"Listening Chamber" by Juan Angel Chavez

The opening panel discussion at this year’s Art Chicago is titled “What If: To Dream, Desire and Acquire,” and that pretty much sums up the annual fair that brings together collectors, curators, artists, gallerists, scholars, and kibbitzers for four days of looking, talking, and dealing.

Running Friday through Monday, Art Chicago concentrates on modern and contemporary art. It shares the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart with NEXT, a concurrent showcase of emerging artists. The two fairs are collaborating on some events, and a ticket to one not only gets you into the other but also into the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair, down on the eighth floor. The three together fall under the rubric of “Artropolis.”

Among the highlights:

Your Thursday-evening preview options depend on how much you want to spend and how late you want to stay up. First Focus includes appetizers and cocktails, VIP admission to the fairs, and book signings by photographer Laura Letinsky and avant-restaurateurs Grant Achatz and Nick Kokonas (3-6 PM, $150). It’s followed by another, more plebeian preview offering wine and beer as well as DJ sets courtesy of Fig Media (6-9 PM, $40).

There’ll be 120 exhibitors on hand at Art Chicago, ranging from local notables like Anchor Graphics, Corbett vs. Dempsey, and the Carl Hammer Gallery to such exotic concerns as Berlin’s Wilde Gallery, Moscow’s Art-Kvartal, Paris’s Martin du Louvre, Tokyo’s Wada Garou, and Houston’s John Palmer Fine Art. Art Chicago and NEXT jointly sponsor Focus Photography, an exhibit of contemporary and vintage photography, and New Insight, a show of MFA work from across the country. Sculpture and installation projects will dot the Merchandise Mart both inside and out.

Besides the aforementioned panel on dreaming, desiring, and acquiring (noon-1 PM), Friday’s colloquies include “Think Global, Collect Local,” in which collectors Larry Fields and Louis Corrigan put forth the notion that locavore values needn’t apply only to vegetables (3-4 PM).

On Saturday you can sit in on “Edgy Art: Who’s Collecting It, Who’s Exhibiting It?,” a panel inspired by the recent removal of a controversial David Wojnarowicz video from the National Portrait Gallery (1:30-2:30 PM). “In Our Own Backyard” features curators from the Renaissance Society, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Museum of Contemporary Photography, and the Art Institute talking about the growth in support for regional artists (3-4 PM). And “Sound Structure” explores “sound . . . activated and manipulated as a material in contemporary art” (4:30-5:30 PM).

Sunday opens with a screening of clips from Arte No Es Fácil: Havana at the Center, a documentary project involving two “constellations of emerging artists and art historians, one in Chicago, one in Havana.” Cuban artists Hamlet Lavastida Cordovi and Yali Romagoza Sanchez take part in the ensuing discussion (11:15 AM-12:15 PM). Hot local artist Theaster Gates will be on hand for “Sculpture Making Place: Shifting Forms in Sculpture Parks,” a panel on public art that also involves the directors of sculpture parks in Saint Louis, Missouri, and Lincoln, Massachusetts (12:30-1:30 PM).

More Saint Louisans—artist/activist Juan William Chavez and Laumeier Sculpture Park exhibitions and collections director Kim Humphries—appear on the Monday panel “Shows From the Insider: A Discussion With Artists Who Curate” (noon-1 PM). They’ll be joined by School of the Art Institute faculty member Michelle Grabner and local artist Meg Duguid, “director of Clutch Gallery, a 25-square-inch space located in the heart of Ms. Duguid’s purse.”  4/29-5/2: Fri-Sat 11 AM-7 PM, Sun 11 AM-6 PM, Mon 11 AM-4 PM, Merchandise Mart, 350 N. Orleans, 312-527-3701, $20 daily, $15-$25 multiday pass, free for kids under 13, full schedule at artchicago.com. —Sam Worley