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EXPO Chicago

Throughout EXPO Art Week, there are exhibitions everywhere from galleries to museums, art talks across the city and new installations in public spaces.

Your guide to EXPO Chicago, from must-see artists to after-hours parties

Art from around the globe, along with the who’s who of the art world, will descend on Chicago this week in the first EXPO Chicago since the prominent Midwest art fair was purchased by the mega-global brand Frieze.

The event running Thursday through Sunday at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall will bring to town nearly 200 galleries, thousands of artists and seemingly infinite opportunities to see art.

While attendees are unlikely to see obvious signs of the new ownership this year, there are some subtle influences afoot, like a slightly tweaked floor layout that moves up-and-coming artists more firmly into the center of the fair. Some notable blue-chip galleries will make their first EXPO appearance since the pandemic — a possible sign of what a Frieze backing means to dealers globally.

EXPO Chicago

A view of the setup at EXPO Chicago.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times/Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“Of course, we’re used to having an international perspective and inviting galleries from across the world, but we’ve also been very focused on the Midwest, so having this very international company supporting us now feels like we just have a wider range,” EXPO’s Artistic Director Kate Sierzputowski said.

Throughout EXPO Art Week, there are exhibitions everywhere from galleries to museums, art talks across the city and new installations in public spaces. It may feel overwhelming to chart a plan that allows you to soak up as much of the creative whirlwind as possible, but we’ve got your back. Whether you’re a seasoned collector or a total art newbie wading into your first EXPO, here is our guide to what you need to know.

Getting there | Navigating the fair | What not to miss | After parties | Other shows around town

EXPO Chicago

This year’s EXPO will feature 170 galleries.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times/Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

Making a plan before the fair

When is this all happening?

EXPO Art Week kicks off Monday, with programming happening around town throughout the week. The first chance for the public to take a look inside Festival Hall is 6-9 p.m. on Thursday, April 11, but that requires a special ticket. Then, the fair opens for general admission ticket holders at 11 a.m. Friday. The fair will be open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Sunday.

What does it cost to gape at the art?

Opening night tickets for Thursday cost $175 per person, and supply is going quick. A single-day ticket to the fair costs $40 and a weekend pass for three-day admission is $70.

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How do I get to EXPO Chicago?

If you plan to drive to the fair, know that there are a limited number of parking spots in Navy Pier’s East and West garages, which are first-come, first-served. A price breakdown for those spots can be found here. If you opt instead to grab an Uber or Lyft to EXPO, tell your driver you’re looking for “entrance 2.”

There are also five CTA bus routes that will bring you to Navy Pier: The 29, 65, 66, 124 and 2. (Note that the No. 2 bus is only available during weekday mornings and evenings.) More information on navigating to the Pier.

Navigating the fair and buying smart

What are tips for navigating the fair?

This year’s EXPO includes 170 galleries. Simply put: “You’re not going to make it through every single booth,” as gallery owner and EXPO veteran Monique Meloche put it. Instead of trying to see it all, Meloche recommends a hybrid approach of preparedness and whimsy: Check out the website ahead of time so you know what to expect, but then, “let your eyes roam.”

“If something catches your eye, wander in that direction. Don’t be so strict about it,” Meloche said.

The show is organized in multiple sections with international galleries anchoring the layout. Additional programming includes /Dialogues, a series of panels and talks on contemporary art issues; a curated group of large-scale works called IN/SITU; and the EXPOSURE section features galleries younger than 10 years old. Sierzputowski, with EXPO, said EXPOSURE is a manageable place to begin since the booths there display the work of just one or two artists. Elsewhere on the floor, some booths can have work from as many as 15 artists on view, which may feel intimidating at first.

Both Meloche and Sierzputowski also recommend checking out programming on the talk stage for a chance to hear directly from an artist before seeing their work.

EXPO Chicago

EXPO is organized in multiple sections with international galleries anchoring the layout.

What advice do insiders have about buying art?

The fair is transactional — gallerists are there to sell work. Meloche says you should not be afraid to ask about prices. “No one has their prices out on the walls, but everybody is there to sell art,” she said.

In general, if you see a piece you like and are interested in, the best approach is to strike up a conversation with the dealers. Ask to hear a little more about the artist or about the materials used in the work. “Everybody’s willing to have that conversation with you,” Meloche said.

Plus, opening a dialogue may lead to seeing something that’s not even on the floor.

“That’s what the dealers in the galleries are there for. They’re there to help you through the buying process, not inhibit it,” Sierzputowski said.

What not to miss

International galleries

The Frieze acquisition has meant a boost in the lineup of international galleries. For example, Sierzputowski said there are more South Korean galleries (Hakgojae Gallery and Gana Art) showing this year than in the past several years — a result of Frieze’s relationships in that part of the world. Frieze also owns a fair in Seoul.

The international shine of Frieze may also attract large, blue-chip galleries back to the show who otherwise had not returned post-pandemic. One example of that is Perrotin, a gallery with a global footprint, which is back on the lineup for this year.

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Other standouts: Several Paris galleries, including Galerie Poggi will be at this year’s fair. Labor, a Mexico City gallery, is participating in the fair for the first time. For African galleries, Sierzputowski says she’s excited about Southern Guild, a Cape Town gallery that recently expanded to Los Angeles.

Chicago galleries

Of course, Chicago’s galleries will be well-repped at the fair. Corbett vs. Dempsey, dubbed a “Chicago staple” by Sierzputowski, will have a display of works by historic Chicago artists. “I think it’d be a really good space to maybe get some history on artists that have been making work in Chicago in the past,” Sierzputowski said.

Sierzputowski also called out Mariane Ibrahim Gallery, which will have work from artist Lorraine O’Grady in its West Town gallery during the fair. And Sierzputowski said longtime Chicago gallerist Rhona Hoffman’s booth should not be missed. And EXPO is a rare chance to see a group presentation from Meloche’s gallery. On her home turf, the Chicago gallerist — a champion of up-and-coming local talent — plans to go all out, she said.

Setup at EXPO

EXPO will bring to town nearly 200 galleries, thousands of artists and seemingly infinite opportunities to see art.

Manuel Martinez/Manuel Martinez/WBEZ

Other highlights:

  • Dedicated to younger galleries, the fair’s EXPOSURE section offers a chance to see work from upcoming artists that is priced at a more accessible level. This year’s section — which has a new location on the show’s floor — is being curated by Rosario Güiraldes, a curator of visual arts at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
  • It includes Chicago’s own Anthony Gallery, owned by Isimeme “Easy” Otabor, a Chicago native who calls himself a “self-taught art collector turned gallery owner.” He’ll bring artist Michael C. Thorpe’s textile work to this section, which Sierzputowski says is a must see.
  • This year’s IN/SITU section is being curated by Amara Antilla of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati and includes projects from Chicago-based artist Michael Rakowitz. Sierzputowski said some of Rakowitz’s work will be found in each of the fair’s cafes as part of a collaboration with EXPO’s on-site chefs for the menus.
  • Off the pier, Canadian artist Brendan Fernandes will do an activation with Black Cube Nomadic Art Museum at the General John Logan Monument in Grant Park on Friday, April 12. The work, entitled New Monuments | Chicago, will feature a sculptural installation of scaffolding surrounding the existing monument and will label the space as “in transition.” Audience members will be invited to weigh in on their ideas for new monuments.
  • Highlights of this year’s lineup of talks and panels includes Chicago’s own Chance the Rapper on Thursday. Chance will appear on a panel with Asma Naeem from the Baltimore Museum of Art and Nate Freeman of Vanity Fair for a discussion on hip-hop’s contributions to contemporary art.
  • In a Saturday panel, Chicago artist Amanda Williams, along with Alteronce Gumby, will dive into the symbolism of color. On Thursday, artists Candida Alvarez and Omar Velázquez will discuss the importance of Puerto Rican representation in local collections. There will also be a panel discussion about art existing outside traditional centers such as New York or Paris.

All the parties

While much of the action takes place on Navy Pier, there is plenty of opportunity to mingle with artists, visit galleries all week long and explore different parts of Chicago.

South Side Night

The week kicks off on Tuesday with South Side Night, when residents and out-of-town visitors in Chicago for EXPO are encouraged to visit the South Side’s many galleries, museums and exhibition spaces. Many of those institutions will have special openings and remain open late on Tuesday, April 9. Highlights include an artist talk with Paul Branton at the South Side Community Art Center and a toast to the South Side to kick off EXPO week at the Smart Museum of Art. Full lineup of programming.

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After After Hours

On Friday night, galleries across the city come alive with Art After Hours, being headed up this year by the new cultural organization Gertie. More than 45 galleries will stay open late from 5-8 p.m. on Friday, April 12, and welcome art newbies and seasoned collectors alike.

Art After Hours gives EXPO goers a chance to meet the city’s galleries on their home turf. For gallery owners like Monique Meloche, that’s crucial.

“It’s super important because everyone’s gallery space is their own unique space. It’s where they do their main programming, and it’s much different than the three walls that you’re renting for three days,” said Meloche, who will exhibit work from the artist Shinique Smith.

Meloche said the Friday evening event is also a chance to make galleries more inviting to casual art lovers. “There’s still that mystique about galleries that they have these openings, and they’re private and they’re not open to the public, and that couldn’t be further from the truth.”

Full list of participating galleries.

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Other shows around town

In total, Sierzputowski said the EXPO team tallied about 150 exhibitions happening across the city during EXPO Art Week. As she put it: “There’s kind of something — and not only something, but many, many things — for everyone.”

“There are so many pieces of work to see that I’m feeling intimidated right now,” Sierzputowski said.

Some standouts include Nicole Eisenman’s exhibition at the Museum Of Contemporary Art, Sif Itona Westerberg at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum and Kara Walker at the Poetry Foundation.

Or, check out Barely Fair, which opens Friday, April 12, and runs through April 21 at Color Club in Irving Park. Hosted by the Julius Caesar artist collective, the fair is a chance to see global art on a miniature scale — displayed in 20 x 20 inch booths.

Courtney Kueppers is an arts and culture reporter at WBEZ.

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