The question comes down to how many art fairs collectors can support, and whether Expo Chicago can be one of them.
"Are European collectors going to come to Chicago when they can go to Frieze in London in a month?" Lieberman asked.
Karman said this glut of fairs required him and the event's many collaborators throughout the city to step up. Expo Chicago is partnering with more than 40 local institutions, he said, with Mayor Rahm Emanuel serving as the event's honorary chair and the Museum of Contemporary Art presenting the Wednesday night Vernissage party/preview as well as curating panels. MCA development director Lisa Key said the exhibition is an excellent way to introduce people to contemporary art and to give them exposure to galleries from Chicago and beyond.
"It's a perfect marriage: an institution that is dedicated to contemporary artists and an event that is selling their art," Key said.
Karman said shuttles and trolleys will transport people throughout the weekend among Navy Pier, the MCA and the River North and West Loop galleries. Fifteen galleries, some participating in Expo Chicago and some not, are presenting special programs and exhibitions with collectors in mind under the umbrella of Gallery Weekend Chicago, which runs Sept. 21-23.
Carrie Secrist of Carrie Secrist Gallery, which will be part of Gallery Weekend but not Expo Chicago, said, "If they are able to bring back the audience or clientele that made Chicago a destination 10-15 years ago, that can only benefit everyone."
Expo Chicago also has enlisted Michael Kornick (MK, DMK Burger Bar) to oversee the fair's Chef's Cafe, with Graham Elliot (Graham Elliot, g.e.b.), Ryan Poli (Tavernita), Patricio Sandoval (Mercadito) and Randy Zweiban (Province) providing food. An upstairs terrace will be transformed into the after-hours hangout the Ink Well (named after a now-closed bar near the old MCA on Ontario Street) with drinks and music, and the Sept. 23 closing-night party will take place at the Hideout.
"We're making sure this is an everyone-in-the-pool moment," Karman said.
"He's really tapping into a lot of what makes Chicago an exciting city and putting it into an art show context, which has not been done before," Edelman said. "He's doing everything that a dealer could want him to do, and he's done everything an organizer should do to get the city involved."
Yet, she added, "You can lead the horse to water …"
Which is to say, no one knows how many serious collectors will attend Expo Chicago and how many of them will buy art, a key to the exposition's long-term survival.
"There are fairs all over the world now, and certainly Chicago is a world-class city that deserves a world-class fair," Edelman said. "If anything can succeed, this will. But ask me a week after the fair."
When: Thursday-Sept. 23, hours vary
Where: Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave.
Tickets: $20 one day,
$65 four-day Expo Pass; 312-867-9220 or