Expo Chicago: Art goes above and beyond the gallery walls

The fair’s fourth edition will have works hanging from the ceiling, public art around the city and the first Greater Midwest Curatorial Forum

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As new art fairs crop up every year, organisers have to do more to stand out. This year, the four-year-old Midwestern fair Expo Chicago will raise the bar, literally, by suspending several large-scale works of art from the 55ft-high ceilings of its Navy Pier venue.

The idea came to Louis Grachos, the curator of the fair’s site-specific section In/Situ, while taking a walk through Navy Pier with the fair director and president Tony Karman. “The volume was spectacular,” Grachos says. “The idea that an exhibition would essentially float in space above the activity of the fair was a very exciting format for me.”

Visitors will stroll beneath colourful grids of glass by the French artist Daniel Buren, From Three Windows, 5 Colours for 252 Places (2006), and a neon text sculpture in Latin by the Welsh artist Cerith Wyn Evans, In Girum Imus Nocte Et Consumimur Igni (2006), as well as works by Antony Gormley, Matthias Bitzer, Keith Sonnier, Jessica Stockholder and Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. Grachos hopes that the aerial exhibition will become a recurring feature of the fair.

The organisers have also worked with the Chicago authorities to ramp up the fair’s In/Situ Outside section of public art. Last year, a bronze edition of Ai Weiwei’s Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads (2010) was displayed outside the Adler Planetarium; this year three or four pieces will be installed around the city. In the Museum Campus park, at the edge of Lake Michigan, there will be another coloured glass work by Buren, Attrape-Soleil (2013), and Giuseppe Penone’s bronze trees with rocks in the branches, Idee di pietra—Olmo (Ideas of Stone–Elm) (2008).

“Chicago has a great legacy of public art,” Karman says. He expects the number of public sculptures to grow each year. “We would love to have ten or more works. It’s very much an initiative and hope of [Mayor] Rahm Emanuel.”

Better use of same space

Apart from a few adjustments to the layout of the show—wider aisles and an Exposure section for younger galleries that is more integrated into the main fair—returning visitors should not expect dramatic changes. There will still be 140 galleries, the same number as last year, which Karman says is the maximum. “When we launched the fair in 2012 I made the commitment that this would be a smaller fair. Our success will not be measured by growing the number of galleries,” he says.

While there is a slight rise in the number of international exhibitors this year, the fair maintains a strong local presence. Organisers are launching the first Greater Midwest Curatorial Forum to bring 25 curators from institutions across Middle America.

“Our intent was always to serve the greater Midwest,” Karman says. “But [the fair] couldn’t exist without attracting collectors and curators from both coasts, Latin America, Europe and now a little more into Asia. Chicago is a strategically located international city.”

• Expo Chicago, Navy Pier, 600E Grand Avenue, Chicago, 17-20 September

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