A new international art fair, exposition CHICAGO, will debut Sept. 19–23, 2012, seizing a slot in the international calendar before October’s Frieze Art Fair and FIAC. The surprise venture is spearheaded by Tony Karman, former vice president and director of Art Chicago, and his recently formed Art Expositions LLC, created in partnership with Mark Lyman and Michael Franks of The Art Fair Company, producers of SOFA. Karman, a 30-year veteran in organizing fairs, left Art Chicago last December.
Distinguishing oneself in this already crowded field is no easy task. In addition to showcasing contemporary and modern art, exposition CHICAGO will also focus on design. “Not only design dealers that represent the best of what is happening internationally,” says Karman, “but also creating a well-designed fair that will elevate the experience for the patron.”
Exposition CHICAGO will take place at the city’s historic Navy Pier, the site of the original 1980 fair, capitalizing on some dealers discontent with the location of Art Chicago in the Merchandise Mart, where it has been held each spring since 2006 when Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI) bought the troubled fair from Thomas Blackman.
According to Rhona Hoffman, who opted out of this year’s Art Chicago, “Some of the better-known galleries didn’t like the Merchandise Mart building or location. The result has been a loss of clientele and visibility for Chicago that as a business I couldn’t afford.” Chicago Art Dealers Association president and gallerist Catherine Edelman agrees: “While I’ve been a big supporter of Art Chicago, there have been some issues, specifically with the building itself that creates some challenges in showing art and more international galleries not coming back.”
Hoffman is enthusiastically on board for exposition CHICAGO, which will limit its curated roster to 100 exhibitors, although other galleries are not yet confirmed. However, dealer Kavi Gupta, co-founder and curatorial advisor for NEXT, the invitational fair of emerging art held in conjunction with Art Chicago, is skeptical, “The last thing Chicago needs is another unplanned event without the right people behind it and no guarantees.” Gupta is confident in the Art Chicago/NEXT formula, with its newly integrated floor plan. “It is a good, solid regional fair,” says Gupta. “Every major Chicago collector was there.”
Karman insists that his idea to launch a new fair is not a statement on Art Chicago, “but rather an opportunity to focus on quality and produce an event that fulfills the aspirations of Chicago’s cultural institutions.” Competing fairs aren’t necessary new, as witnessed by the collateral fairs around Basel and Frieze, nor are they a stranger to Chicago. Edelman is certain that “this won’t be the art fairs war again,” recalling the three fairs that battled it out in 1993 from which Art Chicago proved victorious. Paul Morris, interim director for Art Chicago, feels competition is a good thing and “only contributes to the cultural vibrancy of the city.” MMPI is searching for a new Art Chicago director.