As the coronavirus’s second wave continues to restrict in-person gatherings throughout much of the United States, one art fair has decided that it will postpone its upcoming edition until later in 2021. Expo Chicago, which had postponed its 2020 edition originally scheduled for September until April, has made the decision to push the fair, now four months away, until later in the year, becoming the first international art fair to postpone a scheduled event in 2021.
In an interview, Tony Karman, the fair’s president and director, said that the fair would not announce new dates at this time as it is still unclear when it would be able to safely host the fair. The earliest the fair will take place will be in July, but can come as late as its traditional dates in September.
“As with everything, like going to a restaurant or an exhibition, if an exhibitor is expending the money for an art fair it has to be safe and it also has to be a viable option for success,” Karman told ARTnews. “It was obvious that we had to postpone, recognizing, unfortunately, that things aren’t going the way they should for people to gather safely.”
Karman said that the fair has worked with its venue, Navy Pier, to secure several potential dates during that time frame for when the fair might occur. As it did in the fall, Expo Chicago will host an online version of the fair between April 8–11, when the 2021 fair was to take place. For its pre-Covid-19 editions, the fair typically hosts some 130 galleries in the Navy Pier’s 170,000-square-foot hall, which has allowed it to have an already spacious layout. Karman said that for any edition in 2021 would be scaled back in terms of exhibitors that will allow it “to be even more spacious” and with new health and safety precautions.
“If you look realistically at large events happening in 2021 anywhere in the world, no one knows,” he added. “This postponement has everything to do with being responsible. At this time, it’s hard to say when the right time that the fair can happen because things continue to change quickly—or stay the same.”
Last May, Expo Chicago was the first fall fair to say that it would not host its in-person edition at a time when many fairs were still hopeful that an in-person fair could take place in September or October. Because of the timing of this decision, Expo Chicago had not finalized its exhibitor list and had not yet received payments from exhibitors.
“How we want to handle our postponement is with a commitment to lessening any financial impact by asking for funds and with great respect with our partnership that we have with our exhibitors,” Karman said.
In addition to its online fair, Expo Chicago will also host a three-day symposium later this month that will act as a replacement for the robust programming that usually accompanies the in-person fair. Titled “Alternate Assembly” and running January 21–23, the convening will include panels on water-land rights and accessibility with artists Carolina Caycedo, Raqs Media Collective, and Oscar Tuzaon; a curatorial discussion, in partnership with Independent Curators International, titled “Weathering Regional Landscapes”; and Sean Raspet, Hương Ngô, and Elizabeth Hénaff in “On Viruses — Critical Theory and Contagion.”
“Alternate Assembly reflects our internal thoughts, discussions, and reactions to many of the changes—environment impact, DEI issues, Black Lives Matter—that have been happening over the last few months,” Karman said.