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April 30, 2006

At the business end of the weekend

Fate Accompli

Deanna Isaac's rundown on The Business (oi!) in this week's Reader (online in PDF form) gives us a bit more detail than we've seen previously on the run up to Art Show Fiasco 2006:

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.

So, Art Chicago is now under the trade show umbrella of Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc. (as reflected in the domain of their new Art Chicago website).

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.

"At the business end of the weekend"
Posted by Dan at 10:03 PM


Iconoduel, back in the house. Excellent.

Posted by: heartasarena on April 30, 2006 at 10:17 PM

Great! A new Stray Show to mismanage. Guess he wants to compete with NOVA now, huh? My source doesn't think it could legally happen, in any event.

Posted by: Cynthia on May 1, 2006 at 06:09 PM

Is it just me, or does Blackman sound a bit drunk during that BAS interview. Nice to hear him dance around every single issue, including the screwing of his employees.

As for the Art Institute - it's all about the benjamins. Even more annoying than the mandatory fees is how they've reduced the free day to a paltry few hours.

Posted by: softdog on May 3, 2006 at 09:56 AM

> Is it just me, or does Blackman sound a bit drunk during that BAS interview.

I can't say I could blame him if he were.

> Nice to hear him dance around every single issue, including the screwing of his employees.

I kept hoping for Kathryn Born to take off the kid gloves and was a bit disappointed she let him completely sidestep the question of just what went wrong in the weeks leading up to the fair.

> As for the Art Institute - it's all about the benjamins. Even more annoying than the mandatory fees is how they've reduced the free day to a paltry few hours.

Well, like many, I have to work weekdays, so Ford Free Tuesdays were always a paltry hour or less as far as I was concerned.

Some time ago, too, they switched the extended hours to Thursday while cutting free Tuesdays off at 4:30. Ultimately this didn't bother me much, since I could still shoot down there after work on a Thursday and pony up a hard-earned dollar for my quality 45 minutes of art.

Now it'll be my old college ID or bust.

One positive thing they're doing, though, is raising the age for free childrens' admission from 5 to 12—an age at which the kids may actually be able to begin to appreciate the stuff. That's nice for the families.

Posted by: Dan on May 4, 2006 at 12:33 PM

Referenced in this post:

Art Institute of Chicago: Girodet: Romantic Rebel
Art or Idiocy?: Art Chicago SOLD
Bad at Sports Podcast
Bad at Sports Podcast: Bad at Sports Episode 35d: Thomas Blackman
Chicago Historical Society: Plan a Visit—Admissions
Chicago Reader, April 28, 2006: The Business
Chicago Tribune: Merchandise Mart fo buy Art Chicago—Alan Artner & Charlse Storch
Fresh Paint: Art Exhaustion, Part 2, Gossip Edition
Iconoduel: A Discouraging Art Fair Digest
Iconoduel: Art Fair Fallout
Iconoduel: Defining Debacle Up
MCA Chicago: For Visitors
Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.
Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.: Art Chicago
Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.: Chicago Antiques Fair
Wikipedia: The Business (band)