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Sept. 18 (Bloomberg) -- David Bowie’s bodysuits, handwritten lyrics and music videos star in a new retrospective in Chicago of the singer’s 50-year career.

The timing is just right for Tony Karman, director of Expo Chicago, which opens today with 140 galleries from 17 countries selling $60 million of modern and contemporary works.

Expo Chicago, now in its third year, is gaining a spot on the global art fair calendar, spurring the city to pile on with related events and exhibitions including “David Bowie Is” to draw wealthy collectors. Two days after the fair’s start, 750 people are expected to attend a Bowie-themed fundraiser for the Museum of Contemporary Art.

“Art fairs are about business as much as they are about collecting,” Karman said. “The business titans of the world gather for art fairs. This city’s leaders have recognized that.”

Among the more than 100 events, Riccardo Muti will conduct the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in a free concert at Millennium Park on Sept. 19. At the museum fundraiser, singer Bryan Ferry will entertain guests including “Star Wars” creator George Lucas and Richard Perry, who runs the $10.9 billion hedge-fund firm Perry Capital. The Art Institute of Chicago will show a 1980 series of appropriated news photos cropped and enlarged to 6.5 feet tall by Sarah Charlesworth, the late artist’s first solo show at a U.S. museum in 15 years.

“That kind of collaborative effort has galvanized support for this fair,” Karman said. About 30,000 people are expected to attend Expo Chicago, which runs through Sept. 21.

Previous Events

Chicago has hosted an art fair since 1980, starting at the lakefront Navy Pier as the Chicago International Art Exposition. It went through various incarnations and locations, and in 2006 Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., the Chicago trade show producer and a division of Vornado Realty Trust, purchased what was then known as Art Chicago.

In 2012, Merchandise Mart canceled the show, saying in an e-mail to vendors that Chicago wouldn’t remain a focus of its art-fair business. Karman, who had been the fair’s vice president until 2010, then started the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, known as Expo Chicago.

For the fair’s first outing in 2012, he moved it back to the soaring exhibition space at Navy Pier. The fair would be held in September to avoid competing with Frieze Art Fair in London in October, Art Basel Miami Beach in December, the Armory Show in New York in March, Frieze New York in May and Art Basel in Switzerland in June.

‘Renewed Energy’

The 2012 edition had a slow start and sales were “respectable but not overwhelming,” Karman said. “We had a strong second year. That proved there was a renewed energy and the dealers did very well.”

Some of the biggest international galleries have booths at this year’s show including Marlborough Gallery, Matthew Marks Gallery, David Zwirner and Marianne Boesky Gallery, all of which will be at the larger Art Basel Miami Beach.

Eleven Rivington, based in New York, will offer Jackie Saccoccio’s multi-layered abstract paintings for as much as $30,000.

Borzo, an Amsterdam-based gallery with a booth at Expo Chicago for the first time, features a $25,000 mixed media of dried grass mounted in frames by herman de vries, a Dutch artist who uses lower case for his name and who will represent the Netherlands in next year’s Venice Biennale.

‘Minimalist’ Collection

“Chicago is our kind of town,” said Jory van Rosmalen-de Koning, co-owner of Borzo, which will share a booth with London- based Mayor Gallery. “The collection we have is minimalist and conceptual and many Chicago collectors are interested in those works.”

AXA Art Insurance Corp. estimated that more than $3 billion of art was displayed last year at Art Basel Miami Beach, which had 258 galleries from 31 countries. Karman estimates $60 million worth of art will be at Expo Chicago, which he said is unlikely to become “a mega fair.”

It’s also beyond a regional fair, he said.

“I want it to serve the Midwest and reach out to collectors and institutions in Denver, Dallas and Cincinnati,” Karman said. “But you have to be an international fair. The top galleries expect me to turn out that part of the country along with the East and West coasts and Europe.”

‘Quite Impressed’

Paul Gray, co-director of the Richard Gray Gallery of Chicago and New York, said he was “quite impressed with the range of business” last year at his booth, which drew most of its customers from around the Midwest, East Coast and northwestern U.S. Among the artists represented this year in Richard Gray’s booth are David Hockney, the English painter known for a series of colorful paintings of California swimming pools. Hockney’s 1980 “Montcalm Pool, Los Angeles,” has an asking price of $1.75 million.

Kavi Gupta, whose namesake gallery in Chicago also has a Berlin outpost, is returning with a booth for the third year and will also participate in Art Basel Miami Beach.

The Chicago fair is “by no means the biggest and the best, but it carved out a niche,” Gupta said. “We’re doing it because it makes sense. So many collectors fly anywhere if they feel like it. You don’t hear them saying, ‘I’m only going to New York and Miami.’ That doesn’t exist anymore.”

“David Bowie Is” comes from the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. The show, which opens Sept. 23 and runs through Jan. 4, is making its only U.S. stop before traveling to Paris. The exhibition, which traces Bowie’s life and career, has more than 400 items, most on loan from the 67-year-old’s archive.

‘Passion’ Investments

Rock memorabilia collecting is popular among wealthy baby boomers, said Doug Wolford, president of Convergent Wealth Advisors, a Potomac, Maryland-based wealth management firm with $8.5 billion in assets under management.

“Rock stars seem uncompromising and above the fray, and they resonate with the baby boom generation,” Wolford said. “Most of these items are investments of passion, not a traditional investment. But you can apply good investing discipline: Buy at the lowest price and expect to hold for a long time.”

On display will be more than 60 stage creations including a red leotard with hand-drawn winged rabbits worn by Bowie’s androgynous persona Ziggy Stardust; the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the “Earthling” album cover in 1997; and a striped vinyl bodysuit designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the 1973 “Aladdin Sane” tour. Photographs, storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics and Bowie’s own sketches are included.

The exhibition “shows the breadth of the material and the breadth of Bowie’s talent as a collaborative artist,” said Michael Darling, the museum’s chief curator. “He worked with other artists, poets, fashion designers and musicians.”

Bowie isn’t expected to make an appearance at the show or the gala, Darling said.

“We would love it if he showed up,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Romano in New York at mromano6@bloomberg.net To contact the editors responsible for this story: Christian Baumgaertel at cbaumgaertel@bloomberg.net Mary Romano, Josh Friedman

Bloomberg