As unfestive as Thursday’s political events were, the economic backdrop to the fair was conducive to buying, said several bankers in attendance. Evan Beard, national art services executive at U.S. Trust, Bank of America Private Wealth Management (and an Artsy
contributor) said the bank was holding an event with Richard Gray Gallery
for 50 collectors later that weekend, and he’d seen important “up-and-comers” from New York, Minneapolis, and Chicago at the opening night.
“We’re in a strong economy; I think the macro story is overwhelming any micro story on tariffs right now for wealthy people,” Beard said. “Chicago’s been a good market for us this year,” both for the art lending division and for engaging with collectors more broadly, “and this fair is an important pillar.”
The region itself is on an upswing, said Mac MacLellan, executive vice president of wealth management at Northern Trust, the presenting sponsor of the fair, with technology companies and seed capital pouring into Chicago, thanks to its concentration of universities. He noted many of the manufacturing-heavy Midwestern states—Wisconsin, Indiana, Iowa—had unemployment rates below
the already-low national average of 3.9 percent. He said it was too early to feel the effects of tariffs recently announced by the Trump administration; regardless, the benefits of the large corporate tax cut enacted in 2017 will balance out the impact of tariffs for most companies, he said.
“Net-net, they’re probably going get a bigger boost from the tax cuts than they are going to get hurt by the tariffs, at least that’s what we’ve seen so far,” MacLellan said. “Art is considered a luxury asset, and luxury assets tend to do well in a bull market.”
There were some questions as to whether Chicago’s smaller local galleries did not participate in the fair due to costs, as was suggested by a story
in The Art Newspaper
published Wednesday. But Meloche pointed out how the story failed to note that several of the Chicago galleries that weren’t doing the fair had recently moved to new locations—with all of the energy and expense that entails—and the owners of those galleries could be seen at the vernissage, shepherding their collectors around and showing their own support for the fair. The fair had 135 galleries this year, the same number as last year
Tony Karman, the president and director of the fair, pointed out that Chicago heavyweights such as Meloche, Rhona Hoffman, Richard Gray, and Kavi Gupta were all present (and have been since the beginning of the fair), and that support for the fair was widespread throughout the city. He acknowledged that fairs are expensive for smaller galleries, though at an average of $50 to $55 per square foot, Expo Chicago is cheaper than many other fairs (booths in the Exposure section, for younger galleries, are around $8,000). He also said his fair has long offered a tiered pricing system with lower per-square-foot costs for smaller booths, which has been recently adopted by larger fairs such as Art Basel and Frieze. And the fair has only had a price increase once in its seven years.
“It’s our job to adjust and be nimble and be respectful, and I’m more than open—and always have been—to make sure that we’re providing the value that they deserve,” Karman said.