Another coronavirus change: Expo Chicago art fair moves to next spring

Another coronavirus change: Expo Chicago art fair moves to next spring
By Steve Johnson

Claiming a new date on the American visual arts calendar, Expo Chicago, the big fall art fair on Navy Pier, is being postponed until next spring, the organization announced Tuesday.

The announcement of April 8-11, 2021, as the event’s next dates reflects an increasing understanding that the traditional late September long weekend was not going to fall early enough in the expected coronavirus recovery cycle, said Expo Chicago President and Director Tony Karman.

A month ago, Karman still hoped that the 8-year-old event, which brings together galleries, collectors, curators and other art lovers, could take place on the planned September 24-27, 2020, dates.

“We just needed to make this decision and make this decision now," Karman said before Tuesday’s announcement, "to ensure the health and safety and well being of our patrons.”

The decision follows the announcement last week of Illinois’s and then Chicago’s incremental plans toward re-opening businesses and public spaces. Both sets of guidelines involve crossing a variety of public-health hurdles before, in the final phases, large public gatherings might occur again, and both pledge to follow the science and the data over those hurdles.

Experts doubt the city or state will be ready by fall to host crowds as large as those of — full name — Expo Chicago, The International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, which Karman said has drawn nearly 40,000 people over the four days.

“It was obvious that the risk to so many wasn’t worth taking,” he said. “After all, we’re only as good as the exhibitors that were looking to do the fair, and it would have been hard for them.”

One of the more than 125 galleries that exhibit at Expo Chicago is the city’s Corbett vs. Dempsey, and like its Chicago peers it has been closed in order to help slow the virus’s spread.

Co-founder John Corbett said he fully supports the Expo Chicago decision to claim new time in the spring rather than just make a shorter-term postponement.

“To have someone think long game like this is really, really helpful," he said. "It helps us to know that that’s out there, but it also helps us to know that it’s a time where we can imagine there’ll be a lot less uncertainty than there would be, for instance, in September, October, November.”

Corbett, who sits on the fair’s selection committee, added, “You want it to be something where you can go into it really feeling gung ho about getting people out to see the work.”

Monique Meloche, an Expo exhibitor and founder of the gallery that bears her name in the West Town neighborhood, also backed the move.

“It’s the absolute right decision,” she said. “I know they were very hopeful of being the first (art) fair to reopen during this thing, but it’s just become apparent the timing is not going to be right.”

One potential challenge with the change, she said, is that Chicago’s September weather is pretty reliably good, while April, the new Expo date, and May, the traditional date for Chicago art fairs before Expo began in 2012, “is always iffy,” she said. “Fingers crossed on the climate.”

On the other hand, countered Corbett, April might well be the time when art fair aficionados are feeling ready to get together in large numbers again.

With other fairs making postponements by steps rather than leaps, “the way things are rolling out, it may put Chicago in a position to be one of, if not the most, important fairs in that period in the United States,” Corbett said.

Karman said it remains to be seen whether Expo Chicago would remain on the spring calendar or seek to return to September for future editions.