt McCormick, that's my boy. I love working with him. We do a lot of stuff together. He captured the '88 All-Star game with Jordan and Magic. We did a tee before where he did Jordan and Magic at the 1991 Finals, so it was crazy to see him mirror that.”
Tyrrell Winston Black Crate:From A to B and Back Again and Red Crate: Hot Head, Hot Hand Found milk crate, used sports equipment, used tennis shoes, foam, liquid plastic 13" w x 19" h x 10.5" d 2020
“Tyrrell Winston has a special meaning because the Jordan 3s have always been in my top five favorite shoes. And of course, in 1988 Michael Jordan won the dunk contest in the White/Cement 3s, and he played the All-Star Game in the Black/Cement 3s. Those are actually my shoes. I sent them to Tyrrell. I couldn't wear them anymore, but at least they're immortalized now. They're not just in my closet collecting dust.”
Erik Parker All Star Acrylic and collage on canvas 63” x 79.5” 2020
“Erik Parker's just amazing. From the ‘ALL STAR’ to the colors. This glows in the dark, too. Those little dots all glow in the dark, so that's amazing. I love his work. It's loud but he finds a way to balance it out with the gradients and all the different colors. I also like how he uses the imagery to tell a late-'80s story.”