Expo Chicago acquired by international art show producer Frieze

London-based Frieze also purchased New York’s Armory Show, adding to its roster of art events.

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Art handlers, gallery owners and artists set up at Expo Chicago at Navy Pier in April 2022. Expo Chicago and New York’s Armory show were acquired this week by Frieze, a London-based firm that manages some of the world’s most prominent art shows.

Art handlers, gallery owners and artists set up at Expo Chicago at Navy Pier in April 2022. Expo Chicago and New York’s Armory show were acquired this week by Frieze, a London-based firm that manages some of the world’s most prominent art shows.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file photo

Expo Chicago, once one of the longest-running and largest art shows in the western hemisphere, was acquired this week by an international firm that organizes some of the world’s most prominent art events.

London-based Frieze this week announced the purchase of both Expo Chicago and New York’s Armory Show. Both events will continue using their existing names, with their local operators, but the Frieze brand and resources will add prestige and potentially draw more and more influential artists and galleries to the event, held at Navy Pier since 2012.

Joining the Frieze portfolio of art fairs, which includes other major shows in New York, Los Angeles, London and Seoul, Korea, is an endorsement of Chicago’s status in the global art world, said Tony Karman, president and director of Expo Chicago since he founded the event in 2012.

“It’s just a validation in every way of the marketplace that Chicago represents and the institutions, galleries and artists living and working in Chicago,” said Karman, who will remain in his role with Expo Chicago under Frieze.

“Having the ability to access the even larger family of Frieze fairs, their networks and programming, will only enhance the impact of Expo Chicago.”

Expo Chicago — started in the 1980s as Art Chicago — had long been the largest art show in the Midwest, and began as one of the largest in the world.

By the 1990s, it had achieved international importance in the world of contemporary and modern art but had fallen in prestige as once-smaller events like Basel Miami Beach rose in prominence. Beset by financial problems by 2006, Art Chicago was nearly canceled before being hastily moved from a planned site in Grant Park to the Merchandise Mart.

Art Chicago continued each year in the Mart until 2012, when Karman launched Expo Chicago and returned the show to Navy Pier. In April, Expo Chicago drew some 170 galleries from 36 countries to Navy Pier.

“These acquisitions mark a transformational moment in Frieze’s growth and allow us to extend the depth and breadth of our presence in the US—the world’s leading art market,” Frieze CEO Simon Fox said in a statement. “New York and Chicago each have their own distinct ecosystem of artists, galleries, museums, and collectors. By expanding our presence in both cities, we will build on the strong track record we have established in the US at Frieze New York and Frieze Los Angeles.”

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