EXPO CHICAGO Debuts EXHIBITION Weekend, ‘Alternate Assembly 2020,’ As Virtual Fall Events
By Chadd Scott
Having announced in May that it would be postponing the in-person EXPO CHICAGO contemporary art fair originally scheduled for later this month to April of 2021, event organizers announced a new series of programs which will fill those dates and continue shining a light on the city’s visual arts community.
“We wanted to make it Chicago specific, very much in keeping with our mission to be supportive of Chicago galleries, institutions, artists, etcetera,” Tony Karman, President | Director of EXPO CHICAGO, told Forbes.com. “The good news is, it allows us to focus global attention on what's happening in our great city over these three days and also provide a nice opportunity for us to test a new a new online viewing room.”
EXHIBITION Weekend (September 25-27) will showcase Chicago-based exhibits, curatorial projects and artist programs through a series of virtual studio visits, exhibition and gallery tours, and discussions, as well as a custom online viewing and sales platform accessible worldwide.
That platform has been developed by Hook, an online venue which brings together seasoned art collectors and established galleries to create a marketplace for viewing, buying, selling and learning about art. Hook allows for a seamless transition to live communication between galleries and collectors through a video chat service that is integrated into the experience.
For 2020, it’s as close as widely available technology can come to recreating the in-person art fair or gallery experience virtually.
“It's not a perfect way to connect to a collector if you're a dealer because there's nothing that replaces the in-person experience, but it's a step that everyone needed to take and here we are,” Karman said. “The art world can never go backwards, we both as fairs–and I know a gallery would say the same–need to embrace digital in ways that make it easier to connect all of the patrons to the galleries as well as a broader global audience.”
Hook provides galleries the opportunity to upload enormous amounts of information to dedicated artist web pages including not just works for sale, but ephemera and video, to help customers become more educated about the artist. It also provides for real-time interaction between online patrons and gallerists.
“It will allow the dealer to go ahead and refer immediately to that material so a collector that's inquiring can engage in a conversation similar to the way they engage in the conversation at an art fair or within a gallery and I think that brings the digital to the real in a very important way,” Karman said.
The weekend will commence with a conversation featuring artist Nick Cave, introduced by philanthropist and Art for Justice founder Agnes Gund, discussing the re-release of Cave's limited-edition print for sale in support of Art for Justice on September 24.
Art for Justice Fund is a five-year initiative created by Gund in partnership with Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors and the Ford Foundation. The Fund invests in artists and advocates dedicated to ending mass incarceration and the racial bias that fuels it. To date, Art for Justice has invested over $75 million across almost 150 grants.
Chicago audiences will have select opportunities to view exhibitions in-person (by appointment) aligning with EXHIBITION Weekend. Participating institutions include the Art Institute of Chicago, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, DePaul Art Museum, Monique Meloche Gallery and many others.
Karman recognizes in his audience a growing desire to again see art unmoderated by a screen.
“There’s still, rightfully so, strong concern for large scale gathering, but that doesn't tamper the yearning for an in-person experience…I think people want to get back and do what humans do, interact with live cultural experiences,” Karman said.
EXPO CHICAGO additionally announced another fall program, Alternate Assembly 2020: Environmental Impact in the Era of Pandemic (October 15-18). The purpose of this new event is to engage the fair’s local and global audience through film screenings and live-streamed panel discussions featuring leading curators, artists and scholars worldwide. Continuing EXPO CHICAGO's commitment to providing a public forum for critical dialogue, Alternate Assembly 2020 will address the ways in which contemporary art can contribute to rethinking our environment within the era of pandemic.
Consider it all “making the best of a bad situation.”
“I don't think there's anyone in the art world that would say that digital will ever fully replace an in-person experience,” Karman said. “There's a magic that can happen when you've gone into an exhibition in a gallery or you are at an art fair where there's loads of information that's coming from many different areas, running into individuals that you didn't know were there, hearing conversations, dinners afterwards, etcetera, all of that magic that takes place in person, I don't think is replicatable yet on a digital platform because that kind of interaction is what fuels not just a transaction, but also fuels information and creates so many different ways that an experience can expand.”
As for the main event in April of 2021? Will EXPO CHICAGO need to postpone again?
“The best thing we can do is do what we did, even before we postponed the September fair to April, is to continue to monitor and be in communication with the exhibitors and be in communication with all those individuals that are helping to communicate a ‘go,’ ‘no go’ for us,” Karman said. “We would be foolish to say we're 100% for sure that were happening in April, it's going to take time, but we also have to be careful about being responsible to the exhibitors and the dealers because there is a certain amount of time that they need to prepare and we need to prepare.”