New York’s David Nolan Gallery
was also capitalizing on Chicago’s famous hometown boosterism. Nolan, who sits on the fair’s selection committee, brought several of his Chicago-born or -based artists, including
. By the start of the weekend the gallery had sold a mahogany sculpture by
’s much-discussed The new sun will warm our proud and naked bodies
(2016), and an untitled 2016 graphite drawing by Chicago artist Jim Nutt
. Sale prices ranged from $15,000 to around $80,000, said George Newall, associate director at the gallery.
“There’s a huge dedication to local artists, real pride and support,” said Newall, “but also a great taste for the international scene. It goes both ways.” He said the gallery has established strong relationships with collectors who come back year after year for “repeat purchases,” and described the community as “very warm and engaged.”
Local gallery Corbett vs. Dempsey
started in 2004 and has become a champion for Chicago artists, even as it expanded its roster to include national and international artists. One early step, said partner John Corbett, was bringing those Chicago artists to international fairs such as Art Cologne and Frieze Masters. Seeing their work hanging alongside other world-class artists in an international context bolstered the confidence of local collectors in the strength of the artists’ work, and the gallery’s program more broadly.
“It’s a way for people back home to understand the viability of the work,” Corbett said, adding that he has since stopped doing both of those fairs due to the exhaustion and expense. And with a great fair in his own backyard, he and his small staff (they are six in all) can reduce their fair travel.
At EXPO, he had sold a
drawing, as well as works by Chicago artist
, including Solid Sky
; a textile work by LA-based
; and pieces by
, only one of which was pre-sold. He described Chicago’s art market as somewhere between New York’s and Dallas’s—not quite as small and tightly knit as in Dallas, where the overlap between collectors and museum trustees is almost 100%, but not as diffuse as New York’s. He said that there was nonetheless still “a long way to go” in cultivating the next generation of collectors.
“What we’re seeing right now is the potential for a real transformative thing happening in Chicago in terms of arts patronage in the broadest sense,” Corbett said. “How that actually plays out is still to be seen, but I think a fair like this is extremely important in that ecosystem.”
Frank Elbaz, owner of the Paris- and Dallas-based Galerie Frank Elbaz, was one of Karman’s new recruits. Participating in EXPO Chicago made sense as part of his strategy to cultivate a deep U.S. collector base (setting up shop in Dallas
was another component of this strategy), but he said Karman’s aggressive courtship was decisive. Karman invited the gallery to visit Chicago and set up a jam-packed schedule of meetings with collectors and museum curators over the course of two days for gallery director Danielle Cardoso Maia.
“Like that, you can smell the city,” said Elbaz. He and Maia concluded it was fragrant.
“For most European people, Chicago, it’s like the Sleeping Beauty” of the U.S. market, Elbaz said. “We knew the Chicago art fair was big 30 years ago, but now maybe there is a kind of revival, thanks to Tony Karman and the fair.”
Elbaz said he and his team had put in a lot of work ahead of the fair connecting with the curators and collectors who would be in attendance (their names were provided by the fair). He sold a work by Mangelos to a trustee of the Art Institute of Chicago, and a piece by Julije Knifer to another collector. Neither work sold right out of the booth to someone walking in, but both were peripheral sales that wouldn’t have resulted without his presence at the fair, he said. That left him a little time on Thursday to watch on his laptop as his football team, Nice, beat Zulte Waregem in the Europa League, 5-1.