Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Fair to Moderate

Here's a roundup and breakdown of Art Chicago and its surrounding fairs that took place the last weekend of April. I've been mulling it all over these past few weeks. I figured I may as well publish my thoughts.

The amount of events going on in the city that weekend is to be commended. From Version to Artropolis, to gallery openings, parties and symposiums, there were ten times more options than time to do them. That was a good vitality to have, but it also made me wish it was more spread out. It would be nice for there to be a variety of interesting events more than one weekend a year in Chicago.

Artropolis is a bad name. People mainly made fun of it and just called the whole thing Art Chicago anyway. As they should. That is the central fair, and it should remain about that. Next year side shows that proved what a total and complete job the Merchandise Mart can do should be jettisoned. For sure the antiques show and probably the outsider art show. Why not do those other weekends? Although it is extremely unlikely, the best move would be to try to keep all the interior design and luxury property tie-ins to a a minimum. To be fair, the home furnishings were pretty unobtrusive this year, but still.

That was probably the saddest part of Art Chicago. The images were washed out and way too many were pixelated. That’s one thing Blackman got right every time. The matte finish cover was much nicer than this years glossy, too.

The Mart should redesign the whole visual identity of the show. The stripes and word bubble worked to distance the fair from the old days, but they are already ugly and out of date. That word bubble totally clashes with the stripes, and it is one busy mess. I’m sure the Armory people will suggest this, but it would be interesting to do something like they do. Get a new look each year, working with a different artist each time around. Just so long as it isn’t Tony Fitzpatrick.

In addition to fair goers being terrorized by sloppy, gaudy Jim Dine prints, many were assaulted by high school art project style self portraits by none other than Chuck Close. It was really out of hand, and I can guess these were brought as sure fire sales to midwest buyers who wanted something expensive, but not too expensive, and something contemporary, but nothing weird. it was also an insult. Did these galleries think they’d unload this shit here? It was probably a safe bet.

There was a lot of decent art. This produced a feeling of uneasiness. I kept having the urge to exclaim what David Bowie as Andy Warhol said in Basquiat, “I can’t even see what’s good anymore!” This happens with all fairs. But what doesn’t happen with all fairs, at least the major front-runners, is a placid safety. Nothing in Artropolis shocked, stunned, took a risk, failed spectacularly or remotely dared.

A lot of stuff sucked, but as crammed fairs have the tendency to do, bad stuff was elevated to decent, and good stuff was lowered to decent. Part of what caused this were all the second market dealers. Galleries you’ve never heard of selling famous art that is old do not inspire notions of contemporanity in visitors. While Tom Wesselman is technically contemporary in that he’s from the 60’s, his work is in no way close to be current or new. To be vital, fairs have to have a lot of spaces showing current and new work. This isn’t a rule, it is just a condition and trend that has arisen. No one started sassing off that art fairs are the new biennials because of minor Lichtensteins changing hands.

There is of course value to having second market galleries at a show. How often do you see a random Cornell box for the brief period it leaves one collection and enters another?

Gertrude Abercrombie • (American 1909-1977) • untitled (Cat with Portrait of Abraham Lincoln)
1955 • oil on Masonite • 10 x 8 inches

This quirky painting at the Robert Henry Adams Fine Art booth really caught my eye. I’ve been thinking about it fondly since I saw it.

The Artist Project needs to be dumped, or seriously overhauled for next year. There is nothing worse than charging an artist one grand to sit alone in a booth with their own work and try to sell it. It is humiliating and embarrassing for everyone involved. By all means, un or underrepresented artists should be given a chance to get some exposure and attention, but not like this. It was very uncomfortable. There was some good stuff, but a lot of it was ridiculous. I wonder who didn’t get in, if this is what made it. A better scenario would be to have a curated or juried show, and then have reps on hand to provide interested parties with info on the artists and work.

The Bridge Art Fair, whether it is true or not, gave the distinct impression (one that was well circulated) that if you could pay up, you were in. To a degree, having an open admission policy is good for bringing in a wide range of art, but a line needs to be drawn somewhere.

On it’s spending spree acquiring Volta and Armory(sort of) fairs, The Mart offered to buy out Bridge. It’s owner, Michael Workman, declined, why wouldn’t he? The Mart allegedly informed Bridge they weren’t welcome next year. So hopefully this leads to an interesting scenario: Next year Bridge sets up camp in an alternate location, and The Mart invents their own young art fair. This would be a very good for emerging galleries and artists. You have competition and choice. The Mart could learn from its big mistake this year. Instead of cutting deals with choice young galleries showing work that would bring “street cred” some of that currency mentioned above, and wipe off some of the dust clinging to the many Dines, Closes and Duchamp editions, they shooed them off onto Bridge. Galleries like Gallery Paule Anglim, Rhona Hoffman, Kavi Gupta, Mixed Greens, Roebling Hall, Jack Shainman & Steven Wolf Fine Arts, were all good selections with strong presentations at Art Chicago. This should be built on.

Cornelius Völker - Trash
Cornelius Völker • Trash • 2006 • oil on canvas

This painting by Cornelius Völker at the Galerie Martina Detterer booth caught my attention, and since seeing it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. Except when I am thinking about the cat and Abe Lincoln painting.

All in all, Artropolis and everything else, the endless parade of events all of the city, was a good thing. I saw some interesting stuff and found some new artists and galleries to keep an eye on. If nothing else, that last weekend in April gave everyone something compelling to talk about.

1 comment:

Joel said...

This might help shed a little light on one of the organizers of these shows. I found an interesting interview with Kavi Gupta on Artkrush. Check it out here.