Why This Week is THE Time to Be In Chicago

"There is a palpable buzz in the air around EXPO this year," gallery owner Monique Meloche reported in the run-up to the fourth edition of EXPO CHICAGO, The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, which takes place on Navy Pier, September 17-20, 2015.
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Jessica Stockholder, "Once Upon a Time," 2014, part of the IN/SITU program at EXPO CHICAGO/2014. Courtesy EXPO CHICAGO. Photo: James Prinz.

Local Connections and International Inroads: EXPO CHICAGO 2015

"There is a palpable buzz in the air around EXPO this year," gallery owner Monique Meloche reported in the run-up to the fourth edition of EXPO CHICAGO, The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, which takes place on Navy Pier, September 17-20, 2015. EXPO CHICAGO is still a young fair by any account, but within just four years has managed to establish itself as a prominent contender within the international art fair circuit, and has catalyzed the art community of Chicago behind it. Together with the fair, Chicago's galleries, institutions, schools, and artists join together for a knockout week in September.

EXPO CHICAGO/2014. Courtesy EXPO CHICAGO. Photo: Dan Rest.

Flashback five years ago, however, and things were not looking so good. Chicago's three-decades-running international art fair, Art Chicago, once a well-respected stalwart, was clearly punching below its weight. Lacking the ability to attract heavyweight, high quality galleries from its own region, not to mention internationally, the fair collapsed after its 2011 edition. But in response, a group of Chicago dealers, led by Monique Meloche, instituted Gallery Weekend Chicago (GWC) in September 2011, modeled after the popular event in Berlin. "We started GWC five years ago when all our art fairs had died," says Meloche. Gallery Weekend Chicago marked the opening of the fall season, as opposed to the city's traditional spring fair season, as a more auspicious date. One year later, EXPO CHICAGO, led by former Art Chicago director Tony Karman, held its first edition, coinciding with Gallery Weekend and attracting international attention to Chicago's contemporary art scene. Since then, says Meloche, "We have worked hand in hand with EXPO to attract collectors and institutions from out of town to come for both the fair and what our city has to offer."

Matt Lipps, Photojournalism, 2013. On view at the Aperture Foundation booth at EXPO CHICAGO/2015. Courtesy the artist.

After Art Chicago hit rock bottom, the city finally had an art fair it could collectively get behind, a fair it deserved. Since its first edition in 2012, EXPO CHICAGO has matured and expanded, growing steadily from 125 galleries in 2012, to 140 in 2015, representing 16 countries. Over the years, the fair has continually added new programming elements, including site-specific installations indoors and out, special exhibitions from institutional partners, a dialogues program, and even an arts publication entitled THE SEEN, published online year round (full disclosure: I am also a contributor to THE SEEN). Gallery Weekend Chicago, with its openings, events, restaurant partners, and curator-led private tours of galleries and institutions, continues to serve as a complementary rallying point for the art calendar.

Daniel Buren. Attrape-soleil, 2013. Courtesy of the artist and Bortolami.

Programming Manager of EXPO CHICAGO and Editor-in-Chief of THE SEEN, Stephanie Cristello, notes that the programming for 2015's fair is the most extensive yet. "In addition to doubling our /Dialogues programming," she told me, "IN/SITU Outside, which was inaugurated last year, has tripled in scale." EXPO /Dialogues facilitate exchange between Chicago and the international art world, which is particularly evident with this year's highlights including a keynote with Daniel Buren, and a panel discussion with curator Hans Ulrich Obrist alongside the legendary Chicago Imagists: Art Green, Gladys Nilsson and Karl Wirsum of the Hairy Who--"We are so glad the Hairy Who are finally getting their due," says Cristello. This year's IN/SITU Outside program features major works by Buren, Giuseppe Penone, and Ewerdt Hilgemann installed on Chicago's Museum Campus; and inside the expansive nave of Navy Pier IN/SITU will show large-scale installations by artists such as Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Sung Jang, Jessica Stockholder, and Cerith Wyn Evans, many of which will be suspended above the fair's aisles. This year will also mark the first printed volume of THE SEEN, a journal that covers the contemporary art scene in Chicago, as well as nationally and internationally. "It is important to give an object to ideas," Cristello remarks, "and this will be the first printed journal completely dedicated to international contemporary art coming out of Chicago in a long time." Dialogues, installations, and other programming elements ultimately contribute to a fair's cachet, and every major fair offers programming like this. Very few actually publish their own art journals, however, and EXPO CHICAGO's commitment to the ongoing discourse of art and criticism is a savvy move that leverages not only EXPO CHICAGO but the city at large within the wider international art world.

Hairy Who 1966 Poster. Courtesy of the Hyde Park Art Center.

This year Chicago has pulled out all the stops for what is now referred to as EXPO ART WEEK (September 14-20, 2015), with a great number of museum exhibitions, galas, and gallery openings filling up the week. The Renaissance Society will hold its Centennial Bash, Theaster Gates' Rebuild Foundation will hold its first gala benefit, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago will present its 150th alumni exhibition, the MCA Chicago will host a performance by Israeli artist Keren Cytter, David Adjaye's exhibition will open at The Art Institute, and countless others throughout the city. Speaking about the atmosphere in Chicago during EXPO, Jefferson Godard, owner of Aspect/Ratio in Chicago, a gallery devoted to video and performance based works, observes, "In previous years, I have noticed that a lot of people pop-in and out quite quickly," but in light of all of the week's events, "I feel that we are going to see more people throughout the week."

Bryan Zanisnik. Office Paintings, 2015. Installation View, 1646 Den Haag, the Netherlands. Courtesy of Aspect/Ratio.

As a gallery owner in Chicago, Godard related to me that he "definitely feel[s] the overall support" coming from EXPO CHICAGO toward the arts community in the city. Godard has been invited to curate video programs at the first two iterations of the fair, and this year, along with his booth featuring video works and drawings by Oakland, CA-based artist Desirée Holman, he will present Office Paintings by New York-based artist Bryan Zanisnik as part of EXPO Projects. "I really feel that Tony Karman has taken the helm in a very meaningful way and reconnected Chicago during EXPO Week," Godard says, adding, "Steadfastly positive and complimentary, he has laid a network that serves to connect people within Chicago during the fair."

Ebony G. Patterson, In Rest-Dead Treez, 2015. From the Ebony G. Patterson solo exhibition unearthing treez at Monique Meloche Gallery through October 24, 2015. Courtesy Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Monique Meloche will be participating in the fair for the third time, with a splashy entrance to her booth provided by Ebony G. Patterson, and works by gallery artists Sanford Biggers, Kendell Carter, Sheree Hovsepian, and others. This year, however, will be the last for Gallery Weekend Chicago, with many of GWC's programs to be absorbed by EXPO CHICAGO's VIP program next year. According to a statement from the group, GWC considers that, in these five years, it has "fulfilled its goals of promoting the unique sensibilities of Chicago's galleries, arts institutions, and neighborhoods." Chicago's art community is rich and diverse, with top art schools, world-class institutions, and an artistic heritage all its own, but Meloche offers, "it just takes time for the artworld to acknowledge the exciting and important work coming from our city." That time, it has been established, may be the third week of September. "Tony Karman and GWC have worked together over the years, always promoting this weekend as THE time to come to Chicago," Meloche assures, "and I feel people are getting the memo."

Gordon Matta-Clark, #15 from the Circus Book, 1978. On view at the Rhona Hoffman Gallery booth at EXPO CHICAGO/2015. Courtesy the Gordon Matta-Clark estate and David Zwirner Gallery.

--Natalie Hegert

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