What makes EXPO CHICAGO different from the rest? Nicole Berry, Deputy Director of EXPO CHICAGO perhaps said it best towards the end of a chat we had on a sunny day outside a small café near the offices of EXPO in River North. “Hamza Walker said it in an article, ‘Chicago is having a moment,’ which is totally true… Chicago deserves an art fair, a serious art fair of the highest quality and we’re trying to bring that back, but it’s not just about the art fair but about the art community.”
The work started with a trip to Frieze. There, Berry, Rhona Hoffman of Rhona Hoffman Gallery and Tony Karman, the Executive Director of EXPO approached dealers, collectors, museum crews and the like to build awareness for Chicago’s new fair that would take place on storied Navy Pier after two decades of art fairs in the labyrinth of the Merchandise Mart.
Sean Kelly of Sean Kelly Gallery in New York cited the return to Navy Pier as the main reason his gallery would come back to Chicago. The word spread and expectations have only grown as the full breadth of EXPO has come to light. With MacArthur Fellow Jeanie Gang of Gang Studios in charge of the interior design, Karman has involved Chicago’s best in putting together what will be a fair worthy of Chicago and its varied and vibrant arts community.
Jaume Plensa, Silent Music, 2012, Painted stainless steel, 149 5/8 x 90 1/2 x 90 1/2 inches; Courtesy of Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago/New York.
From 117 exhibitors, an ambitious program called IN/SITU that brings big-hitters like Jaume Plensa (with a new piece created just for EXPO) and Theaster Gates to create site-specific installations throughout EXPO, an EXPOSURE program that has brought emerging galleries to the world of the fair, rooftop performances at the “Inkwell” and a lecture series touting top names like Jerry Saltz called /Dialogues – EXPO CHICAGO is redefining the art fair, not only for Chicago but prompting a staid and stale model of art exhibition and purchasing into a more relevant and celebratory realm of cultural appreciation.
IN/SITU is headed by guest curator Michael Ned Holte. Naming his self-curated section “Temporary Landmarks and Moving Situations,” Holte seeks to use the exposition space as an exhibition space. In itself, IN/SITU is a reevaluation of the art fair model through a repurposing of the retail space of the fair as an arts venue, a context in which art can find non-commercial meaning. Participating artists include the textual artist Robert Barry who is installing a site-specific vinyl window installation. There will be sound works by Steve Rodan. The third level of the exhibition space will be devoted to video work including a surprise piece by Fiona Connor and the first U.S. showing of a piece by Jan Tichy.
Jan Tichy and László Moholy-Nagy, Things To Come, 1936-2012, 2012, Three-channel Digital video projection; Courtesy of Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago/New York.
EXPOSURE, the pet project of Nicole Berry, focuses on bringing smaller regional galleries into the fold of EXPO CHICAGO. “We wanted it to be an opportunity for galleries who hadn’t been to a fair before.” The line-up includes Andrew Rafacz Gallery and The Mission from Chicago. Look forward to The Green Gallery, the experimental and ground-breaking gallery from Milwaukee that represents David Robbins, Scott and Tyson Reeder and José Lerma. While EXPOSURE-like sections of fairs have existed in the art fair model before, one aspect of note is that this time around, many of the galleries in EXPOSURE are international such as VAN HORN from Düsseldorf who represents the gritty grid-y Jan Albers, recipient of the Pollock Krasner Foundation Award in 2006.
/Dialogues brings an academic and critical attitude to this incarnation of the fair. In concert with SAIC, /Dialogues is a year-long program which during the fair will be be comprised of lecture and panel discussion series run on site. In hopes of promoting unique and interrogative discourse during EXPO, many of the artists who have agreed to speak will be paired with academics, including Eve Sussman and Michelle Grabner, Byron Kim and James Elkins, and Alec Soth in conversation with Kate Bussard.
Late-night, /Dialogue takes over Inkwell, the afterhours locale for EXPO dealers and exhibitors on the rooftop between the rotunda and festival hall that will feature lectures and performances from the likes of Lucky Dragons (Thursday @ 9:30 PM), a relational art-pop band, The Chandeliers and DJ sets from Andrew Rafacz and Bad at Sports.
I’ll finish here with the conclusion of Berry’s quote from the opening paragraph: “It’s not just about the art fair, it’s about the art community. It’s important to establish relationships with these institutions and nonprofits because we hope to be around for a while and to be able to work with these people and allow them to showcase their very best for people who might not know about them. That’s what it’s all about.”
(Image on top: EXPO CHICAGO Navy Pier Concept design; Courtesy of Studio Gang, 2012.)