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Rival Chicago Fairs Vie For People and Profits

Despite a smaller production scale than in previous years, the 13th annual edition of Art Chicago—this year called Art Chicago in the Park—managed to outshine the upstart Chicago Contemporary & Classic fair, leading in total attendance with 14,000 visitors as compared with its rival’s 9,000 total, according to the respective show organizers. The fairs ran

NEW YORK—Despite a smaller production scale than in previous years, the 13th annual edition of Art Chicago—this year called Art Chicago in the Park—managed to outshine the upstart Chicago Contemporary & Classic fair, leading in total attendance with 14,000 visitors as compared with its rival’s 9,000 total, according to the respective show organizers. The fairs ran concurrently the weekend of April 29-May 2.

Attendance at Art Chicago was down from 15,000 last year, organizer Thomas Blackman told ARTnewsletter. Formerly located at Navy Pier, Art Chicago opened in a new venue, a 75,000-square-foot tent at Butler Field. In recent years the fair has been hit by competition from increasingly high profile shows such as the annual New York Armory Show and the three-year-old Art Basel Miami Beach fair. The number of exhibitors fell to about 94, compared with more than 150 last year and more than 180 in prior years. Still, many exhibitors felt the new venue gave the fair a much-needed shot in the arm.

“I think that it was a fresh, energetic fair,” Forum Gallery director Cheryl Fishko told ARTnewsletter. “The change in location was really invigorating, particularly for dealers who have been participating for a long time.” She adds that the feedback from collectors about the new venue was positive as well. Sales were brisk, Fishko says, with artworks selling for prices from $12,000/100,000. These included a painting by artist Steven Assael and works by regional Chicago artist Aaron Bohrod. “I’m not finished selling,” says Fishko, who notes continuing follow-up interest and sales from the fair.

Longtime Art Chicago participant and Chicago gallery owner Roy Boyd said that “although the fair was smaller, it was very successful. Everyone loved the new location, spirits were high and attendance was good.” Among the gallery’s sales, Boyd reports, were close to a dozen works by such artists as John Fraser, Markus Linnenbrink and Brigitte Riesebrodt that fetched prices from $3,000/14,000.

Chicago Contemporary & Classic fair director Ilana Vardy told ARTnewsletter, “I was incredibly pleased with the success of the first year, even though attendance was not what everyone expected. The galleries were very impressed by the way we set up the show—there wasn’t a single hitch.” Fair organizers had hoped for attendance figures between 12,000/15,000.

Ten galleries chose to participate in both art fairs simultaneously, including Richard Norton Gallery, Chicago. Commenting on the differences between the shows, Richard Norton told ARTnewsletter, “Art Chicago had a huge gate, just a ton of people coming through. Tom Blackman pulled off a successful fair. Chicago Contemporary & Classic was rather sparsely attended and I think our sales reflected that.”

Nonetheless, some dealers were pleased. Observes New York gallery owner John Cacciola, an exhibitor at the new fair: “I think it was extremely well done, and it had one of the most aesthetically beautiful floor layouts I’ve seen” at an art fair. Sales were good, he says, noting buyers for a number of oil paintings, priced from $10,000/35,000, by gallery artists the likes of Alex Kanevsky, James Lahey and Jon Redmond. Cacciola further notes that works by artist Ellen Wagner, whom the gallery showed for the first time, were sold out.

Some dealers dismiss the rivalry between the competing fairs, while others say that having dual fairs is “confusing” for potential buyers. Cacciola affirms that he will “definitely” return to Chicago for next year’s Contemporary & Classic fair; still, he admits, “I wish it were all combined into one. There would be a lot of buzz and synergy, and they’d have Chicago back on top.”

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