The fall art season in Chicago, and around the world, is underway, and as we close in on the end of September, we are especially looking forward to EXPO CHICAGO, once again at Navy Pier for its 7th edition. Once the hot new fair when it launched in 2012, EXPO has grown up, expanding its international gallery roster as well as its expansive and increasingly important public and professional arts programming.
CGN will be covering several aspects of the fair in the coming weeks, but while we're all running around trying to prepare for this year's art frenzy, we wanted to check in with the man beind the green curtain, the great and powerful Oz (AKA Tony Karman), about what's new and how he does it all year after year.
EXPO CHICAGO runs Sept 27–30, 2018 at Navy Pier.
CGN: What's the best thing about this year’s EXPO CHICAGO?
Tony Karman: Easy answer – it is the artwork that will be shown by our 135 galleries from 27 countries and 63 international cities in this seventh edition of the fair. I look forward to seeing work that is provocative, current, beautiful, and challenging—I never tire of encountering a new artist, or the inevitable moment when a work simply stops me in my tracks.
CGN: What's been your biggest challenge so far this year?
TK: Like every year, we must work to make sure that the world joins us in Chicago and that the participating exhibitors do well.
CGN: Breakdown an 'Interview Marathon' for me.
TK: Hans Ulrich Obrist’s celebrated Marathon, entitled Creative Chicago, will be five hours of provocative interviews with artists, architects, donut makers, writers, actors, and activists from throughout the city. The marathon [taking place on site at the fair September 29 from 1–6pm] will capture the zeitgeist of Chicago, further defining what it means to live, work and create here.
CGN: How do you keep people coming back to Chicago for EXPO, now that the fair is maturing?
TK: We travel around the world year-round to engage with collectors, curators, and arts professionals to join us each September, and everywhere we go, we hear how great Chicago is. We built EXPO CHICAGO on a storied tradition, and it is the collective of our renowned institutions, collectors, curators, artists, galleries, restaurants, architecture, and the people of this great city that the world is enthusiastically returning to or visiting for the first time.
I do love this city.
CGN: Can you give me an elevator pitch for the case for art fairs today, amidst so much scrutiny and financial strain?
TK: Galleries carry the burden for much of this industry, as they are funding their art fair participation, their artists work and exhibitions, staffing, rent, and daily operating expenses—we are ever mindful of this. However, there is something special about the convening moment of an art fair that brings collectors and curators and art enthusiasts together in one location to both experience and ultimately purchase artwork.
Even with the current art fair overload, I believe if you do it right—gathering a great list of dealers and venue, a commitment to thoughtful and relevant programming, and layering the support of the cultural institutions and leaders of a city—then you have a perfect environment for galleries to succeed. EXPO CHICAGO benefits from all of the above, and although we cannot guarantee sales, we work hard to build a fair or exposition that hopefully does that and support the long term development of a gallery’s program.
CGN: How many cups of coffee do you have a day during the fair?
TK: I was a coffee drinker for most of my life but just changed to tea. Simple answer: lots. I will probably have a tea bag in my pocket at all times.
CGN: What’s the first thing you will do when the fair wraps up?
TK: Start on the next one.
Top image: Justin Barbin, EXPO CHICAGO 2017 Vernissage.