When it comes to art fairs, Tony Karman is no amateur. He started as a security guard at the original Chicago International Art Exposition in 1980, and now, over 30 years later, he is the president and director of one of Chicago’s most talked about art events, Expo Chicago. With over 140 galleries participating, this year’s fair is the largest yet.
The professionally curated event will host local, national and international galleries. These include Toronto’s Nicholas Metivier Gallery and the David Bowie Is gala and exhibition at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, which Karman says, “is going to be quite the fashion event.”
In its third year, the fair keeps growing, with last year’s addition of Expo Art Week, a five-day calendar of events designed to complement Expo Chicago and showcase the city’s vibrant culture. On display again this year will be Chicago’s food, theatre, music and more, including a free public concert at Millennium Park performed by Riccardo Muti, noted maestro from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Karman says the goal of Art Week is “to make sure the world knows Chicago is the place to be in September, especially [in] the art world.” Art Week creates an opportunity to attract tourists and art enthusiasts for more than the gallery showings: “After all, many collectors, curators and art enthusiasts around the world have literal and figurative tastes [that] are much broader than an art fair. They want common experiences, and that’s what Expo Art Week allows — it allows an individual to come into Chicago and really, really get a sense of the city and, to some extent, what’s happening the other 360 days of the year, outside Art Week.”
Although the fair has been a success, some art fans would have guessed differently in the beginning. In 2012, Art Chicago, the city’s longest-running major contemporary art exposition, was cancelled, and Merchandise Mart claimed the art fair market had moved to the coast. That same year, Expo Chicago debuted.
Karman says that despite Merchandise Mart’s statement, he was confident exhibitors still wanted to see an international art fair in the city: “There was no question in 2012, and there isn’t in 2014: Chicago is one of the leading contemporary art centres in the world.”
“I never want to stick to exactly the same formula, because I think we always need to grow, morph and mature,” he adds. “We’re working collaboratively with the city to make sure we can site works for many months. Every September, we plan to site a piece of sculpture that can stay in our city to be viewed by the populace of Chicago for many months.”
Karman adds that two key elements behind the show’s success are a quality exhibitor list and the city’s support. “It’s really unprecedented, I don’t know of any international city that could have mustered this kind of unified support for an art fair; I think it’s unique to Chicago. I’m extremely proud and grateful for the support and the participation from everyone who rallied to make sure we play a role in the international art fair community.”
Expo Chicago will take place between Sept. 18 and Sept. 21 at the Navy Pier. Expo Art Week will take place Sept. 15 through Sept. 21 at various locations in the city.