Expo Chicago Lights Up for the First Time in Years, Drawing Dealers From Near and Quite Far

Navy Pier breezed back to life with the latest edition of Expo, the Windy City's premier art fair.

A look at the scene from the ground in Chicago, at Expo 2022. Photo: Faith Kelsey, courtesy Expo Chicago.

It’s been a lifetime since Expo Chicago—or at least it feels that way—which makes it just amazing to see the city’s bold Navy Pier filled out with collectors, gallerists, curators, and the like for fair’s 2022 edition.

“It’s a good excuse to bring people to town to show how strong our galleries, museums, and universities are,” Aron Gent, director of local gallery Document, said at the fair’s Thursday vernissage

His gallery, which focuses mainly on media art, this year is showing a group presentation including works by Paul Mpagi Sepuya ($9,000), Sara Greenberg Rafferty ($50,000), and Claude Viallat ($85,000).

And though the morning was slow, Gent was unconcerned.

“I wouldn’t call this week a selling bonanza, but it’s an educational spread on what Chicago can offer,” he said.

It’s true: the Windy City was humming with just enough energy, despite grey skies and some occasional hail. At the Renaissance Society on the South Side of Chicago, Meriem Bennani’s new film, LIFE ON THE CAPS, has debuted, while Theodora Allen’s knockout Driehaus Museum exhibition was on seemingly everybody’s lips.

And though the crowd was largely local and notably chilled out, there were sales: Nino Mier reported selling out of his booth of gestural portraits by José Lerma for between $12,000 and $28,000, and the crowd rarely thinned out around Chicago gallery king Kavi Gupta, who by the afternoon had sold a painting by Jeffrey Gibson for $200,000, a Beverly Fishman to a private collector for $85,000, and an Allana Clarke sculpture for $30,000.

The gallery also mounted an ambitious public artwork: a vibrant, unmistakable billboard of Family (1976) by Gerald Williams, installed in the heart of downtown. 

GERALD WILLIAMS, <I>Family,</I> 1976. Courtesy of Kavi Gupta, Chicago. PHOTO BY FAITH KELSEY

Gerald Williams, Family (1976). Courtesy of Kavi Gupta, Chicago. Photo: Faith Kelsey.

Over at the booth for Karsten Schubert, in town from London, were occult-like figurative works by Northern Irish artist Kirsten Glass sellling for between $6,000 and $35,000.

“We were thinking about opening ourselves up to the market here with one artist we thought would appeal to the audience,” gallery director CeCe Manganaro said. “We heard this is a good fair for figurative painting in that range.”

Elsewhere, Kasmin from New York sold a drawing by Dorothea Tanning for $30,000 and Jan-Ole Schiemann’s nearly psychedelic Mondo Aubergino for $28,000, which all makes sense for a city with its rich Hairy Who and Imagist traditions. Thus the appeal of Kirsten Glass at Karsten Schubert as well.

But Thursday morning is still early days in Chicago: the traffic, dealers said, doesn’t really pick up until collectors stroll in after getting off work. (Chicago: it’s a blue-collar city!) But not even that matters to everyone.

“I’ve found in years past that the best relationships we [make here] are less with big collectors,” said Gent, the Document gallery director, “but actually with a curator that we’ll end up doing shows with.”

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