Chicago has been hosting art fairs for many decades, and despite location/owner/management changes at some of these Fairs, the city has remained a well-respected and must-visit arts destination. Expo Chicago, in its fourth year, is demonstrating that this new incarnation has learned well, and continues to build on solid foundations.
Guy-Vincent and I collaborating on our Arts Advocacy video project for AAD, decided we should have a chat with Tony Karman, founder of Expo Chicago. Choosing not to wait till the fair was in full swing (many times chaos reigns and other priorities hold sway), we took a trip to the city of great American architecture.
Tony is clearly a great spokesperson for Expo Chicago and exudes an articulate passion for its mission. It’s also his personal mission to promote art. In this we can directly relate. His staff is unpretentious, and the office environment in the heart of the city has an open, youthful energy.
Of interest within his background is an understanding of himself as a creative contributor; he realized somewhere along his personal journey that fate chose him not to be an artist, but to serve the cause of art as a facilitator, a communicator.
This is important from both a philosophical as well as a practical administrative standpoint; having direct experience in an activity sensitizes one to others engaged in that activity. Tony is cognizant of artist’s role in society, their challenges and struggles, their failures and victories. He is aware of the interconnected yet protean fabric of culture, the venues and institutions that occupy niches but are dependent on each other for existence.
Like biological organisms that evolve a co-dependency, it’s impossible to tease out and separate the spheres of The Art Institute of Chicago, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the several other art-based museums, related cultural institutions, many university programs and galleries, non-profit spaces, commercial galleries, and of course the artists themselves. We tend to focus on the creators and creations, the artist and their cultural contributions, the way art redefines itself generation after generation, with the best resonating through centuries. But art and artists need exposure, venues, opportunities to be recognized, and people to communicate their relevance and language to an interested audience.
We tend to sometimes dismiss this in todays world of saturated promotion, as a crass, commercial negative. And most times it is. But art is a medium of communication and artists need others to do much of that communicating. They need galleries, curators, collectors, and physical spaces to exhibit their ideas. Public recognition of an artist can be the differentiator between long-term potential and obscurity. Expo Chicago and other quality art fairs have evolved to provide the arena for such opportunities
Art Fairs are by no means flawless opportunities. The nature of the medium can serve to attract negative attention, sometimes highlighting flashy, un-serious art, focusing on the transaction feeding-frenzy associated with auctions. And as Rhona Hoffman so eloquently brushed upon (see our presentation here), the depth of an artists practice and exploration may be better served seeing a group of their works, instead of a solitary representation in a larger group show.
However, we prefer the positives: an opportunity to see new art created by living artists from all over the world, artists taking creative risks, galleries also taking the same kind of creative risk - both with the aesthetic choices as well as the financial commitment. The fairs’ organizers coordinating a major art-centric public event with all the stakeholders in a city to maximize cultural attention and focus it on contemporary art…
Tony Karman understands this in great detail and depth, and his organization works hard to make Expo Chicago an important event on the international art calendar. It was certainly a pleasure engaging with him.
So, without further ado:
For additional information on this year's Chicago Expo
September 18 &19 | 11:00am–7:00pm
Sunday, September 20 | 11:00am–6:00pm
Navy Pier 600 E Grand Ave Chicago, IL 60611