April 30, 2006Fate Accompli
Last Friday, six days before Art Chicago was due to open at Butler Field, director Thomas Blackman placed an urgent call to local business phenom and Kendall College president Howard Tullman... Blackman was out of money, unable to pay union laborers to install the floor, electricity, plumbing, and walls in the tent’s interior, and the union, testy because nonunion labor had been used to get the tent up, had walked off the job. Blackman told Tullman a loan he’d been counting on had failed to come through, and he needed $250,000 to bridge the gap.
Tullman says he met with Blackman Saturday and agreed to loan him the money, but was later told Blackman’s calls to the union and contractors hadn’t been returned. (A union spokesman says representatives met with Blackman Saturday night and “he didn’t want to come to an agreement.”) “By Monday it was pretty clear time had run out,” Tullman says. “He wasn’t going to be able to get it done.”
At that point SOFA producer Mark Lyman, who’d been a contender to do the Pier fair last year, and his employer, UK-based DMG World Media, began talking about moving the show to Navy Pier. DMG executive vice president Mark Carr says Blackman had approached them on Thursday and asked for a loan: “It was clear he needed it to open the fair. We said we’d look into it and try to do it for him. We then got lawyers to do their due diligence. After they did, we decided we couldn’t go ahead.” Carr says they informed Blackman there’d be no loan on Friday afternoon.
By Monday, however, DMG was considering stepping up if Blackman, along with his contracts and liabilities, was out of the picture. DMG didn’t want to take over, Carr says, “but if Tom canceled his show, we would try to put something up at Navy Pier for the dealers that would be left stranded.” Tullman says Blackman stalled at this point, and later on Monday DMG concluded there wasn’t enough time—even if they delayed the show’s opening by a day—to move it to the Pier. Monday evening DMG issued a statement that they’d determined not to become involved in any capacity.
... Alarmed, a core group of local dealers and members of the Chicago Art Dealers Association who’d been promoting the fair called a hurried series of meetings. “We’ve been trying to see if we can come up with the money or another person who might put the show up,” dealer Carl Hammer said Monday, adding that he’d be out $20,000 if the show were canceled. “The whole city of Chicago takes it on the chin for this.”
That was as of Thursday.
At Fresh Paint yesterday, Cynthia offered a bit of a scoop in regards to just how the fair was saved and certain repercussions thereof:
Blackman is out at Art Chicago. The guy who bailed him out and moved everything to the Merchandise Mart has bought Blackman's company. Blackman has signed an agreement barring him from starting another fair in Chicago. I guess the memory of last year's Fair Wars is still very much with us. He has basically been exiled.
And Erik at Art or Idiocy? backed this up in a post earlier today:
The latest development in the Art Chicago saga is that it Thomas Blackman has sold his business to the Merchandise Mart. The deal was made Friday night but it is not clear if the whole TBA was liquidated, or just the Art Chicago project.
The Mart now own the show, but the monies owed to TBA by galleries for booths and so on are still Blackman's. People have commented this is good because he is easier to pay back than a bottom line businessman. This grace also may be the cause of TBA's money woes, though.
Also in question is what is to become off all the walls and lights TBA owns and makes revenue from renting out to other fairs accross the country.
Given their ownership of the Chicago Antiques Fair (and the two fairs' near-integration this weekend) do we now find ourselves a step closer to the achieving the mercantile dream Chicago Contemporary & Classic failed to bring to fruition?
For more regarding Blackman's end of things, Bad at Sports promised to put the microphone to the horse's mouth itself in their fourth and final art fair 'cast, so check back with them for their impending update.
Update: No sooner do I hit "Publish" than Bad at Sports does the same, posting their wrap up podcast. Downloading now...
Update again: Even as I listen to the BaS interview with Blackman, I see this article from Saturday's Tribune:
Blackman said he is continuing to discuss with the mart any future role with the show beyond that of an adviser. Falanga said the mart's usual practice with its shows is to work with an advisory body of experts.
Discussions between the parties began Monday night. Asked why he is selling the show, Blackman said, "I realized it would be a much better thing for the exposition to be involved with a larger structure."
His agreement with the mart precludes Blackman from mounting a rival show here. He said he may continue as an exposition-equipment lessor, but he has not made any decision regarding producing future shows, including one that had been announced for New York next February.
None of Blackman's four or five employees is being hired by the mart.
This weekend's Art Chicago had been slated to take place under a tent in Grant Park and was nearly canceled because of Blackman's financial and labor problems. The mart stepped in and hosted the show, offering it in conjunction with its Chicago Antiques Fair. Falanga said plans are to continue to pair the shows.
In the BaS interview, Blackman is expressing his love for the old Stray Show and seems to suggest that (at least as he sees things) the question is not necessarily settled as to whether a Stray-style alt fair in Chicago, helmed by Blackman, would violate his non-compete agreement with the Mart.
Also worth noting in passing, Isaacs signs off her Reader column with the Art Institute's response to criticism of their recent move toward mandatory admission fees:
It’s not about the money, the Art Institute says of the recent announcement that its $12 suggested admission fee will be mandatory beginning in June. “It’s not a revenue builder,” spokesperson Erin Hogan says, adding that it’ll affect just 10 percent of the museum’s 1.5 million attendees. Hogan says AI is “one of the last Chicago museums” to have a discretionary fee and is trying to bring itself “in line with the other museums in the city.”
But, really, who am I to say that that rationale makes zero sense or that it's not actually entirely true? After all, they're working so hard to hip up the joint, and nothing screams "old guard" like voluntary donation.
April 29, 2006
With nearly 12 hours of art under my belt yesterday, I awoke this morning to find the heels and balls of my feet a healthy purplish-red. Yet more to come.
Along the way, I managed to snap a photo or two (while making sure to reserve ample memory card space for the decadence to come).
Anyways, here's a look at...Cop a walk, it's alright
In the bazaar atmosphere that is the greater Belmont area, it's easy to miss the art on display here and there as a part of NOVA's Artwalk. I witnessed a number of people walk by the Eric Hamilton videos on show outside of Taboo-Tabou virtually unaware, even as a speaker above them pumped out the mastrubatory grunts that accompany a portion of his 6-minute "Family Values":
If you feel like taking a stroll, though, do go check out Hamilton's videos at Taboo-Tabou (854 W. Belmont), Krista Peel's miniatures in the window of Think Small (3209 N. Clark), Joe Compean's stereo photography in the windows at the Hollywood Mirror (812 W. Belmont) and the comic illustrations by Steve Krakow (aka Plastic Crimewave) in a window display at Chicago Comics (3244 N. Clark).
Some shots of a few of the more easily photographed installations...
Jon Lowenstein at Bookworks (3444 N. Clark):
Sayre Gomez at Real Art, Inc. (3173 N. Broadway):
Mike Genovese at Reckless Records (3157 N. Broadway):
And, of course, consult the complete list for even more.
Lovely bearded hubbies Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger entertain the onlookers at Western Exhibitions' Art Chicago booth, as they continue their joint crocheting of a pink tube already several fairs in the making.
Apropos my previous post, googling "decadent art fags" finds a thread from the lovelies at Little Green Footballs (in reference to this), and a classic of the genre at that:
democracy means nothing to these people.....
For so-called "liberals", they're amazingly vicious.
This really grieves me. Someone very loved by me is a young painter in NYC and I am afraid she might be involved. I don't understand that level of foolishness.
Wasn't Hitler also an artist... not a good one?
Like Hitler, these guys have obviously little art in them; just hate.
My question is, why are these people allowed to be walking the streets? They've declared their intentions. Lock. them. up. now.
Unfortunately, there are times in which I think, we have to much freedom in this country.
The entire milieu which calls itself the "art world" is nothing but a nauseating claque of useless pseudo-intellectual jag-offs. Thier main purpose in life is no longer about anything "uplifting," or about any kind of contribution to society, or even about the human experience of "beauty," nor has it been for almost a century now.
The classical traditions and techne, the lifelong training, dedication and imagination, the burning desire to scale new heights of expression, the striving to depict a more real spiritual dimension of humanity; these are lost.
They have been replaced by pure fraud, wallowing in mediocrity. The crowning achievement of the latest incarnation of the "art clique" is parting some benighted rich widow of her money on some ridiculous piece of drat, shad by the latest fashionable bohemian poseur.
They and thier wine and cheese galleries make me puke. They are decadence personified. Art fags, Frauds, Art fag-hags and blue-hairs selling the emperor's new clothes to the pretensious and the deluded.
Fuck them all.
This is the kind of thing that boggles my mind stuff like this comes out and people just cheer it on. When the Spain election happened all i could think of was how many stupid people there are in Spain who didn't even realize what they have done. When I see something like this it just shows how utterly fucking stupid some people are and will act out of fear and vote for someone else when they want to be "safe". When what they should try get involved in there local government on some level to try and to be more free.
The far left frowns upon any form of love that makes more human beings of European descent.
I don't quarrel with your overall description of much of the current art scene, but I'd watch yousing terms like "decadent" or "decadence." those were the very terms the Nazis used to condemn "Jewish" or "Jewish-influenced" modern art, including some actually great writers and painters of the early 20th century.
(I know, I know... fish in a barrel.)
Some pics from the third and final run of last night's NOVA Fashion Train extravaganza (service from Belmont to Belmont and all points in between).
... Just call me the cobrasnake—though there's at least one shot I couldn't post for the sake of propriety.
At any rate, whoever dreamt up this inspired gimmick deserves some kind of award. Brilliant.
April 28, 2006
Even with only 40-some exhibitors, NOVA last night was a bit of a blur. Nevertheless, a brief rundown of highlights that stand out in my otherwise foggy memory...
Update: I should also note in passing that Bad at Sports put their first art fair podcast of the weekend up last night. If you haven't already, be sure to check it out.
Every year there seems to be one or two brash and fun, if gimmicky, items that command immediate attention even if you doubt their lasting resonance. Chris Reilly's "Everything I Do Is Art, But Nothing I Do Makes Any Difference, Part II or: How I Learned To Stop Worrying and Love the Gallery" in the Network of Visual Art space takes Half-Life 2 into SAIC's Gallery 2 for some aestheticized first-person shooter mayhem. A bit inside baseball, but also probably the ultimate art fair fantasy come to life.
I fell for Emma Bennet's enamel paintings at London's Clapham almost immediately. But, then, I'm always a sucker for a good glaze.
At San Francisco's Bucheon, works by David Gremard Romero offer an almost seamless pastiche of baroque art and superhero comics.
LA's Bert Green Fine Art has a number photographs by David Meanix featuring masks and entire bodies constructed from magazine or photo tearings. Some cohere better than others, but when they do, I find the effect rather striking.
Chicago's own Bucket Rider features a host of their usual suspects. I can't say why I never really tire of Nicola Kuperus' photos, but I think it makes me feel vaguely electroclash. Which is to say, strangely dirty.
War and violence make for a minor theme this year (shocking, I know). The most memorable works along these lines were the Afghan war rugs at outlaw A by Barbara Koenen (of the Chicago Artists Resource). These were created, in the manner of Tibetan sand mandalas, with colorful dried spices. Koenen was also showing some nice grenade cozies. (Shades, I think, of Rosemarie Trockel's balaclavas.)
Also of note:
Jen Davis at 65 GRAND:
Peter Gourfain at Projects Gallery:
Susan Lee-Chun at Red Dot Project:
Marci Rae McDade at gescheidle:
Jorin Bossen at Thomas Robertello Gallery:
Update: And tonight... the Fashion Train loops the Loop.
April 27, 2006
As any beleaguered Secretary of Defense will tell you, no war plan survives first contact with the enemy.
And so it goes, too, with any plan for facing down the mighty specter of aesthetic overload that is Any Given Art Fair Weekend. (I can't even begin to imagine what all those suckers down in Miami must go through each December.)
But the least we can do is try to lay out the plan as it currently stands, leaving the necessary wiggle room for all of the various decisions and revisions which the weekend will reverse...
What else? NOVA Vernissage (already well underway by this point, I'd imagine), 5–10 pm
After the show, it's the afterparty at SmartBar (which I'm fairly sure I'm not up for) 8 pm–4 am
Aside from more quality time at NOVA and a visit to Art Chicago in the Mart (which, really, should be enough on their own), Paul Miller aka DJ Spooky That Subliminal Kid will speak at the Lakeview Ann Sather at 8 pm
Unfortunately, I have the day job calling on Saturday, so will have to miss out on what could be among the highlights of NOVA, a foursome of overlapping video and film programs at the Landmark Century Centre Cinema, noon–4 pm. Three of these programs are devoted to selections of short films from local and international artists, the fourth to one-hour Miranda July retrospective.
Wish they could run them on Sunday as well.
Also, more readings & lectures at Ann Sather, including David Antin at 7 pm and William Pope.L at 8 pm.
Think I'll take a drive down to the Version>06 kunsthalle at Iron Studios, 3636 S Iron St. (noon–10 pm, free until 4) for:
New Trends in Chicago Photography, curated by Greg Stimac and Brian Ulrich (April 29–May 6)
Urban Gardening and Exterior Decorating (April 22–May 7)
The Group Group Show (April 21–May 7)
Version NFO XPO (April 29 & 30)
And, of course, somewhere in the midst of all this, time must be found to get some drinks with this fella I met on the internets.
So, study your schedules, campers, and I'll see you at
StacyCon '94 NOVA '06, at the San Diego Airport Hilton Chicago City Suites Hotel. Look for a guy with a weak-ass beard and a look of abject fatigue on his face.
April 26, 2006
So, I've obviously been out for a spell. Have I missed anything?
Yeah. This weekend's forecast calls for "a lingering storm system."
Some of the 125 gallery owners and artists expected at this year's three-day festival arrived Tuesday to find the large white tents that hold the show empty—with a dirt floor, no walls and no workers.
"We arrived here, see this and ... nothing," said gallery owner Patrick Baer, who traveled from Dresden, Germany, for the show. "I'm not happy."
Erik Wenzel at Art or Idiocy (who was on top of this story even before Thomas Blackman's mom knew about it) notes that 104 of an original 125 exhibitors remain.
In the blogs:
The Tribune's Artner and Storch tag-teamed the story late last night, before the change of venue was announced:
Blackman's brief announcement capped a week of frantic attempts by him to retain a grip on the show and reach for a financial lifeline. He put up his Chicago company for sale and even pledged personally owned art works as loan collateral, but negotiations were too rushed and too late, according to two people with whom he dealt.
The first obvious sign of trouble came last week, when some unions represented at the site engaged in informational picketing.
Thomas Villanova, president of the Chicago and Cook County Building and Construction Trades Council, said non-union floor installers from a Wisconsin firm had been brought in, and the unions demanded the out-of-towners be paid prevailing wages. Villanova said the dispute was resolved, but he didn't elaborate.
Nonetheless, no workers were at the site Tuesday.
For those outside of Chicago, note that accusations of unions gumming up the convention industry works are nothing new in these parts.
But that certainly can't be the whole story, given TBA's financial woes, can it?
Blackman did not return calls seeking comment.
Some in the Chicago art community were embarrassed its premier event was in such flux.
"To the world, this is the face of art in Chicago,'' said Natalie van Straaten of the Chicago Art Dealers Association. "Everyone's reputation is on the line, not just Thomas Blackman's.''
One contractor, who said he received a bad check after paying his employees, complained, "I'm just a little guy. This is earth-shattering for us.'' Work at the site stopped last week, preventing completion of the interior of the tent, another contractor said.
In fact, TBA's reputation has taken a number of hits of late.
Last season's Art Fair War was launched after Art Chicago was essentially booted from Navy Pier over a bounced rent check. And, though it came out looking relatively shiny in the face of the competition, the subsequent 2005 installment was far leaner than past shows (even with the formerly separate Stray Show absorbed into the main event) and boasted its own logistical hang-ups. At the time this was all chalked up to 2005 being a stopgap, rebuilding year.
At the same time, the 7th installment of TBA's San Francisco International Art Exposition foundered for apparent lack of interest, and the show was finally canned completely a mere month out from the scheduled 2006 dates for SFIAE 8.
This past February also saw the firm abandon plans for Art New York, planned to be held concurrent with the ADAA's Art Show. The reason? "We didn’t allow enough time to organize it." (Art New York 2007 remains tentatively scheduled to coincide with next year's Armory Show.)
And now this.
Now I'm far from 'plugged in' or 'in the loop' or whatever cliché you prefer, but complaints regarding TBA's management seem to be legion, as testified to by the harsh words former gallerist Paul Klein shared after a trip down to ABMB '04:
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 it’s 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.
... and in the wake of Art Chicago '05:
Art Chicago has moved from Navy Pier where the quality of the show, number of exhibitors and audience have been atrophying for years. Now located at Butler Field (home of the Petrillo Bandshell) this is a decent fair, despite Thomas Blackman Associates’ best efforts to further ruin what was once the best art fair in the land.
I exhibited in fairs organized by Thomas Blackman for over 20 years. Not only do I know most of the galleries and dealers who have stood by him as he implodes his Titanic; and I also know the carpenters, painters and electricians who install his shows. The trades people are complaining about the workload and having to finish their work with the exhibitors already present. They segue smoothly into discussions about Blackman’s bounced checks, being kicked out of Navy Pier for nonpayment and about the many trade companies who won’t work for him because he still owes them money.
Inside the tent yesterday, less than 24 hours before the public gets in, there is 3 days of work to do.
There are two types of exhibitors setting up their booths. They are all True Believers. A positive attitude abounds. There are either newbies who’ve wanted in this show for years and now that Blackman has essentially begged exhibitors to come many are thrilled to be in what was once a really good show. They believe in their art. They love their art and they want to talk to you about it. They are decidedly not commercial. For them it is love, not commerce. And for me that is a wonderful breath of fresh air. (Art fairs have gotten to be a soulless conglomerate of oozing, hustling purveyors pretending to care about snake oil.) The naive newbies’ positive attitude make these show very worth attending.
And then there are the loyalists, the ones somnambulating in their booths, standing by their “captain” as the ship sinks.
But, back to the Trib for more detail on Blackman's "frantic attempts... to retain a grip on the show and reach for a financial lifeline":
Mark Lyman, founder and chief of Expressions of Culture Inc., a producer of sculptural art expositions in Chicago and New York, said he learned last Friday that Blackman seemed to be in need of quick financing. Lyman had been told from officials of his parent company, London-based DMG World Media, that Blackman had contacted them the day before and proposed selling DMG his firm, Thomas Blackman Associates.
According to Lyman, DMG officials were not interested.
"You can't be rushed into doing that kind of a deal," said Lyman, speaking of such transactions in general. "The end result is that you end up buying someone's misery and now it's yours."
Howard Tullman, president of Chicago's Kendall College and a contemporary art collector, said Blackman called him Friday, but the two didn't speak at length until Saturday. Tullman said that he was asked for a short-term loan of $250,000 and that Blackman offered art works he owned as collateral.
"I said I would look at it, but was it feasible?" Tullman said, given the work stoppage at Butler Field. He said that Blackman tried to resolve the labor problems but that "by Monday, it was too late."
Also last weekend, Lyman said some local art dealers discussed with him salvaging the fair, possibly by moving it to the pier under Lyman's direction. Lyman said he broached the idea with the pier and found some interest, but he didn't want to proceed without assurances he wouldn't be accused later of interfering with Blackman's business.
Lyman said he set up a meeting for 9 a.m. Monday in his lawyer's office at which Blackman was expected to attend.
"Tom didn't show up for the meeting," said Lyman.
He added that Blackman called and reset the meeting for later. Lyman said Blackman arrived at 2 p.m., but without legal representation, so proceeding seemed futile to Lyman's side.
"Had we been able to conclude something Monday morning, I could have gotten something built [at the pier] Thursday night," Lyman said.
This Mark Lyman/DMG World Media connection is intriguing.
Last year saw the team of Lyman's Expressions of Culture Inc. (who produce the successful Chicago and New York SOFA expos) and DMG (which has since bought EoC out) losing out on their bid to take over Art Chicago's old spot at Navy Pier, the spot going to the International Art and Framing Group's ill-fated Chicago Contemporary & Classic fair.
Lyman was determined at the time that EoC and DMG would nonetheless establish a 'high class' contemporary art fair of their own in Chicago, but nothing seemed to come of that. Perhaps there remains an opportunity, though, for them to step into this breach.
Meanwhile, we still have NOVA (who've also recently announced plans for a Miami edition at the Catalina Hoten & Beach Club in South Beach this coming December). If the main Chicago fair tanks, though, can the 'satellite' survive?