Expo Chicago Wrap-Up: Part One
New American Paintings headed to the Windy City over the weekend to check out Expo Chicago, which was, in effect, an attempted reboot of Art Chicago in its glory days. Art Chicago was the first art fair that NAP publisher/editor, Steven Zevitas, ever attended. That was 17 years ago...
Art Chicago's history has been a roller coaster ride. In its heyday, it was the preeminent art fair in the country, and it attracted gallerists and collectors from all over the world. By the late 1990s, though, things started to change. The emergence of The Armory Show in New York and then Miami Basel zapped the life out of the fair, and by the mid-2000s, Art Chicago was teetering on the edge of ruin. In 2006, the Merchandise Mart (MMPI) stepped in to save the fair at the last moment when it became clear that the fair's tent would not be ready in time. From 2006 - 2011, Art Chicago (Artropolis) was held at the gargantuan Merchandise Mart Building. For many years our magazine had a booth, and it's where Zevitas participated in four installments of the NEXT Art Fair with his own project, Steven Zevitas Gallery. The gallery was supposed to participate for the 5th year in a row, but MMPI pulled the plug on the fair earlier this year.
A greeting to website visitors on ArtChicago.com
Enter the charismatic Director of Art Chicago at the Merchandise Mart, Tony Karman. With the final demise of Art Chicago, Tony saw an opportunity to bring the whole thing back to life under a different brand: Expo Chicago. Needless to say, visiting the fair was great. It was generously laid out, and the level of galleries on hand was extraordinary – Matthew Marks, David Zwirner and Luhring Augustine, among them. Better yet, despite being only a few months away from Miami Basel, dealers brought first rate work to the show, and there was a good balance between blue-chip and emerging artists.
The big question is: Can Chicago sustain a show of this level? Can it draw enough collectors from outside of the city to justify the event? The show was quiet when we were there earlier in the weekend. Not surprisingly, hometown favorites like Kavi Gupta, Rhona Hoffman and Corbett vs. Dempsey were already doing exceptionally well. As for everyone else, it was tough to tell. If you ask a dealer how a particular fair is going, you will never hear them say “Awful.” But given our experience, sometimes that is exactly how things are going, and you can see it on the dealers' faces. That doesn't take away from the quality of the venue or the fair.
Studio Gang's design for Expo Chicago. Image courtesy of Studio Gang, 2012.
Robin Dluzen, NAP/Blog Chicago Contributor, shared her first impressions and experiences on NewCityArt. Former Chicago art dealer, Melanee Cooper, told her that the fair felt, “...like the old times...but it [felt] fresh at the same time.” Dluzen continues in her post:
"...a sentiment I heard echoed almost word-for-word throughout the opening night. In many opinions, Tony Karman and his fair have already succeeded on a number of fronts: EXPO’s Studio Gang interior is beautiful, the art is amazing, the food rocks and the people came. The galleries, many of whom haven’t been to Chicago in years, decades or even ever, brought with them the best of what they have."
Another NAP/Blog Contributor from Chicago, Josh Reames, sent us this note after visiting the fair this past weekend:
"This past weekend has certainly been an exciting one for Chicago. After several years of steady decline of the city’s prominence as an art-fair destination, Expo’s inaugural fair has been a something of a revival. Going into it with, admittedly, high hopes but low expectations, I was thrilled to see the range and caliber of work displayed. I think it is safe to say that the anxiety surrounding the fair in the beginning has been converted to excitement about the restoration of Chicago’s reputation as a prominent city in the art world."
You can find more from Robin on the NewCityArt blog here. Below are some images that caught our contributors' eyes. We also grabbed some shots of the venue from other sites (sources noted):