EXPO CHICAGO, the region’s preeminent exposition of Contemporary Art, may be in the Midwest—but it is anything but provincial. With galleries and programs of all sizes coming in from all corners of the globe, and set in Chicago’s own melting pot of top-notch hospitality, citywide engagement and artistic rigor, there’s no way to not find an adventure of your choosing in this great American city.
With a ton to do and see both on-site and throughout the neighborhoods, we’re checking in with EXPO’s Director of Programming, Kate Sierzputowski, on what to expect when you visit—from impeccable installations and curated conversations, to the world-famous culinary scene and local insider must-stop shops (and everything in between!).
Tell us all about it, Kate!
We’re so excited to celebrate the 10th anniversary edition of EXPO CHICAGO, which takes place each year under the famed dome of Festival Hall on Navy Pier. A bit of an overview about the fair… There are over 170 exhibitors from 36 countries and 90 cities spread across four main gallery sections ranging in establishment from emerging and alternative spaces to long-standing blue-chip galleries. The emerging galleries compose our EXPOSURE section, curated this year by Aimé Iglesias Lukin, Director and Chief Curator of Visual Arts at Americas Society in New York. The fair also includes presentations from local and international cultural institutions and nonprofits adding to the diversity of the art world ecosystem on view. This year’s presentation includes a Lithuanian pavilion curated by Meno Parkas, a screening room of Dutch video works curated by Jeanette Bisschops, and a presentation by Arsenal Contemporary, which has spaces in Canada and New York.
Throughout Festival Hall, our IN/SITU program features exciting large-scale installations and hanging works that you can’t miss while visiting (they’re literally too big to miss). This year, the section is curated by Claudia Segura, Curator of Exhibitions and Collection at MACBA, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona. She’s an absolute joy to work with, and I’m excited to see how her curatorial vision of alternate ways of storytelling is explored through the works present at the fair.
My definite must try-to-get-theres:
Go to Cindy’s on the rooftop of the Chicago Athletic Association for a martini. It’s hard to find a table, but the drinks and view are well worth it!
Rent an hour at Evanston’s Sauna Club and jump in the lake (it’s not that bad in April!).
Then head to City Newsstand to browse their endless stock of magazines.
Head to a show at one of Chicago’s premier alternative performance spaces, like Constellation, Elastic Arts, or Podlasie Club to see music or dance while you’re in town.
Go to the first floor of the Drake Hotel for a vesper and burger at Coq d’Or. It’s a Chicago institution!
For our public discourse program known as /Dialogues, curated in collaboration with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, we center conversations with artists and curators. This is a chance for us to showcase how work is being considered outside of an art fair context by featuring thought-provoking projects and academic discussions, while also previewing major upcoming exhibitions, biennials, and institutional offerings. On the flip side, our Exchange Stage, which hosts our VIP talks program, focuses on issues within the economies of the art market including private and institutional collecting and stewardship.
I’m very excited about a conversation I am co-presenting with OSMOS Magazine this year with Richard Bell, an Aboriginal Australian artist that had major pieces included in Documenta 15 and whose solo exhibition I was able to see at the Castello di Rivoli this summer. The exhibition was curated by Marcella Beccaria, our 2022 IN/SITU curator.
Finally, as a continuation of our inaugural Director’s Summit program, we will have two public round table conversations with emerging U.S. museum directors. Our Friday Directors Summit conversation will directly follow a discussion with the Center for Native Futures (CFNF), an art center for Native artists and writers to develop their artistic practices, which is set to open a location in downtown Chicago this fall. Members of CFNF will be in conversation with several Indigenous curators working to tell Indigenous stories in art institutions across the US and Canada.
Chicago has a long history of artist-run spaces, fueled by the many art schools that exist in the city and the comparatively cheap rent (to other major U.S. cities). Artists happily create space in their backyards, basements, studios, cabinets, and literally any other spare corner to show work that isn’t being shown at commercial spaces. That’s the best part—the rules are few and far between!
A few of my favorites in the city are Produce Model and Prairie in Pilsen; 4th Ward Project Space in Hyde Park; LVL3 in Wicker Park; Sulk in the South Loop; Roman Susan near Loyola’s campus; and Julius Caesar which I co-direct (which is sadly on hiatus).
Personally, I just opened an apartment gallery in my laundry room called AIRLOCK with my fiancé, Sam, and our neighbor Dan Koretsky. Dan’s own space, Soccer Club Club, is also a can’t-miss. Their openings often feature live music by Drag City Records artists. During the fair this year, painter Theodora Allen will open an exhibition there that I recommend everyone get to.
Apartment galleries and artist-run spaces are potent sources of community in the city. Even my EXPO colleague Madeline Gallucci has an apartment gallery, lovingly called Roommate, located in her ex-roommate’s room. And this one’s for the birds—literally. One of the most creative uses I’ve seen recently comes from writer and curator Erin Toale, who has a submission-only gallery showcasing artwork on her front porch called Bird Show. There’s even a live web cam to watch visitors in flight!
When I do get a moment to go off-site, it’s typically to a collector’s home as a part of our VIP program. However, not too far from Navy Pier is Marisol at the MCA; Mariposa at Neiman Marcus (which serves gratis popovers and broth that I dream about); Cocoro, one of my favorite Japanese spots in the city owned by a mother and daughter; or the new-ish Mexican restaurant Tzuco in River North. If you want to venture a little further out of the Loop, my all-time favorites include Cellar Door Provisions and Lula Café in Logan Square, or Le Bouchon in Wicker Park. Elina’s is also an excellent new Italian place on Grand if you can get there. Oh, and I also love Sushi Dokku in the West Loop, and Kai Zan in West Town if you can take a quick car ride into the neighborhoods.
IN/SITU Outside is our collaboration with the City of Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), the Chicago Park District, and Navy Pier to temporarily place major sculptures throughout Chicago which highlight work by internationally recognized artists. One of my favorite works we featured for IN/SITU Outside in 2022 was Nancy Rubins’ Dense Bud (2016) which was placed on the lakefront path near Promontory Point in Hyde Park. Her sculpture is a combination of many different animal forms, and when I got the chance to visit the work with Nancy over the summer, there was a giant swarm of hundreds of dragonflies. The flying creatures seem to radiate from the sculpture—what an experience!
OVERRIDE, another partnership with DCASE, is our citywide program that features work by artists represented by fair exhibitors and underrepresented Chicago-based artists throughout Chicago’s network of digital billboards. Throughout the city, art pieces flash across the digital billboards in between advertisements. They perform almost as momentary hallucinations. Two of my favorite places to view the program are the South Loop, where you can head to White Palace Grill or Manny’s after pulling off the highway for a glance. There’s also a great spot near River West at Grand and Milwaukee. You can often find free parking nearby and then take a walk over to Piccolo Sogno, a longtime favorite restaurant among local foodies.
During your offsite EXPO journeys, I highly recommend touring Carla Acevedo-Yates’s Forecast Form: Art in the Caribbean Diaspora, 1990s-Today at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) which envisions a new approach to contemporary art in the Caribbean diaspora. And not to be missed, The Art Institute will have a solo exhibition of textile work by Bahamian artist Gio Swaby (who participated in our /Dialogues program last year); and our Curatorial Forum participant Leslie Wilson curated a show at The Smart Museum of Art titled Not All Realisms.
Friend of the fair and co-founder of Gertie and Art in Common, Abby Pucker, has organized a large-scale group exhibition exploring magic and the alchemy of water titled Boil, Toil, and Trouble in partnership with curator Zoe Lukov which will take over a 10,000-square foot unused building in Chicago’s Fulton Market District. Their exhibition that aligned with EXPO in 2022, Skin the Game, was a huge hit so this is sure to impress. Also, Beth Rudin DeWoody will have a selection of her consummate collection on view at the Peninsula Chicago, displaying works she has purchased over the years from Chicago-based galleries.
Of course I must mention a newer satellite, Barely Fair at Color Club, a 1:12 miniature scale international fair now three years running. You have to see it in person! And don’t forget to stop in at the first floor of Color Club to also see galleries Latent Space and RUSCHMAN. Afterward, head down the street to Resi’s Bierstube, a German dive bar with great food!
If you’re going to shop around town, Tusk is my all-time favorite store/experience. The owner, Mary Eleanor, is one of my very close friends and we have an ongoing collaborative project called EPISODE that exists between retail and exhibitions. We recently curated an exhibition-meets-banquet titled Unsalted that invited seven artists and culinary designers to create sculptures out of butter. They were eaten during the opening. She carries fabulous vintage pieces, features unique contemporary artist collaborations, and has unbeatable hats. She knows how to bring people together through wine, food, and objects.
My other go-to is local darling Field & Florist on Division, known for the best flower cooler. I like going in and requesting bizarre arrangements with very specific themes. A great bouquet serves as good motivation to get through the week! They also have scents you can’t find anywhere else and amazing gifts. You must make a stop at their fragrance shop in the historic Monadnock Building located in the Loop if you have the chance. There is also this small place that opened recently near me on Chicago Avenue called Tribute which has the best Japanese knives and ceramics.
If you can’t steal away from downtown you definitely have to stop into Buddy, which features art and wares from local artists inside the Chicago Cultural Center. The Cultural Center is yet another great space for delighting in the city, with its well-thought exhibitions both rotating and permanent, historical architecture including Tiffany domes and original mosaics, and it’s perfect for people watching.