Q & A

Q&A: Why New Art Expo Will Make Chicago a Global Art Destination

By Jenny Berg September 11, 2012, 3:33 PM EDT

Tony Karman, president and director of Expo Chicago

Photo: Audia Inc.

Produced by Art Expositions L.L.C., the first Expo Chicago, the International Exposition of Contemporary/Modern Art and Design, takes over Navy Pier's Festival Hall from September 20 to 23. With a strict cap of 100 exhibitors and an interior environment designed by architect Jeanne Gang, the fair will showcase work from emerging and established galleries alongside large-scale installations and performance pieces. It will also include panel discussions, private events and tours, and a September 19 preview benefiting the Museum of Contemporary Art.

As he puts the finishing touches on the ambitious event, we spoke to show director and president Tony Karman about his goals, his vision, and the benefits of keeping the show on the small side.

What is your ultimate goal with the expo? 
To reestablish Chicago as a preeminent international art fair destination and to serve Chicago's extraordinary cultural community of institutions, schools, collectors, curators, galleries, and artists for many years to come.
What is the most challenging part of launching a major art event in Chicago? Did you run into any unforeseen challenges?   
We announced Expo Chicago almost 15 months ago with a vision, a partnership, and a commitment from Navy Pier. The only challenge is the limits of time, as we continue to build meaningful programming and partnerships that ultimately shape the exposition. The project is a huge undertaking, but the overwhelming support of our city's institutions, collectors, and civic leaders has smoothed a path for our success. Unforeseen challenges? I'll let you know right after the exposition.

What are the benefits of capping the number of exhibitors at the expo? 
Early on, we put a flag in the sand with an earnest pledge to focus on quality, not quantity, and not to build a mega-fair. We are in this for the long term, and we should never rush our growth. We are mindful that we have to do all that we can to ensure that our exhibitors are successful.  
How did you select the galleries that will exhibit?  
We established a selection committee that reviewed all of the applications to participate. Rhona Hoffman of Rhona Hoffman Gallery in Chicago, Anthony Meier of Anthony Meier Fine Art in San Francisco, and Chris D'Amelio of D'Amelio Gallery in New York comprised the committee for this inaugural year.
Why did you choose to host the event at Navy Pier?
That was an easy decision, as Navy Pier was the original site for the Chicago International Art Exposition [which ran from 1980 through 2011]. Festival Hall at Navy Pier was built in large part because of the importance of that early art fair. Chicago hosted that leading fair for over 20 years, and throughout that time, the top collectors in the world and dealers in the world either visited or participated. For that reason, like the Grand Palais in Paris, Navy Pier holds a hallowed place in the art world.
What is your target audience, and how did you promote the event to them?  
We launched an international advertising and marketing campaign immediately after our announcement in June 2011, and we have maintained a strong print, Web, social media, TV, and radio presence to support the fair. We have targeted regional and international collectors, curators, and art enthusiasts through direct mail, and we have worked closely with our partners to further the outreach. Our target is quite broad, as we want to reach the top collectors throughout the world, but we know that we also want to invite a larger audience to explore and learn about the work for sale and what it means to collect. 
What's your vision for the expo going forward? Will it be annual? Will it remain the same size?
Absolutely it is an annual event! Next year's dates are announced for September 18 to 22, and we will be announcing future dates very soon. I expect that we will keep [the expo at] about the same size.

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