A Report on the Action at Expo Chicago, From an ‘Extra Spicy’ Party to Sold-Out Booths

In its first edition since being acquired by Frieze, the fair saw many dealers reporting strong sales.

Expo Chicago at Navy Pier April 2024. Image courtesy Expo Chicago.

This past weekend, right on the eve of the Venice Biennale, the art scene in Chicago was bursting with energy. Museums and galleries were hosting openings, performances and installations were alighting outdoors, and private collections were on view—all pegged to the latest edition of the city’s annual art fair, Expo Chicago.

Friday night alone, one could hop from a show of works from the Pizzuti Collection at the luxe Peninsula Hotel to a performance in Grant Park by Brendan Fernandes as part of the nomadic art initiative Black Cube, then head to the Chicago River, where Nora Turato was projecting a piece on the Merchandise Mart building. Meanwhile, parties awaited all over town.

an image of dancers performing around a monument at Grant Park in Chicago

Brendan Fernandes, “New Monuments | Chicago” presented by Black Cube, a performance on April 12 at the General John Alexander Logan Monument at Grant Park in Chicago. Photo by Eileen Kinsella

The fair’s founder and director Tony Karman has carved out a unique profile for Expo over the past decade, and he was everywhere, seemingly indefatigable, championing the Windy City and sharing his excitement about working with Frieze, which purchased the fair last year.

There he was early on Friday at Expo on the Navy Pier, which hosted 170 exhibitors, greeting fairgoers. There he was again in the evening, on the banks of the Chicago River, delivering remarks for Turato’s piece. And there again, later on, at a lively fete hosted by collector Benedicta Badia at her art-filled loft. Badia, sporting a Frida Kahlo-style headdress, handed out circular red stickers reading “extra spicy” to guests who identified with that description. They sipped cocktails and dined on traditional tapas, affectionately referring to her as “Hurricane Bene.”

Fairgoers look at art during the opening of Expo Chicago April 2024

Artwork by Mads Christensen at Timothy Yarger Fine Art | Yarger Art Projects at Expo Chicago. Image courtesy Expo Chicago.

This year’s fair featured a slightly tweaked floorplan and a few first-time exhibitor galleries who participate in other Frieze shows. Execs from the fair giant were on hand at various events throughout the run of Expo. “We are grateful to now be part of the Frieze family,” Karman said, noting “a tangible sense of excitement around this year’s edition.”

an image of a painting of a woman surrounded by bubbles and holding a gun

Cornelia Schleime, Meine Kugel Deine Kugel (2024) at Galerie Judin, Berlin, at Expo Chicago 2024. Photo by Eileen Kinsella

Exhibitors reported strong sales, including a number in the six-figure realm. Veteran Chicago gallery McCormick sold paintings by Abstract Expressionists Mary Abbot (for $525,000) and Perle Fine (for $195,000).

Sundaram Tagore, of New York, London, and Singapore, sold work by Hiroshi Senju for $385,000, while New York’s Miles McEnery Gallery sold a painting by Wolf Kahn for $150,000. Kasmin, also of New York, reported sales between $20,000 to $200,000, including a drawing by Henri Matisse, a multimedia work by Diana Al-Hadid, and paintings by vanessa german, Theodora Allen, and Lyn Liu.

Timothy Yarger Fine Art | Yarger Projects (New York and Los Angeles) sold a light sculpture by Mads Christensen for $175,000, while Catharine Clark Gallery (San Francisco) sold a textile piece by Marie Watt for $135,000. Seoul’s Gana Art moved a work by Chiharu Shiota for $121,000, while Hagkojae (also of Seoul) sold a wood sculpture by Yun Suknam for $100,000. Noteworthy sales at Berlin’s Galerie Judin included a painting by Cornelia Schleime for $100,000, while St. Louis-based William Shearburn Gallery sold a vessel by Toshiko Takaezu for $100,000.

fairgoers look at art at Navy Pier during Expo Chicago April 2024

Installation view of Expo Chicago at Navy Pier on April 11. Image courtesy Expo Chicago.

Some exhibitors reported sold-out booths, such as Miami’s Spinello Projects, which placed all of its paintings by Nereida Garcia-Ferraz at prices from $5,000 to $22,000. The Hole, of New York and Los Angeles, sold out of its solo presentation of work by Joseph Parra, each priced at $12,000. Chicago’s Monique Meloche sold all of its works by School of the Art Institute graduate Luke Agada. “Happy to report another successful Expo with great private and public sales and many curators and institutional groups visiting our booth and gallery,” Meloche said in a statement. Make Room (Los Angeles) said it sold out its booth of paintings by Cathleen Clarke, priced from $4,500 to $13,000.

Photography specialist Edwynn Houk, who’s been coming to Chicago for a fair since the 1980s (when he took part in the now-defunct Art Chicago), said, “I’ve enjoyed the growth of Expo, and this year I’ve especially appreciated the broader and more international vision of the fair.”

One of Houk’s noteworthy sales was a signed vintage Dorothea Lange photograph, Demonstration, San Francisco, dated 1933 and printed for an 1934 exhibition of her work at a gallery in Oakland, California, the first of her career.

Chicago institutions and dealers tend to do a good job of making their shows accessible to out-of-town visitors by staying open late, but this year, Karman and his team tapped Abby Pucker, the founder of the cultural agency Gertie, to coordinate and promote those extracurricular activities through Expo’s Art After Hours” initiative.

Gertie hosted special events in the lead-up to Expo to build word of mouth among locals, and launched a dedicated micro-site to help people plan their evenings. “For us, Art After Hours is as much about creating opportunities for people to see the neighborhoods and stumble into restaurants outside of the fair as much as it’s about seeing art,” Pucker said in an interview.

How did it all go? “I think a lot of us who organize events and have a vested interest in Chicago’s creative ecosystem being shown in as vibrant a light as possible were in lockstep,” Pucker said, “so that things didn’t overlap too much—just enough!”

Just enough. Those are wise words to remember during a wild art-fair week.

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