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August 11, 2004

Art Fairs a Go-Go

Here's Victor Cassidy's take on the art fair debacle over at artnet—doing his best to foster some positive expectations:

... Based in Seven Hills, Ohio [ed: Pfingsten Publishing's parent org, Pfingsten Partners, LLC, is actually based in north-suburban Deerfield, IL], Pfingsten publishes Art Business News, Framing Business News, Décor, Art Expressions and other trade magazines. Pfingsten owns Art Miami, which is directed by Ilana Vardy, who worked for some years as Thomas Blackman's assistant. Vardy’s presence in management suggests that Pfingsten’s Chicago expo will have high standards. [ed: I suppose contrasted against what we might otherwise expect from the publishers of the aforementioned trades]
Another art-fair producer also has its eye on Chicago. Mark Lyman, director of SOFA Chicago, the Midwest version of the chain of Sculptural Objects and Functional Art expositions, is partnering with DMG World Media, a British firm, to produce what he claims will be "a very important and top-rated art show for the Chicago market." Lyman has made a success of SOFA and kept standards high, so if he can find a venue and get his show off the ground, it is sure to be worth attending.
It is sad to see Thomas Blackman in trouble. Personally very popular, he has done a great deal for the local art community. But if he does go down, as seems quite possible at this point, Chicago will have at least one—and possibly two—strong art expositions next year.

I think the personal regard for Blackman and his support for young local art bears emphasizing. After all, with the fate of Art Chicago in question, that of the Stray Show also hangs in the balance. While I've found my Stray Show experiences somewhat dispiriting, I think the opportunity it presents to emerging venues and talent is a necessary counterpoint to the Main Event. Should Art Chicago founder, as Cassidy points out, we'll still have two other contenders vying for the blue-chip crown. Do we have similar assurances for the Stray constituency? At least one fan expresses concern.

Back in 2002, posting to the Other Group detailing positive strides in the Chicago art scene, Cassidy offered the following points of encouragement contra the perennial pessimists:

f.. Art Expo (born 1983) has done a tremendous amount to project Chicago, its art, and its artists onto the international consciousness. It got international dealers to come here and brought journalists from everywhere. If nothing else, Chicago is the place everyone goes in May.
g.. Now we have Tom Blackman running Expo and isn't he the guy who has a space downtown where young artists show? And isn't he the guy who gave lights, booths, cash, and organizational backing to the Stray Show in December? John Wilson, who ran Expo before Blackman, would never have done those things! He did not care about young artists and was too busy fighting with everyone in sight. Please do not take Blackman for granted-cherish him!
h.. Be grateful for Paul Klein who has shows in his gallery of unknown local artists. He just put on a Chicago and Vicinity show in December and it was excellent. Is there another dealer in town who does this? I can't think of one...

Well, we've already lost Klein.

No matter. Onwards: for some history on Art Chicago circa 1999, let's turn to this article from the Albuquerque Tribune:

Talk to gallery directors and you'll find that most have been coming to Chicago art fairs for a long time, some for the last 10 or 15 years.
Over that time, Chicago has seen three fairs; in one year—1993—all competed for attention over the same handful of weekends.
Since then, two have been squeezed out: Art Chicago International, created in 1990 by Los Angeles organizer David Lester; and Chicago International Art Exposition, founded by John Wilson's Lakeside Group in 1979.
That left Art Chicago, started in 1993 by Thomas Blackman, a Chicago native who worked for Wilson for more than a decade.
Blackman has relied on a rotating jury of 16 or more gallery owners, who are also required to be in the fair, to pick dealers for Art Chicago. Their choices are based on the quality of the work dealers represent as well as seemingly unimportant details like the proposed layout of the booth. Of the more than 400 applications submitted this year, a lean group of 214 emerged—some familiar faces, some newcomers.
Although Art Chicago has embraced galleries with blue-chip artists like Warhol, Picasso or Diebenkorn, it also has emphasized more challenging work by contemporary artists like Matthew Barney, Kara Walker or Carrie Mae Weems.
Walk the aisles and you'll see a lot of work that you probably don't understand and may not, in fact, like but is nonetheless exploring the newest boundaries of a medium.
And that, organizer Blackman has said, has been Art Chicago's trump card.
"Market makers, some look at us as a barometer," Blackman says. "Some look at us as a capitalist tool. One thing we never pretend is to be a museum. . . .
"On the other hand, we can do something no art museum in the world can do, to bring together 20,000-plus artists at one time from 24 countries," he says. "Here you really get a chance to see in the most unadulterated way what is going on in the contemporary art market."

I'd also love a peek at Art Miami assistant Director Lisa Witherite's thesis, The History and Dynamics of Art Chicago, from SAIC's Arts Administration Program. From the abstract:

The fair is a critical event in the Chicago arts community; the environment it creates is centered around the works on display which represent young, emerging artists in the company of contemporary masters. It is a vehicle for the development of art, culture, and commerce in the city of Chicago, and the educational values it displays under the charismatic leadership of Thomas Blackman are vital to the understanding and promoting of contemporary art.
The results gathered from the surveys of approximately 30 Chicago gallery owners and arts administrators will provide insight into the importance and influence of Art Chicago. The Chicago galleries surveyed are representative of the diverse cross-section of exhibitors selected to participate in Art Chicago. Their contributions are crucial to understanding the importance of the fair to its exhibitors.
This study seeks to explore how Blackman's Art Chicago became the leading contemporary art fair in Chicago, especially focusing on the charismatic leadership of its founder. Blackman was the executive director of the Chicago International Art Expo, produced by John Wilson, President of The Lakeside Group. Because of his experience with CIAE, Blackman became a familiar and important figure in the Chicago arts community.
This study will also investigate the elements that have made the city of Chicago ripe for the success of Art Chicago. Surprising to many, the fair's success is completely dependent on the promotion and funding of TBA. Although the fair provides Chicago with cultural recognition, tourism, and revenue, there is a lack of support for the fair by the city. This thesis examines some of the reasons for this, and some of the implications.

"Art Fairs a Go-Go"
Posted by Dan at 02:55 AM

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Referenced in this post:

Albuquerque Tribune: A work of art—T.D. Mobley-Martinez
Artnet: Art Chicago Blues—Victor Cassidy
Fresh Paint: Shots Fired on Art Front
Iconoduel: Stray Show Assessment (sort of)
Iconoduel: Three Fairs for Chicago
Klein Art Works: Closure
Other Group: Sun, 13 Jan 2002 20:41:46 -0600
Pfingsten Partners, LLC
School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Art & Writing Web Pages: Lisa Witherite
School of the Art Institute of Chicago: MA in Arts Administration
Stray Show