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January 7, 2005

Pfingsten Demands Satisfaction

Surrounded as we are by forbidding mountains of snow, our attention was naturally prepared to turn to Miami this morning, where Art Miami 2005 kicks off today. Franklin appears, shall we say, less than enthused.

But first, there's a bit of a shakeup in the local art fair wars, as reported in this morning's Sun-Times...

If you'll recall, Thomas Blackman Associates recently announced dates for Art Chicago 2005. It will not be in the summer as they had previously hoped (to avoid competing with the spring auction season, it was said) but rather the spring, a mere week before the competing Chicago Contemporary & Classic fair (brought to us by Pfingsten Publishing, the producers of Art Miami, CC&C will be taking over Art Chicago's old slot at Navy Pier). As if it weren't already enough to have the two fairs on consecutive weekends, the CC&C folks announced yesterday that they're now moving their fair up a week and so will compete directly with TBA.

No chance now, I guess, of gallerists participating in both (if that were cost-feasible before). I'd imagine collectors, too, may have their loyalties split. Pfingsten's forced their hand and we've got us a duel (though not yet the raging three-way we'd been promised).

Rob Spademan, marketing director of CC&C's parent company, Pfingsten Publishing, said the date change was intended to take the show out of conflict with the spring art auctions in New York, making it easier for more exhibitors and collectors to attend the Chicago fair.
Last year, CC&C director Ilana Vardy told the Sun-Times she was content with the Mother's Day Weekend dates because they were Chicago's traditional time slot for an art fair. "But once we got out there selling the concept, this was a bigger issue than we thought it was," Spademan said Thursday. "So we had to adapt."
CC&C also announced that the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, known as McPier, had guaranteed it the more favorable time slot for the next seven years.
That was hard news to swallow for Art Chicago owner Thomas Blackman, who said he had unsuccessfully requested alternate dates at Navy Pier for the past several years. When Art Chicago vacated its longtime home at the pier's Festival Hall last year, Blackman said it was McPier's inflexibility on scheduling that was the primary cause. (McPier later sued Blackman for $375,000 in unpaid rent and fees; the lawsuit was settled in November.)

The Tribune (who, given a three-day lead time for stories in Tempo, long ago relegated overnight arts news to minimal newswire-style reports in Metro), has the following:

"Hosting our fair the week prior will significantly increase our ability to better serve both the galleries and the collectors," said Ilana Vardi, director of the exposition.
That week was the one announced in November for Art Chicago, which will be moving to Grant Park's Butler Field. The change in dates forces prospective participants to choose one fair or the other, as they cannot practically exhibit in both. Concurrent expositions recall the situation that took place in Chicago in 1993 when three fairs battled for dominance, with Art Chicago emerging the winner.

Whether any of this actually matters (and why) is a question we may ponder later. For now take a gander at former gallerist Paul Klein's take from the wake of Art Basel Miami Beach last month. The man pulls few punches:

The success of the Basel / Miami Fair is completely attributable to the remarkable competence of the organizers, and the failure of Art Chicago likewise lies solely in the hands of those who put it on. Art Chicago has suffered from a thorough lack of vision and bad manners.
Many are prone to laud Miami and blame Chicago for the fairs' relative success or lack thereof, but that's not really the truth. It is however safe to say that the Miami extravaganza is easily 4 times larger than Art Chicago in a city less than one quarter the size—so of course itís going to have a greater impact there.
This is not to say that Chicago blew it, or that we can't have a kick ass fair here. But it damn sure says that none of the existing players are sufficiently competent to pull off a good Chicago show. There are certainly many collectors who want to come back to Chicago, but I'm not sure this country's increasing population of philistines will support 3 fairs (the 2nd being the Armory show in New York).
Next May, at least in theory, we will have two, mediocre at best, "art" fairs. Thomas Blackman Associates is no longer welcome at Navy Pier, for good reasons, and he says he will be putting a show on in tents, but I don't know a single one of his former exhibitors who wants to leap his burnt bridge. And Ilana Vardy's Pfingsten Publishing Group, which does have Navy Pier's endorsement for next May, has a history of a financially viable (for the organizers) show that is neither cutting edge nor innovative, just lucratively bland.
Here, look at the numbers. Approximately 150 galleries with take 4 booths, each at $5000 per booth, yielding the organizers Three Million Dollars. Even if they charge as much as $20 to enter, which they never have, and get 30,000 attendees, which they won't, the attendance figures only generate $600,000.
In other words, as Chicago's two organizers go forward into vaporland they really don't care about the quality art that brings in quality visitors; they care about the number of exhibitors. Hey, they may succeed economically, but we're going to be screwed.
My hope is that both shows cancel, admit defeat and slink away. They don't care if they are an embarrassment. Heck, the Old Town Art Fair will probably be better—at least they care. I would prefer a void.
With a void we have a need and maybe we will be lucky enough that the Basel group steps up and does a real show. Or Mark Lyman, but the Basel group has already raised the bar so high that only they, I think, could do a successful show here, because only they can draw the right exhibitors.
Iím not holding my breath.
Chicago has so much more substance than Miami. Our collectors don't need to collect 8000 works of art to compensate for anything. And we support our institutions. And if you don't agree, let me buy you lunch at Millennium Park and then we'll head over to the Art Institute for additional discussion.

[*Update: CC&C gets snubbed in Artnet's list of fairs and biennials, covering the first half of 2005 [via NEWSgrist], though they do have one of those rotating box ads at the right. Oddly enough, TBA has one of these too—for their River North exhibition space that hasn't existed since they abandoned their Huron Street offices back in July.]

"Pfingsten Demands Satisfaction"
Posted by Dan at 10:35 AM


Referenced in this post:

Art Basel Miami Beach
Art Chicago
Art Letter (12/06/04)
Art Miami
Artblog.net: a busy morning at the roundup newsdesk
Chicago Contemporary & Classic
Chicago Sun-Times: Chicago art fair announces new dates—Kevin Nance
Chicago Tribune: New Navy Pier art fair moves dates—Alan G. Artner
Chicagoist: Recovering From the Snowstorm Hangover
Iconoduel: A Discouraging Art Fair Digest
Iconoduel: Alan Artner is Making Sense, and other art fair business I've missed
Iconoduel: Art Chicago Back Under the Big Top in '05
Iconoduel: Art Chicago Lives: or Location, location, location
Iconoduel: Three Fairs for Chicago
NEWSgrist: 2005 Art Fairs + Biennials
TBA Exhibition Space