Can Expo Chicago make Chicago an international art destination?

September 19, 2012

Expo Chicago is the latest in a long history of attempts to create a truly international art fair in Chicago. 

As Wednesday's opening night reception approaches, the fair's site, at Festival Hall on Navy Pier, is a whirl of activity. Workers are unloading wineglasses and polishing floors. Representatives from galleries around the world are taking care of last-minute details.

Natalia Sacasa is the senior director of Luhring Augustine, a New York gallery. She loves the look of Expo Chicago. "It’s beautiful, open space," she says. "And the mix of galleries is very interesting. It’s not the usual group of galleries we see at other international fairs."

Sacasa’s gallery has exhibited in Chicago before, and has a base of collectors here. She’s excited about the potential of Expo Chicago, but she has one hesitation. "We are wondering if we’re going to see collectors from outside of Chicago."

Collectors who didn't show up foiled previous attempts to sustain an international art fair here. So Expo Chicago organizer Tony Karman had his work cut out for him.

He lured international galleries, and found collaborators across Chicago’s art world, from major musuems to emerging dealers. He says he has no doubt that his event will succeed because of the strength of Chicago's overall art scene. "Our institutions are on fire. Our galleries are on fire. Our curators are on fire. This is our time."

The opening vernissage for Expo Chicago is Wednesday night. The fair runs through Sunday.