Here Comes Another Art Fair

Two developments certain to add an interesting twist to the Chicago art-fair scene: (1) A group of local and out-of-town gallery owners and collectors have started a new company called Expressions of Culture, which will organize a series of annual Chicago-based art and design shows. (2) Former Lakeside Group staffer Mark Lyman is on a short list of candidates being interviewed to run the new organization. Lyman exited the beleaguered Lakeside Group, run by Chicago International Art Exposition cofounder John Wilson, on October 11, immediately following Lakeside’s eighth annual New Art Forms Exposition. By all accounts Lyman had ably managed New Art Forms for a number of years; Lakeside executive director Laurie Wilson did not return a call to her office. Lyman’s departure follows that of Tom Blackman, who left last year and wound up establishing a competing art fair, the New Pier Show at Cityfront Center.

Expressions of Culture’s plans are still in the works, but the group hopes to present the first in a series of annual shows some time in late 1994. Bruce Robbins, founder of the Lill Street Studios and an Expressions of Culture partner, says the organization is particularly interested in mounting a completely new kind of show that combines “architecture, design, sculpture, new art forms, and the visual arts, something much broader than what Wilson had been doing.” The group has not yet pinned down a site for its debut show, but the Merchandise Mart Expo Center, site of last spring’s Art Chicago, is a possibility, Robbins said. Cityfront Center is another option, if the permanent tent Cityfront management is talking about putting up behind North Pier becomes reality. A source there confirmed that a permanent tent to house special events was being discussed, but no decision had been reached. “We need to be certain there is enough use for it before we move forward,” said the source.

Robbins played down any suggestion the consortium was attempting to capitalize on the hard times that have befallen Wilson’s Art Expo. Over the past couple of years, scores of major galleries from around the world have defected from Wilson’s once prestigious fair to appear in Blackman’s New Pier Show or David and Lee Ann Lester’s show Art Chicago. But with the Lesters having announced their departure from the local scene–at least temporarily–there appears to be a slot open for a new player. “We want to bring back to Chicago the international audience that we have been losing,” says Scott Hodes, another partner in the new venture. Other investors include gallery owner Ann Nathan and events planner Floyd Dillman.

Sources familiar with the formation of Expressions of Culture say that if the group ended up presenting a New Art Forms type of show, most of the exhibitors who supported New Art Forms would almost certainly follow Lyman to the new exposition. Lyman himself struck a somewhat cautious note in explaining why he chose to leave Lakeside, where he hadworked since 1985 except for a brief stint with another company. “I was looking for a brighter future,” he says. Lyman also indicated he believes the wave of the future in the exposition business is smaller “focused” art fairs–a bit different, it seems, than what Expressions of Culture is planning for its first event. Large art expos around the country have been badly hurt in recent years by the art market collapse in 1990 and the plummeting value of much contemporary art.

What Do Tourists Want? Shopping!

When 58 international tour operators arrive in Chicago on November 8, they will promptly begin a five-day tour packed with shopping and sight-seeing but pretty much devoid of high culture. The occasion? The second annual International Tourism Week, sponsored by the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau. When the whirlwind week is over, the bureau hopes the tour operators will return to their businesses in England, France, Germany, Italy, and Japan and encourage thousands of tourists to book tours to Chicago in 1994. Among other things on the International Tourism Week itinerary–planned by a committee of executives at several of the city’s tourism-based companies–are chances to shop Nike Town, F.A.O. Schwarz, and Saks Fifth Avenue, participate in a shopping treasure hunt along Michigan Avenue, take an architectural tour of the city, dine at Michael Jordan’s Restaurant, tour past film locations, and attend cocktail receptions too numerous to list.

What isn’t on the agenda, however, are visits to the city’s art museums, live theater, a dance or ballet performance, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, or the Lyric Opera of Chicago. According to the planning committee, there’s a good reason none of those places are on the schedule. “When a smaller group of tour operators visited Chicago last year, we took them to the Chicago Symphony,” explains Linda Bacin of the Bacin restaurant group, “and when we asked them for feedback at the end of their visit, they said they could get that sort of thing in their own countries.” Shopping, on the other hand, is a high priority for many tourists, at least according to the committee’s research. Bacin said every tour operator will be given a special pass good for free admission at various museums and performances–if they wish to visit such places in their spare time. Nevertheless, our city’s cultural institutions have some hard work ahead of them if they want to get a cut of that tourism dollar.

Foreign tourists spend $1.1 billion annually in Illinois, according to the U.S. Travel and Tourism Administration. The state ranks sixth on a national list, just behind California, Florida, New York, Hawaii, and Texas. With the recent opening of the new international terminal at O’Hare and the World Cup opening ceremonies taking place at Soldier Field next June, the push is on to encourage more tourists to visit the city. Adds Bacin: “Last year’s visiting tour operators were impressed by the city’s cleanliness, the architecture, and the quality of the restaurants.”

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.