By now it's not exactly news, but last week the Chicago art world was taken by surprise when a new art fair was announced. Exposition Chicago will launch at Navy Pier on September 19-23 of 2012.
A few significant facts can be gleaned from the press release sent out by exposition Chicago (yes, lower case for 'exposition'), which is obviously written to counter certain flaws in Art Chicago.
The first is that there will be a limit on participating galleries, a maximum of one hundred will be allowed to show. The exposition release emphasizes the selection of exhibitors will be rigorous: "a curated mix [of art galleries]," "[will] ensure the highest standards of participating exhibitors and artwork presented," "a Selection Committee of internationally respected dealers [will] be guided
by an Advisory Committee of arts professionals and civic leaders." This directly responds to criticism that has been leveled at Art Chicago for years, and especially this year, that lowered admission standards for galleries is diminishing the overall quality of the fair.
The founder of the new fair, Tony Karman, echoes this in his quote in the release: "We will adhere to the highest of standards of quality to present a thoughtfully curated mix of dealers, artwork and design."
That's another significant fact, the inclusion of design. That always seemed to me like a missed opportunity at Art Chicago, the city is home to a massive design community and if an art fair is about selling things then nothing could fit better than design. Plus when Konstantin Grcic is showing at the Art Institute and being sold in River North, why shouldn't his merchandise be included in an art fair?
Exposition Chicago also has an obvious advantage in its location at Navy Pier, with the Pier's high ceilings and access to the lake. Art Chicago is annually hampered by the Merchandise Mart building itself, but it seems unlikely that Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. would ever abandon their namesake space. The Mart has very low ceilings, very little natural light (though the booths are always very well-lit), and no immediate access to outside space, which usually results in a claustrophobic labyrinth. The low ceiling height is a major problem because it prevents large and ambitious paintings and sculptures from being shown. Not to mention the name of the Merchandise Mart itself, with its associations to crass commerce and commodities, which once evoked unexpected laughter from a visiting international art scholar when I pointed out the art fair building to him.
Exposition Chicago also appears to be stealing away significant Chicago galleries. Rhona Hoffman Gallery has signaled they will participate in exposition Chicago, while they were noticeably absent from this year's Art Chicago. However, it remains to be seen which other galleries will join, an exhibitor list has not been released. A big question is where will the contemporary art-focused NEXT go, its historical ally in Art Chicago or the newcomer in exposition Chicago?
Of course, press releases make everything sound amazing (as they should), but we'll see the reality of the new fair on September 19, 2012.