EXPO Chicago

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The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art
GenreArt exhibition
Datesevery September (four days)
VenueNavy Pier
Years active42
Founded1980 (formerly known as, Art Chicago)
Participantscontemporary and modern fine art galleries; artists; art collectors

EXPO Chicago is an international contemporary and modern art exhibition held each year in Chicago, Illinois. In 2012, it took over the duties of a prior organization, Art Chicago, which began in 1980. Art Chicago was Chicago's longest-running major contemporary art exposition,[1] but was cancelled after the 2011 fair, by its then owner Merchandise Mart Properties due to financial problems.[2]

Subsequently, the group under the name EXPO CHICAGO, decided to revitalize the annual International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art at Navy Pier. [3][4]


Art Chicago was founded as an American version of the Art Basel contemporary art exposition in 1980. Founded by Michigan print dealer John Wilson, Chicago International Art Exposition premiered in May at Navy Pier. The show attracted 80 dealers and 10,000 visitors. It was the first such modern fair in North America.[5] For years it was held in the long barnlike sheds on Chicago's Navy Pier. In 1989, the leaky old sparrow-infested sheds on the pier were demolished and replaced by a mall, theatres, entertainment venues and convention exhibition halls. In 1993, Thomas Blackman took over as organizer of Art Chicago.[6] During the 1990s, Art Chicago was called "the nation's leading fair of 20th-century art,"[7] "second only to Art Basel in Switzerland in global importance."[8]

As the 1990s progressed, Art Chicago had troubles. The new Navy Pier buildings were cleaner and more inviting than the old ones, but the carnival atmosphere on the pier attracted an audience unused to art fairs. Robert Landau of Landau Fine Art in Montreal said of his experience in 2002, "we had more customers walking in off Navy Pier who really weren't there to see the art show. We had so many people coming in making remarks like, 'Are any of these paintings real?'" Sales decreased and major galleries pulled out. The newer "Art Basel Miami" fair surpassed Art Chicago in excitement, and drew away more galleries and important collectors.[6]

In 2000 there were over 200 exhibitors;[9] in 2004, the last year the fair was held on Navy Pier, there were more than 150 galleries exhibiting. In 2005 Art Chicago, redubbed "Art Chicago in the Park" was held in a giant tent in Grant Park behind the Art Institute of Chicago. There were now only 94 exhibitors, several of whom were new young Chicago galleries.[10]

2006 Troubles[edit]

In 2006 catastrophe struck. The fair was again planned to be in a tent in Grant Park. Construction had been visibly slow, but it was not until the evening of Tuesday, April 25—two days before the fair was scheduled to open—that the news came out that Art Chicago was in trouble. There was a dispute between Blackman and the contractors, with Blackman claiming that the flooring was unacceptable and the contractors claiming bounced checks. Blackman appears to have tried to arrange quick financing, including offering to sell his business the Friday before. Embarrassingly, several international art dealers were turned away from the tent, where they had arrived to set up their exhibits. Mayor Daley, through a spokeswoman, expressed annoyance and disappointment. An attempt to quickly reorganize the fair on Navy Pier fell through.[1][9]

On Thursday, April 27, it was announced that Art Chicago would take place on the eighth floor of the Merchandise Mart, sharing it with the "Chicago Antiques Fair" which was already scheduled.[11] Although makeshift, the fair was professionally handled, and although many exhibitors expressed concern, only three out of 104 dealers dropped out. At the same time, it was announced that Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. would buy the fair from Thomas Blackman Associates.[12] A number of exhibitors said they were impressed at how well the fair turned out, and many preferred the new location.[13]

Recent Fairs[edit]

In 2007 Art Chicago's new owners brought back some of the strength of the older fair. With 132 exhibitors, it was part of a five-day art exposition, "Artropolis", which also included Bridge Art Fair Chicago 07, The Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art, and The Artist Project Independent Artist Exhibition + Sale .[14] Art Chicago 2008 built on the success of Art Chicago 2007, with more international galleries and more favorable attention and support, as well as the addition of the NEXT Art Fair, an invitational exhibition of emerging art.[15] After the 2011 fair, owner Merchandise Mart Properties because it no longer wished to support the fair announced Art Chicago's cancellation.[2]

In 2012, the inaugural Expo Chicago art fair took place at Navy Pier Festival Hall with the hopes that it will "re-establish Chicago as a pre-eminent art fair destination."[16] The fair premiered with installations by the celebrated architecture firm Studio Gang. Expo Chicago is managed by director Tony Karman.[17]

With 2020's expo being cancelled caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the event was deferred to April 2021.

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ a b Charles Storch and Alan G. Artner, "2 Days From Show, Art Fair in Disarray: Exhibitors Left in Dark over Weekend Expo", Chicago Tribune, Wednesday, April 26, 2006, p. 1
  2. ^ a b "End of an Art Fair". fnewsmagazine.com. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  3. ^ "Chicago Contemporary and Modern Art Fair - Expo Chicago - EXPO CHICAGO". expochicago.com. Archived from the original on 2 February 2017. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  4. ^ "Expo Chicago Returns, With Big Ambitions, and Some Exhibitor Turnover - ARTnews". artnews.com. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  5. ^ Alan G. Artner and Charles Storch, "Merchandise Mart to Buy Art Chicago", Chicago Tribune, Saturday, April 29, 2006, section 1A, p. 1
  6. ^ a b David Bernstein, "Faltering Art Fair Chills Chicago", The New York Times, July 17, 2004
  7. ^ Garrett Holg, "City Focus Chicago: Industrious Evolution", ARTnews, April 1998, p. 68
  8. ^ Andrew Patner, "Chicago: Special Report: Contemporary Art", Art & Antiques, Summer 1996, p. 55
  9. ^ a b Andrew Herrmann and Misha Davenport, "Big Chicago Art Fair Up In the Air: Art Chicago is Set to Open Thursday But Has Money, Labor Troubles", Chicago Sun-Times, Wednesday, April 26, 2006, p. 3
  10. ^ "artnet.com Magazine Reviews - Art Chicago 2005". artnet.com. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  11. ^ Misha Davenport, "On With the Art Show -- At the Mart", Chicago Sun-Times, Thursday, April 27, 2006, p. 8
  12. ^ Alan G. Artner and Charles Storch, "Merchandise Mart to Buy Art Chicago", Chicago Tribune, Saturday, April 29, 2006, section 1A, p. 1
  13. ^ Rummana Hussain, "Art Chicago 'Great Despite the Odds': Saved at Last Minute, Expo Exhibitors Call Mart Move a Success", Chicago Sun-Times, Sunday, April 30, 2006, p. 14A
  14. ^ "ArtScope.net: Art Chicago 2007". artscope.net. Retrieved 7 March 2017.
  15. ^ Susan Snodgrass, "Art Chicago Comeback", Art in America, April 2008
  16. ^ Candace, Candid. "Expo Chicago at Navy Pier". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 30 September 2012.
  17. ^ Dampier, Cindy (September 21, 2016). "How Tony Karman catapulted Expo Chicago into the art world spotlight". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 7 March 2017.