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Expo Chicago and pals

Tony Karman talks about the art fair's sophomore year. Plus: The best of the rest of the fests.

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Expo Chicago launched last year with ambitions as big as its Navy Pier digs—to bring an international art fair to the shores of Chicago. We asked Expo's president and director, Tony Karman, what's in store for its sophomore effort.

What's going to be different this year?

So much will be the same and so much will be different. We had well over 60 percent of the exhibitors from last year return. We've got some major additions: Massimo De Carlo from Italy, Marianne Boesky from New York, Taka Ishii from Japan, Thomas Schulte and Isabella Bortolozzi from Berlin. The other thing I'm proud of is we have well over 20 special exhibitions with alignments with the Warhol museum, with [Independent Curators International], with [Contemporary Art Museum Saint Louis], the second-year collaboration with the Natural Resources Defense Council. We've added a collaboration with Human Rights Watch—I don't know of any international art fair that has integrated national and international cause-related nonprofits to work with artists to work their message.

The 20 special exhibitions, does that mean booths?

Some are booths, some are sculptural exhibitions. We've got IN/SITU, which is the large-scale site-specific works that are peppered throughout the floor.

The other thing we did this year was launching Expo Art Week. It's done in cooperation with Choose Chicago and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, bundling all the assets of the cultural community—museums, restaurants, music, performing arts, galleries, even the artists in our city—to bundle in one week what is happening in Chicago.

In addition, we're very proud of the alignment with a number of exhibitions that are taking place this year. The MCA and the Paul Sietsema exhibition, working closely with the Art Institute of Chicago on their closing weekend of their fashion exhibition. I don't know if I've ever seen so many galleries align exhibitions and their artists in town during the fair. Richard Gray is opening Alex Katz, with Alex Katz in; Rhona Hoffman will be doing a special breakfast, with Spencer Finch in as well as Judy Ledgerwood; Kavi Gupta has two openings during the fair—one is Theaster [Gates], in his space on Washington, and at his new gallery, Elizabeth Street, is an extraordinary opening exhibition with Roxy Paine. We have Monique Meloche with a Rashid Johnson installation—it goes on and on.

More than 30 percent of the galleries that were here last year didn't come back?

It's the natural course of any international art fair. Our hope is that we have a core set of exhibitors that want to make sure they're involved every year, and to some extent there's going to be a core of dealers who can't make an every-year commitment but might make it every two years. But if they're quality galleries, they're showing throughout the world at all the major art fairs. We'll welcome the chance to see a little bit of that change, because that also freshens the experience for the patrons and the collectors. You're always going to have a little bit of rotation.

Is this a make-or-break year?

Every year is going to be a make-or-break year, but I think this is an important year to continue the trajectory. And I think based on the success of 2013, you're going to see a much different 2014. Like anything, whether you look at the arc of Art Basel Miami Beach or of Frieze in London, or whatever, it just takes time for events to mature.

Is Art Basel Miami the category you see this fair in?

My hope is that September in Chicago is marked on the international art fair calendar as December is in Miami, as October is for London and Paris, as May is for New York and Hong Kong and March is for New York. Yes, I believe very strongly that we are producing a fair at that level. That's why we exist. —Deanna Isaacs

The best of the rest of the fests

Fountain Art Fair (the New York one)
  • Fountain Art Fair (the New York one)

Like a rhinocerous hosting a family of oxpeckers, Expo has in its second year attracted some satellite activity. Tony Karman mentions galleries with openings timed to coincide with Expo, but there are bigger projects too. Here are a couple:

Chicago Artists Coalition debuts Edition Chicago, a smaller, altogether more manageable affair, at its West Loop gallery. Cheaper, too: the aim is to draw new collectors with a more accessible pricing scheme. The 11 galleries represented come from LA, Toronto, Boston, and Bloomington, with locals Andrew Rafacz, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, Threewalls, and more. 9/20-9/22: Fri noon-7 PM, Sat 10 AM-7 PM, Sun 11 AM-6 PM, Chicago Artists Coalition, 217 N. Carpenter, chicagoartistscoalition.org, $10 suggested donation.

The alternative-oriented Fountain Art Fair partners with the Reader for a satellite expo in Pilsen; the opening-day VIP reception benefits the Detroit Institute of Arts, whose collection is threatened by the city's poor financial standing. Local galleries here include Johalla, Maxwell Colette, and Vertical, and out-of-towners include Philly's Arch Enemy Arts; beer throughout the weekend is provided by Revolution, and Detroit dance-punk duo Adult. play at a Saturday-night party. 9/20-9/22: Fri noon-midnight (VIP till 7), Sat noon-midnight, Sun noon-6 PM, Mana Contemporary, 2233 S. Throop, fountainartfair.com, $10 per day, $15 weekend pass, $50 VIP. Sam Worley

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