This 10th installment organized by Thomas Blackman Associates is broader in content than many recent fairs, showing increased representation of art of the modern period, a diminished emphasis on "cutting-edge" art and the surprising return of painting to a mix of media that for years has been dominated by photography.
That said, mainly regular visitors will notice a difference. The show still brings together more than 200 dealers, the majority of whom are devoted to art of our time. And, as before, they present established as well as emerging artists who create in all media, in styles from conservative to outlandish.
There also is a repeat of last year's "invitational" that now has brought in 20 newer galleries, some participating in a revival of booths known as "project spaces," which present less commercial efforts, such as pieces of monumental sculpture or temporary installations.
Still, either art fairs in other parts of the country or a post-Sept. 11 decrease in travel has kept away several longtime participants, opening the way for others who have begun to change the fair's emphasis.
Paintings, for example, are stronger in number at Art Chicago than they are on the "cutting-edge" scene. The kind of conceptually oriented pieces that demand a lot of viewers have largely been supplanted by more audience-friendly efforts, particularly work that draws on popular culture. Photography by artists with little allegiance to the medium is slightly less prevalent than before, even if large color prints continue to be a favorite commodity.
Since no fair provides an atmosphere conducive to contemplation or study, heavily conceptual art cannot be said to be missed. Yet this is the work that not long ago was the staple of a fair that now admits such things as an effigy of Bart Simpson, a boombox cast in pink resin, superreal sculpture of battered dwarf-like children and some of the most academic paintings seen outside hotel galleries.
On the plus side, several dealers show modern and contemporary artists in greater depth. And others present undeclared "theme" booths that unite artists from the stable through the scale of the work, a shared aesthetic or subject matter.
New to Art Chicago 2002 are stalls of art books from Barbara's Bookstore and D.A.P., complementing the usual array of magazines. This is an area that might be cultivated further, especially since Chicago lacks a first-rate art bookstore.
The city does have, of course, many non-commercial venues that show work by younger artists. One more is always welcome, but Art Chicago's first venture, "Metropolis," is a schizoid affair that hurtles from videos to retro window dressing without so much as labels giving the names of the artists. This serves virtually no one but the guest curator whose name may be found even on a bookmark in the fair catalog. If anyone is going to attempt this again, it will have to be better.
Here are some surprises and delights that will repay close attention:
Medardo Rosso's 1892-3 wax sculpture "Bambino Ebreo" (At Peter Freeman, Inc.; booth A100).
Lisa Bartolozzi's 1998 figurative oil painting "Cold" (Forum; A120).
Bill Viola's 2001 video piece, "Four Hands" (Cohan; A214).
Ad Reinhardt's 1957 abstract painting, "Portrait of Iris Clert" (Nahem; B120).
Edouard Vuillard's circa 1921 pastel, "Le Salon" (Landau; B140).
Henri Gaudier-Brzeska's 1913 pastel-and-watercolor "Portrait of Ossip Zadkine" (Adler; B131).
Gerhard Richter's 1959 still-life painting (Marion Meyer; B125).
Vintage photographs by early modern artists Ernst Ludwig Kirchner and Sophie Taeuber-Arp (Corkin; C213).
Lewis Baltz's "The Tract Houses," a 1971 portfolio of vintage photographs (Luisotti; C244).
Mike and Doug Starn's nature photographs, 2000-2002 (Weinstein; C220).
Lucian Freud's representational etchings, 1985-2000 (Browse & Darby; D211).
Alison Lambert's contemporary charcoal-and-pastel drawing, "Marsyas" (George; D221).
Art Chicago 2002 continues at Navy Pier, 600 E. Grand Ave., through Monday. 312-587-3300.