Art Chicago

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Art Chicago was an international contemporary art exhibition held each year in Chicago, Illinois beginning in 1980. In 2012, a new exhibitor Expo Chicago began operation. Art Chicago was Chicago's longest-running major contemporary art exposition,[1] but was cancelled in 2012 after going through financial problems. Merchandise Mart Properties sent out the following memo to its PR list:

“After a thorough analysis of the art fair landscape, Merchandise Mart Properties has determined not to move forward with the production of the 2012 edition of Next Art Chicago. While Chicago will always remain a cultural tourism destination, is home to a thriving arts community, including galleries, world-class museums, theaters, arts-related organizations, along with thousands of art enthusiasts, it is our conclusion that the great majority of the contemporary art fair market in the United States has gravitated toward the coasts.”[2]

Subsequently, a group under the name EXPO CHICAGO, decided to hold the 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 premieres in May at Navy Pier. The show attracts 80 dealers and 10,000 visitors. It was the first such 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 their failure, Chicago keeps trying. 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.

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. ^
  3. ^
  4. ^
  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", 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. ^ Victor Cassidy, "Art Chicago 2005",
  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. ^ Katherine R. Lieber, "Reviews: ARTROPOLIS: Art Chicago 2007, Bridge Art Fair Chicago07, The Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art, The Artist Project Independent Artist Exhibition + Sale"
  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.