KBFA Art Insider

A High-Level Conversation between Jason Fiore, KBFA Principal, and Tony Karman, President of EXPO Chicago
KBFA Principal, Jason Fiore, had an exclusive opportunity to ask Tony Karman, President, EXPO Chicago, about a variety of hot topics including, the upcoming 2017 EXPO fair, state of the art world, his thoughts about the relationship between art + design, and much more. In the spirit of true leadership, Tony and Jason decided to extend a sweepstakes for KBFA designers to attend the art fair.


Enter to win access to EXPO Chicago art fair…

(1) Grand Prize – a trip for two people to Chicago (airfare up to $1,000, plus 2 nights hotel accommodations, and VIP passes for two people to attend the art fair)


(10) Secondary Prizes – a VIP Pass to EXPO Chicago that permits two people (all VIP programming and social events apply)



JF: What sets Expo Chicago apart from the other 200+ international art fairs?

TK: Our location is one of the fair’s greatest assets. Chicago has a significant amount of art collectors, cultural institutions, art and design galleries and talented artists – the fair has been able to build upon this strong foundation.

We’re able to leverage the great history of hosting an international fair in the 80’s and 90’s when there were only a few art fairs globally. The only real fair in America between 1979-2001 was in Chicago and so we built on that great tradition and foundation to launch EXPO Chicago in 2012.

JF: Does EXPO Chicago have a strong presence of interior designers who attend the fair?

TK: There’s no question the interior design and architectural world will attend because the crossover between art + architecture +design is so small. The fair works closely with interior designers, many of the designers represent clients both with art and design advisory for their homes or offices. We also work closely with a local association that is part of a national association of interior designers here in Chicago to stay connected.

The beautiful thing about an international art fair, is the crossover between art + design. We always have our eye on design, not only the physical presence of the architecture and design of the actual fair space but also in the mix of galleries who are participating. It’s important that EXPO Chicago includes several design galleries within all of the art galleries.

JF: Can you expand on design galleries?

TK: One of the beautiful parts about the fair is that we have a blend between contemporary and modern. I mean that we have a range of artwork presented –contemporary which is showing new artists and new works as well as, some galleries who will be showing modern which is post war to current, some historic work.

In this world, where there are many leading stand-alone design fairs, we want to make sure we’ve opened the door and created an opportunity for design galleries to participate in EXPO Chicago. Blended within the fair, not in the ghetto so to speak, are several of the world’s leading design galleries who will be showing furniture, objects, etc.

JF: The Chicago Architecture Biennial is running concurrently with EXPO Chicago this year. How do the two shows work together?

TK: It’s been a strong effort between the Mayor and Chairman of The Architecture Biennial and certainly myself to align for the upcoming 2017 fairs.

The first architectural Biennial, by virtue of the venue required, needed to be 10 days after the 2015 EXPO Chicago fair. It was obvious we missed an opportunity because of the excess flow of tastemakers interested in both art + architecture + design. We now work very closely and our Mayor says 1+1 =3 and he’s a champion for our alignment since we can take advantage of curators, collectors, architects, designers who will be here for both fairs.

JF: What trends in the art world are you seeing and in your mind, what drives the trend?

TK: It’s a difficult thing. I am not good about saying all of a sudden there are lot of blue paintings, it’s much different in the art world.

I think you will see a lot of statement work about the current times. This has been going on for a while anyways, but artists are the tip of the spear, they are going to illuminate and provoke responses along with creating beautiful artwork. Artists speak to the challenges in the world and surely our country and when you come to the fair, I would be confident in saying that there will be challenging work out there which is great, very much a part of the time.

JF: I agree there are a lot of artists who need to make statements, which I think we will see a lot of in the future.

TK: No question. We have seen this for a number of years. There is a number of leading African artists that have risen and really are the most sought after collected artists of this generation who continue to illuminate injustices that happen.

JF: How common is it for artists involved in the fair to eventually get involved in public art commission and installation?

TK: I don’t know that things happen because of the fair, I am sure they do. I don’t have a confident answer, but there is no question what happens at an international art fair is wonderful convening moment. Dealers want to sell artwork. Curators are met, collectors are met, commissions are made, and there is a great deal of after work created from the one week in Chicago. If I could qualify it, I am sure there is good percentage that gets commissions either from public art or interiors and buildings from this art fair. There are many individuals looking for their homes and corporate installations, collections and outside public work.

JF: Are you seeing new patterns or trends in art collecting?

TK: No, other than number of individuals who are purchasing and collecting continues to grow. I think this has a lot to do with the art fairs have increased in number, but speaking to Chicago in our 6 years, we have generated a whole new collecting class looking forward to September who may or may not be buying pieces throughout the year, but they are definitely waiting to buy and build relations with galleries returning or new galleries coming in. We are seeing more people wanting to collect and getting involved in museums and galleries throughout the year. Because there are many international fairs throughout the year, these collectors are use to going to other cities and fairs and meeting with artists and coming back to Chicago and meeting some of the galleries at the fair, so the buying world has gotten much bigger over the past years.

JF: We hear a lot about the bigger galleries taking market share and potentially squeezing out midsize and smaller galleries. Are you seeing this? What is your perspective?

TK: There is always a rollup in any industry. There will always be galleries emerging that will take artist to a certain point, and mid-tier that will take artists to a certain point and then move on to a larger gallery.

I think the challenges to mid-tier are two-fold, one there are larger galleries taking on those artists who are producing and able to pay back their investment, but the other challenge is real estate in many cities. Real estate prices are increasing which make it hard for galleries. The overhead is what is challenging not the amount of artwork purchased at mid-tier and upper-tier galleries. There are mega galleries that have a large portfolio of artists, but every year there will be a few that go out of business and a few that fill that their spot.

JF: What are some of your favorite living artists that interior designers may look toward for design inspiration?

TK: I hate to single out any artist, but I am excited about the Italian Radical Design booth we have set up with a gallery. That is a special exhibition. We have a partnership with the Peninsula Hotel and this year they are featuring another great exhibition with Salon 94 a gallery in NY of Gaetano Pesce, a leading Italian designer. It’s not just galleries participating, but even in our programming called dialogues we are featuring an opportunity for our patrons to listen to leading designers as well. Gianni Patina and Lapo Binazzi are the original perpetrator of the Italian radical design movement. Super Design Radical Italian Design from 1965-1975, a special exhibition of their work.

JF: Thoughts surrounding artists that create for a commercial environment, specifically for hotels or corporations that are more on the decorative side of marketplace?

TK: I don’t know that I would say decorative. Artists love to work in large scale and a corporate collection exterior or interior can provide a monumental location for their work. I don’t think many artists run from those opportunities if their work is applicable. Those large scaled works become fixtures that engage year-round a tremendous audience and an artist loves those commissions and it pushes their boundaries. I have seen many artists that you wouldn’t think translate into something large scale, but some of the greatest work is made when they are pushed outside of 2-dimensional work to something large scale that is monumental and well respected.

JF: Tell me about your personal interior design style?

TK: Contemporary Eclectic. My wife and I like to collect emerging work as well as abstract consensual work. From a design style, clean contemporary with an eye to mix historical material in, many borrow from grand master Vervoort. Antique or historical is a nice blend as well.

JF: The relationship between art and interior design is complex but often trivialized. Thoughts on being paired together?

TK: Hand in hand. You can have a grand space, but there is nothing grand if you don’t have something beautiful on the walls. You can’t have one without the other. Architecture and design create the space, but it’s the connection of the art and environment.


ENTER TO WIN VIP Passes to EXPO Chicago


NO PURCHASE NECESSARY. Void where prohibited. Open to legal residents of the forty-eight (48) contiguous United States and the District of Columbia (void in Alaska, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, all US territories and possessions and all overseas military installations) who are at least 21 years of age or older, as of time of entry. Sweepstakes begins on 9/8/17 at 12:01AM PST and ends on 9/12/17 at 11:59PM PST.

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