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On Tuesday night, at the Public Chicago hotel, Tony Karman and his well-outfitted team announced the gallery list for the International Exposition of Contemporary/Modern Art and Design or Expo Chicago, which will happen next September. Karman, who is both president and director of the new art fair, spoke to a crowd of journalists, gallerists, patrons, and art dealers. “Expo Chicago is a way for the world to know what’s happening in Chicago. It’s a way for Chicago to flex itself internationally. And we want everyone in Chicago to take advantage of the audience we’re hoping to draw for Expo.” Karman spoke about the 45 partnerships that EXPO has built with Chicago institutions. They include the Art Institute, the Hyde Park Art Center, the Renaissance Society, Museum of Contemporary Art, Threewalls, and the Smart Museum.
Among the 100 represented galleries are Chicago’s gallery elite: Kavi Gupta, Rhona Hoffman, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Richard Gray, and several others.
Karman has also partnered with MacArthur Fellow Jeanne Gang, principal architect and founder of Studio Gang Architects, who will design the fair’s pavilion at Navy Pier. Gang also said a few words about her design: “We conceived a design that would help activate the space. We’ve been thinking about how people behave at these events and we’re trying to create an amazing place to experience.”
Everything about Expo is heavy hitting. After this year’s debacle with Next Art Chicago—originally set for this month but canceled after the Merchandise Mart couldn’t gather enough investors— there’s undoubtedly additional pressure on Expo. And Expo is positioning itself to be a serious heavyweight contender among international art fairs.
So in light of this, I have a few questions. How can the broader Chicago arts community use Expo’s international audience to its advantage? Can Expo help fuel Chicago’s larger creative ecosystem? How is the city going to step up to the plate and use this opportunity to support Chicago artists and artist-run spaces who can’t afford Expo’s $20,000 booth?
One possibility is the alternative art fair tradition. It’s a model that’s proven successful. Yet, in the social media era, when gathering 5,000 people requires little more than an effective tweet, there must be other creative answers to this question.
This is a prime time for Chicago to highlight its merits. As Hamza Walker said in my first post, this is a moment for Chicago. And while it’s Karman’s job to create a durable art fair, it’s the job of Chicago’s larger arts community to make sure Expo Chicago's success echoes beyond Navy Pier and outlives its three days in September.