When Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc., pulled the plug on the venerable, 31-year-old Art Chicago fair in February, its management claimed that “the majority of the art fair market in the United States has gravitated toward the coasts.” Dealers, however, had been grumbling that management in recent years gravitated toward bloat. So when director Tony Karman split in 2010 to found a new modern and contemporary art and design fair with a sharper focus and a prime location, many jumped ship with him. “Our institutions are collecting; our collectors are active and vocal,” says Karman. “The city is having a moment.”
For the inaugural edition of Expo Chicago, September 20 through 23, a tightly edited selection of 105 dealers will set?up shop inside the Windy City’s spacious Navy Pier Festival Hall. Hometown stalwarts like Rhona Hoffman and Corbett vs.? Dempsey will be joined by New York blue chips and such international outfits as Zurich based Galerie Gmurzynska and London’s Mayor Gallery. Emphasizing quality over quantity, the interior is designed by Studio Gang Architects, who left room to accommodate giant sculptures, like the stainless-steel head by Jaume Plensa, brought by Richard Gray Gallery.
Many dealers who drifted away from Art Chicago of late are returning for Expo; others, like New York’s Luhring Augustine, are making their first foray to the city in 20 years. “This is a huge opportunity for the Midwest, which is an underserved market right now,” says Anthony Meier of San Francisco, who is bringing work by Teresita Fernández, among others. “People in Des Moines, in Omaha—they like to buy art, and they have to buy it somewhere. If they don’t have to travel as far, that’s a service.”
This article appears in the September issue of Art+Auction.
To see images of the work that will be at this week's inaugraral Expo Chicago fair, click on the slide show.