Last year’s inaugural EXPO Chicago fair was generally characterized as being slow, but ultimately successful. The 2012 Vernissage, with a handful of exceptions, lacked the kind of frantic early purchasing that typically happens at the other big art fairs. By the end of that inaugural fair, there were many galleries happy with the sales that occurred over the course of the weekend and few grumblings from others, some of which had brought huge, expensive secondary market work that went unsold. This year feels markedly different. The 2013 Vernissage Thursday night seemed much busier, the aisles fuller and most notably, the tentative, “wait and see” buying from last year seems to have given way to something that starts to resemble the confident, urgent buying that galleries hope for.
Yolanda Farias of Carl Hammer Gallery was extremely pleased with the sales at this year’s Vernissage. “We’re seeing a lot of competition among the collectors who bought from us last year, because they know that things are going to sell,” she said, “And all the red dots around –that trickles down.”
A main concern for EXPO and the exhibiting galleries was last year’s absence of collectors and museums from the wider midwest region and beyond, and this year, EXPO managed to draw them in. William Lieberman of Zolla/Lieberman Gallery (a veteran Chicago dealer, first time EXPO exhibitor) saw his clients from St. Louis and San Francisco; Monique Meloche, also exhibiting for the first time at EXPO and the founder of Gallery Weekend Chicago running concurrently with the fair, had museum groups from Kentucky and Denver buying for themselves and buying for the museums. “MoMA is not going to buy here,” she explains, “But this can be a strong regional place.” It’s not just the out-of-towners making themselves known, but also the more reclusive local collectors. “I had Sanford Biggers in my windows for months,” said Meloche of the artist’s recent exhibition at her eponymous gallery, “I brought him here to the fair and there are Chicago collectors discovering the work for the first time.”
This year’s EXPO also included more Chicago galleries, with the additions of established dealers like Lieberman, Meloche and Carrie Secrist Gallery, in addition to returning galleries like Carl Hammer, The Mission, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Rhona Hoffman Gallery and Kavi Gupta. Chicagoans, at least, are enjoying the positive changes they’re seeing this year. “Joyful. It seems joyful,” noted the beaming Carrie Secrist.
However, not all the changes from last year are so clearly positive. Some exhibitors complained of organizational issues, and it’s easy to see that EXPO is not quite as visually spectacular as last time. Many participants and attendees noticed a lack of what The Mission’s Sebastian Campos referred to as the “show stoppers” amongst the the exhibitor’s booths. IN/SITU, the site-specific works installed around Navy Pier’s Festival Hall curated by Shamim M. Momin, included some excellent work, like Andreas Lolis’ marble “cardboard” boxes, though compared to ostentatious pieces like Dzine’s La Perla and Jaume Plensa’s Silent Music from last year, the IN/SITU program as a whole seemed a bit underwhelming.