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August 7, 2004

Three Fairs for Chicago

Pfingsten Publishing, which earlier this year acquired Art Miami (which has been struggling in the face of Art Basel Miami Beach) and Artexpo, has accepted the reigns of another struggling fair in Navy Pier's annual exhibition.

Pfingsten Publishing will replace Thomas Blackman Associates, which had produced its Art Chicago at the pier every May for more than a decade. Blackman and McPier severed ties in June, and Thomas Blackman, head of the Chicago firm, said it planned to stage a Chicago show in a tent next July.
Earlier this year, Pfingsten, an art magazine publisher, acquired the Art Miami and Artexpo New York fairs.
Ilana Vardy, the director of Art Miami, is expected to run the fair here. Vardy is a former director of Art Chicago as well as of the Chicago International Art Exposition. She had continued to live in Chicago until moving to the Miami area in July.

As previously mentioned, according to Crain's Chicago Business' reporting, Blackman may in fact have been sent packing by McPier over back rent.

At any rate, Chicago is well on its way to hosting a pair of annual art fairs, provided TBA finds a place to pitch their Art Chicago tent—and maybe more. The new wrinkle: dejected at being out-bid on the Navy Pier deal, a partnership of Expressions of Culture, Inc and DMG World Media says they'll be looking into venues for their own Chicago fair.

Pfingsten beat out a group led by Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc., producer of SOFA, the international exhibitions of sculpture objects and functional art held at Navy Pier and in New York. Expressions President Mark Lyman said his firm had teamed with DMG World Media, a London-based international exhibition and magazine company (owned by the firm that publishes London's Daily Mail newspaper).
"I am completely baffled by it," Lyman said of the choice of Pfingsten, which he called "a company new to the business."
He said he was told Pfingsten "offered a more lucrative financial deal."
Lyman said his firm and DMG haven't given up on producing an arts exposition here.
"My group will get together to see what other opportunities there are in Chicago for a fine arts fair in a venue other than Navy Pier," Lyman said.

And then there were three, though they may yet come to their senses.

Stay tuned.

** Update: More in today's Trib: in June McPier filed a breach-of-contract complaint against TBA over the aforementioned back rent, seemingly doing what they can to stop Blackman's fair in its tracks.

Blackman said on June 11 he was moving because Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, the municipal agency that manages the pier, could not accommodate his need to hold the international fair in the summer, when it wouldn't conflict with major auctions in New York.
But Billy Weinberg, a spokesman for McPier, as the agency is known, said Friday that Blackman was notified soon after the last fair "that we were releasing him from his agreement [for subsequent fairs]. Based on his chronic failure to pay, we had chosen to sever business ties with him."
On June 17, McPier filed a breach-of-contract complaint in Cook County Circuit Court against Blackman and his Chicago firm.
The complaint alleges Thomas Blackman Associates owes $373,314 under its 2004 rental agreement for the pier's Festival Hall and has ignored payment demands. It also claims Blackman entered into the pact in April with a $103,500 check that later bounced.
The complaint seeks to prevent his firm from selling or leasing trade equipment, fixtures and other property used as security for the agreement.
Weinberg said the complaint was not retribution against Blackman for moving the fair but reflected McPier's efforts to improve its financial footing.
Reached Tuesday, Blackman said he had not seen the complaint and could not comment on it. Court records indicated he had not been served with it by then. Efforts to reach Blackman on Friday were unsuccessful.

The article also provides better context for the coming (potential) Art Fair Wars:

Vardy and Blackman worked for the former Chicago International Art Exposition, and she ran Art Chicago for Blackman from 1993 to 1999. She then became director of Art Miami, a long-running fair held each January that was acquired recently by Pfingsten Publishing.
Pfingsten could face competition here from Blackman and a group led by Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc. and London-based DMG World Media. That group lost out to Pfingsten for the Navy Pier site.
Vardy is a veteran of the Chicago fair wars of the early 1990s—when three expos clawed for advantage—and of those now in South Florida. The field there is more crowded and cutthroat, with rival shows timed close to or simultaneously with one another.
But she said the shows are not all fighting for the same dealers and collectors—unlike the Chicago fairs of a decade ago.

Also of note regarding TBA's woes: when I was tooling around River North during the July 9th Vision 9 openings and receptions, I stopped by TBA to see if they had an exhibit up and, according to the elevator guy as well as the general appearance of the place (a quick peek through the door), they seemed to be in the midst of closing up shop and moving out of their Huron Street offices.

** More in the Sun-Times on the lawsuit and the Art Fair Wars.

From the former:

The lawsuit was filed a week after Blackman made a surprise announcement in June that Art Chicago would be leaving the pier's Festival Hall because MPEA had failed to give him more desirable dates for the fair. Unknown to the public, however, the pier had already severed its decade-long business relationship with him over a series of financial disputes.
Blackman declined to comment on the lawsuit Thursday because he said he had not seen it. Attempts to serve Blackman with the suit last month were unsuccessful, in part because he has closed his offices on Huron Street and moved them into his warehouse.

From the latter:

And while Art Chicago is widely perceived to have declined significantly in recent years, it still has its ardent supporters.
"A lot of the galleries in Art Chicago are likely to stay with Tom Blackman," said local dealer Rhona Hoffman. "Speaking for myself, I'm not interested in Lyman's art fair or Pfingsten's. I will only do one show in Chicago, and I would throw my hat in with Tom Blackman first."
If contacted by Blackman's competitors, she said, "My answer would be no. That's about as succinct as you can get."
Ultimately, Blackman said, Chicago may prove to be large enough to accommodate two or even three art fairs, especially if certain conditions were met.
"It's a big market, and arguably the second most important art market in terms of museums and collectors," he said. "I think there's room for a lot of shows, and they may try to look at different segments of the art market, because there's plenty of those as well."
Some local art world observers agreed. Joseph Tabet, organizer of Navy Pier Walk, an annual outdoor sculpture exhibit, said competing shows might very well be just what the city needs to shake it out of its current art fair doldrums.
Still, the prospect of a trio of competing fairs leaves some on the local art scene feeling that more isn't necessarily better.
"Obviously it's not good to disperse the possible exhibitor pool among three different art fairs," said Natalie van Straaten, executive director of the Chicago Art Dealers Association. "It also will be difficult for the Chicago galleries because I'm sure they would all like there to be one fair. It's very, very important to the Chicago art community that we have a strong art fair that will bring international visitors from around the world as exhibitors and attendees. However that can happen is what needs to happen."
In the end, van Straaten said, 2005 could turn out to be a "transitional" year for Chicago's art scene, "and it may take some experimenting before it all shakes out."
In a "bizarre" way, she added, "I find it encouraging that there are these major companies who feel that Chicago is still a viable place to hold an international art fair. Specifically, the fact that there were two very strong organizers who wanted the May slot at Navy Pier is an indication that Chicago is alive and well as an art market."

"Three Fairs for Chicago"
Posted by Dan at 10:27 AM


Referenced in this post:

Art Basel Miami Beach
Art Chicago
Art Miami
Artblog: art miami - it's worth a shot
Chicago Art Dealers Association: Vision
Chicago Sun-Times: McPier sues Art Chicago owner for $375K in rent—Kevin Nance
Chicago Sun-Times: With three art fairs possible next year, a Chicago art war looms—Kevin Nance
Chicago Tribune: Need for fresh ideas fuels feud at Navy Pier—Charles Storch & Alan G. Artner
Chicago Tribune: New firm to handle Navy Pier art fair—Charles Storch & David Jackson
Crain's Chicago Business
DMG World Media
Iconoduel: Art Chicago Back Under the Big Top in '05
Pfingsten Publishing, LLC