“This is a Chicago moment,” Expo Chicago director Tony Karman proclaimed at last night’s opening party for the sophomore edition of his effort to restore Chicago to art-fair glory.

Mayor Emanuel wasn’t on hand, but Cultural Affairs commissioner Michelle Boone assured the crowd that Rahm is “absolutely thrilled.”

And Museum of Contemporary Art director Madeleine Grynsztejn thanked the sponsors (the opening gala is a benefit for the MCA), and reminded everyone of what they ought to be doing next: “You really need to throw some bucks at some art.”

Because that’s what’ll make or break Karman’s ambitious gamble.

The next three days will tell the tale for the fair, which runs through Sunday at Navy Pier.

Meanwhile, the looking is great—the layout, as Karman promised, has been handsomely tweaked. With architect Jeanne Gang’s three big suspended lamp shades (officially “frustums”) as markers, it’s relatively easy to navigate your way through this visual buffet, a grid of (mostly) white cubicles displaying the wares of 125 national and international dealers, and special exhibitors that range from the School of the Art Institute to the Natural Resources Defense Council. When you need to plop, there’s new tubular foam seating with its own name: Bend, by Snarkitecture.

Among the hometown names and faces:

  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Joseph Cruz and his space blanket at the Chicago Artists Coalition’s booth

  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Visitor Natalie Coleman at the National Resources Defense Council’s exhibit

  • Deanna Isaacs
  • “Expo Video,” a video environment also designed by Jeanne Gang

  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Work by Shane Ward and David Giordano at the University of Chicago booth

  • Deanna Isaacs
  • Frustum and, below, Snarkitecture’s Bend seating