Expo brings attention back to the Chicago art scene

Expo brings attention back to the Chicago art scene

For nearly two decades, from the 1980s to the first half of the 1990s, there was only one art fair in all of North and South America, and it was that of Chicago, second only to Art Basel in Switzerland by importance. Then in 1994 the competition of the Armory Show in New York began, in 2002 the giant Art Basel arrived in Miami Beach, in 2012 Frieze in New York. At the same time Art Chicago went into crisis, so in 2011 it was closed. The following year, T ony Karman, an entrepreneur whose first job was to detach tickets from Art Chicago, decided to buy the fair and relaunch it with the name of Expo Chicago. In his adventure he finds the support of the Northwestern Trust financial institution and in a few years he is able to bring important galleries such as Hauser & amp; Wirth, Thaddaeus Ropac, David Zwirner, Kasmin Gallery and to restore prestige to the event which in recent years has also enjoyed the fortunate coincidence with the new Architecture Biennale. "The Chicago art scene is characterized by the ability of its players to collaborate," said Tony Karman. "Cooperation with the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) was extremely important for our success."

A long tradition. The revival of the fair has found fertile ground in a city where there is a long tradition of art collecting. "Already in the first half of the twentieth century important collections were born in Chicago, especially of surrealist art," says Tony Karman. "And this explains why today we have one of the largest collections of Surrealism preserved at the Art Institute of Chicago." Think of personalities like Morton G. Neumann, who for a time was perhaps the greatest collector in America, and Joseph R. Shapiro, who in the 1940s and 1950s collected avidly and encouraged their wealthy friends to invest in art, and Lewis Manilow, who brought European dealers to Chicago in the 1980s. Important names of collectors today are Penny Pritzker and Bryan Traubert, Larry and Marilyn Fields, Jack and Sandy Guthman. But there are also museums. "We are at the center of the American Midwest" continues Tony Karman, "the fair is visited by the numerous institutions of nearby American cities such as St. Louis, Minneapolis, Kansas City". This is confirmed by the New York gallery owner David Nolan, who for this reason participates in the fair: “Due to the density of small museums, Illinois is like the German Nordrhein-Westfalen, and they are all active and loyal buyers, who return over time and also bring the their trustees. It is a very rich part of the United States, where the banking sector has always been very strong. Of course it is difficult to compete with the many other fairs on the calendar today (remember that only this weekend ArtRio was held in Rio de Janeiro, ArtBo in Bogota, Unseen in Amsterdam, Beirut Art Fair in Beirut, and the Lyon Biennale was inaugurated, editor's note), but Tony Karman is doing an excellent job of reviving the fair. "

The new community of artists. In general, the Chicago art scene is experiencing a moment of renewal. "Thanks to the city's numerous art schools, artists have the opportunity to teach and can stay in Chicago, creating a vibrant artistic community." Think of Kerry James Marshall, who teaches at the School of Art and Design of the University of Illinois at Chicago, Theaster Gates, who teaches at the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, Jessica Stockholder, Faculty Chair in the same department.

In terms of movements, the most famous emerged in Chicago is that of the Imagists of the 60s, formed around the group Hairy Who of Jim Falconer, Art Green, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt, Suellen Rocca and Karl Wirsum: ambiguous and provocative, each with their own style, they were inspired by the social and political facts of the time, from Surrealism, from the language of comics and in turn influenced contemporary artists such as Diane Simpson, Christina Ramberg, but also Jeff Koons, who is their collector. They are growing on the market: David Nolan brought a Jim Nutt drawing for $ 60,000 to Expo Chicago (but his paintings reach $ 600,000) and a painting by their teacher Ray Yoshida for $ 40,000.

Today the themes of Chicago artists are global, although according to some, a surrealist trend persists within conceptual art. Furthermore, the presence of a large community of the African diaspora means that themes related to Black Identity are strong and present.

A growing scene. The number of galleries is also growing. During the days of Expo Chicago, the new headquarters of the Mariane Ibrahim gallery, which has moved from Seattle, has inaugurated. "I did it to be closer to the art market" said the gallery owner, "in the past I have compensated by participating in many fairs, but now I wanted to be closer to collectors and museums. In addition, my program is very tied to black identity and I wanted contact with a large black community like that of Chicago. And then Chicago is a livable place, where one can develop and there is no aggressive competition as in other cities. Even from a political point of view it is a progressive city ”.

The gallery fits into a rich fabric in which there are important galleries such as Rhona Hoffman, Richard Gray, Kavi Gupta, Monique Meloche, but also many young galleries and project spaces that this year have participated for the first time in two other small fairs parallels: Chicago Invitational, organized by the New Art Dealers Alliance in the legendary Chicago Athletic Association Hotel and Barely Art Fair, with original 1:12 scale miniature stands.

The 2019 edition of the fair. But returning to Expo Chicago, 135 galleries from 24 countries and 68 cities participated this year. There were 38,000 visitors, in line with last year. Prices ranged from $ 1,000 to a few million and sales were satisfactory. The stands were mainly collective (except in the young section "Exposure" and in that "Profile") and conceived not so much around a theme, but with the intention of presenting the overall offer of each gallery. In general the quality was high with some exceptions. Among the galleries there are also four Italians, two of which participated for the first time at the fair, Continua di San Gimignano and Federico Luger in Milan, while two others already knew the fair, Luce Gallery in Turin and Eduardo Secci in Florence. "We came because our artist Jonathan De Andrade has just had a very successful exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago" said Maddalena Pelù of Continua. “We found a very lively scene, the fair managed to convince important galleries. We also see it as a bridge to the Canadian market. " Federico Luger, who sold the photographs of the Croatian artist I gor Eškinja well at prices between 10,000 and 25,000 $, is satisfied (he is already in the Maxxi collection and we will see him again soon in Paris Photo where the gallery dedicates all his stand to him). Eduardo Secci has returned to Chicago for the fourth time motivated by a sophisticated collection, while Luce Gallery has returned for the third time in a row, finding improvements compared to the past. On the stand were the paintings of the young African American Dominic Chambers, born in 1993 in nearby St. Louis, who represents himself and his entourage behind veils that hide the subjects (prices 4,500-12,000 $). Just his self-portrait was purchased for the JP Morgan bank collection.

Events in Chicago