As Fairs Face Unprecedented Scrutiny, EXPO Chicago Launches a New Curator Exchange Platform

The fair will help foot the bill to bring dozens of curators to the city.

Courtesy of EXPO Chicago.
Courtesy of EXPO Chicago.

Art fairs have, in recent months, become a frequent art-world punching bag. Now more than ever, they have to justify their existence in order to keep dealers and collectors coming back. For EXPO Chicago, that requires making sure that the right people are in town and browsing the aisles during the fair’s upcoming seventh edition.

To help make that happen, the fair, which takes place each September, has launched its first international curatorial exchange program. EXPO plans to fly in top curators from China, Denmark, France, Italy, and the Netherlands to visit the fair and take part in a symposium. The effort marks an expansion of the fair’s annual curatorial and critics forum, which it has held for several years.

“In addition to the 30-plus curators that we will fly in for the forum, another ten to 15 curators will come to Chicago as part of the curatorial exchange,” the fair’s director, Tony Karman, told artnet News. “I’ve always said I want this to be a great international fair. To do that, you have to support the exhibitors not just through collector outreach, but also providing curatorial commitment and rigorous programming.”

EXPO director Tony Karman. Photo: Cory Dewald/EXPO Chicago via Facebook.

The curatorial forum and its related events have been organized in conjunction with Independent Curators International. The goal is to bring curators to the city to explore the fair, but also encourage interactions among colleagues “in a way that provides great opportunities to collaborate,” says Karman. (Last year, the fair teamed up with the Palais de Tokyo for an off-site project.)

EXPO Chicago is one of a small number of fairs to initiate and fund a curatorially-driven program of this kind in the US. Others that have launched similar initiatives include Frieze New York and the Armory Show.

The Roundhouse at the DuSable Museum of African American Art. Photo by Assaf Evron.

Jochen Volz, director of the Pinacoteca de Sao Paulo, will deliver a keynote discussion at the curatorial forum and a series of peer-led breakout sessions will explore topics including accessibility, race, social justice, and labor conditions.

The fair bears the costs of all curatorial forum participants, while cultural agencies are helping with the costs of the exchange program. “It behooves us to make sure that we’re doing as much as we can to layer in the kind of thoughtful programming that gives [galleries] a greater opportunity for success,” Karman says.

EXPO Chicago takes place at Navy Pier from September 27 to 30.


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