Untitled, 2009 by Tara Donovan
Untitled, 2009 by Tara Donovan Credit: Courtesy of Pace Gallery

Hey, Chicago, you didn’t get your Olympics, but you can console yourself with a big-deal event that’s quieter, briefer, more centrally located, and assuredly attracts a better-dressed crowd. Billed as a return to the days when the city had a world-class art fair, Expo Chicago debuts this weekend at Navy Pier’s Festival Hall, with 120 galleries participating. Some highlights, by category:

Talented people working

The exhibition space was designed by Jeanne Gang’s Studio Gang Architects, with an eye to accommodating large-scale installations and performance art—a good example being the “itinerant” exhibition “Temporary Landmarks and Moving Situations,” which features work by Theaster Gates, Jan Tichy, Jennifer West, and seven others.

Famous people talking

The expo opens with an appearance by Jerry Saltz of New York magazine, who’s got a reputation as the Rodney Dangerfield of the art world (Thu 10:30 AM). The Contemporary Curators panel includes the Museum of Contemporary Art’s Michael Darling, the Art Institute’s Lisa Dorin, and Dominic Molon of the Contemporary Art Museum in Saint Louis (Fri 1:30 PM). The New York Times Magazine‘s director of photography, Kathy Ryan, chats up photographer Abelardo Morell (Sat 10:30 AM), artist Dzine confabulates with MCA curator Naomi Beckwith (Sat 3:30 PM), and School of the Art Institute professor Bill Fontana discusses his Millennium Park audio installation, Soaring Echoes, with Bad at Sports podcaster Richard Holland (Sun 2 PM).

Gallerists preening

Exhibitors hail from as far away as Pamplona, Helsinki, Berlin, Beijing, and, yep, Coral Gables. Among the locals: Corbett vs. Dempsey, Valerie Carberry, and Rosenthal Fine Art. And, under a program called Exposure, special dispensation has been granted for 20 emerging galleries to show their wares. Chicago gallerist Rhona Hoffman conspired with the Natural Resources Defense Council to present Garbage Wall, an installation composed of refuse collected from midwestern rivers. It’s a an homage to Gordon Matta-Clark, whose original Garbage Wall debuted on the first Earth Day, in 1970.

Away from the pier, a whole slew of auxiliary events are scheduled under the banner of Gallery Weekend (galleryweekendchicago.com).