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April 21, 2007

Back up in your ass with the Resurrection


I suppose it's a probably a couple weeks too late to exploit the full blasphemous polysemy of this title, but I think it remains apt enough, considering.

After all, and my own incipient return to blogospheric glory notwithstanding, there's a certain other resuscitated elephant in this room at the moment: a little upcoming Chi-town to-do, what goes by the name of...

ARTropolis (aka, Art Chicago Premium Edition).

222 Merchandise Plaza

But we're getting ahead of ourselves...

Alternate Takes

Art fair fever actually gets its unofficial jumpstart this weekend with the inauguration of Version 7, this year dubbed "The Insurrection Intenationale."

Lumpen's latest international convergence kicked off with video and performance at The Compound on the West Side Thursday evening and the opening of "We're Rollin',They're Hatin'," the fest's flagship exhibition, at the new Public Media Institute/Lumpen Pleasure Dome Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport last night.

Beefed-up (Deanna Isaacs has Edmar claiming a budget of $50,000) and now officially not-for-profit (since last December).

From Isaacs:

Marszewski expects his expenses to rise to as much as $50,000 in '07. "This year we want to make sure we have a budget to build more things, fly in more people from overseas, and also pay for security and cleanup staff," his e-mail said.

The latter was mostly a joke, but the costs, which keep increasing, have "been draining," he says. "It's really tough to do two festivals a year just relying on [volunteers]; we have to institutionalize in order to improve." Besides encouraging individual donations, nonprofit status will allow Public Media and its participants to dip into the grant pool. Sixteen years after he started Lumpen in Champaign, Marszewski is supporting his empire by carpentering, designing Web sites, and working at his mother's Bridgeport bar. At 38, he sees the need to "get a base" to sustain people. "I'm going to burn out soon," he says. "We need a structure in place to continue without me."

With some two and a half weeks' worth of programming on tap, Version 7 certainly offers up an imposing schedule. But it also offers a soothing, non-commercial palliative to art fair overexposure and is well worth a visit in the midst of it all.

In addition to the aforementioned "We're Rollin', They're Hatin'" at the Co-Prosperity Sphere (a show organized around the theme of fantasy role-playing games), Version is also presenting two photo shows at the The Zhou B. Center, both opening next Thursday: the 43rd Annual Versionfest Photographic Invitational (works by ten photographers from across the country, curated by Brian Ulrich and Jonathan Gitelson) and UNKRAUT (a selection of current works from nine German photographers).

The Zhou B. Center will also play host to the Version NFO XPO, a science fair-styled expo of artists, spaces and projects from Chicago and beyond.

There will be roving interventionist street art in the form of customized moving trucks, a preemptive May Day celebration on the 29th in the form of a guerrilla history tour departing from the West Loop Haymarket Memorial, plus video, music and workshops galore.

The capper, though, at least in my own fevered imagination, is Version's sponsorship of a spectacle that could easily prove the highlight of this year's art fair weekend if it lives up to its description, as "hundreds of artists, performers and cultural workers of all stripes" lay siege to ARTropolis' capitalist stronghold:

This Year Version will wage an Art War on the existing Art Fair structure of Chicago. We will engage the enemy by land, water and air. Dozens of organisations and groups have organised the alternative art festival: Carnival of Art on the River on April 27, 2007.

Siege of Helm's Deep

(Survivors to adjourn to Sonotheque after the war for the enjoyment of noise rock.)


Some 25 hours before the insurgent art warriors of Version and cohort join their assault on the citadel of art commerce, Merchandise Mart Properties is set to finally raise the curtain on their ambitious relaunch of Art Chicago.

If you missed out on the troubles plaguing last year's edition you could do worse than consulting the various news and blog reports on the topic I distilled at the time. In short, though: when the Merchandise Mart bailed Thomas Blackman Associates' already foundering fair out of an eleventh hour crisis last year (72 hours to show time, give or take), Blackman sold his operation to the Mart, making them the proud producers of the once (and dare we hope future?) King of the American Art Fairs.

Come 2007, the once-venerable Art Chicago is now being relaunched in what was described to Victor Cassidy as "a public-private partnership similar to Art Basel."

Roping in some pretty decent civic, institutional and commercial support (not to mention "the tacit support of Mayor Richard M. Daley," insofar as, I suppose, Hizzoner II hasn't explicitly protested their plans), the Mart is constellating a full complement of social and cultural happenings around the occasion of art fair weekend under the umbrella of ARTropolis.

They're also pulling the Bridge Art Fair (formerly NOVA) into the fold as one of three "satellite shows" alongside the main fair and the Mart's spring antiques fair. Also on tap in the satellites: an outsider/folk art show from Intuit and an exhibition of 48 unrepresented artists dubbed The Artist Project.

Additionally, as a part of the main fair itself they'll be presenting New Insight, a special (and apparently first-of-its-kind) exhibition featuring work from 24 MFA students from major American grad programs curated by the Renaissance Society's Susanne Ghez.

All that with just one ticket to see them all, one place to find them.

The main show will feature 132 exhibitors (including a relatively healthy contingent of 40 dealers from NYC)—still a far cry from the fair in its heyday, but also a marked improvement over the last couple of years.

There will be only 20 hometown representatives (more on which in a moment), but included in the exhibitor rolls are a few Chicago A-listers notably absent from the local fairs in recent years: Rhona Hoffman, Richard Gray, Kavi Gupta and Alan Koppel.

And, if Edward Winkleman is to be believed, the opinions of collectors and gallerists are on the rebound:

We were very pleased to learn we had been accepted, but still remained a little nervous. What if they threw a world-class art fair, but nobody came. The proof is in the total experience, and a big part of that is attendance.

But slowly the excitement has begun to grow, and I'm beginning to hear from collectors near and far that they're curious, impressed (the VIP program for this fair is pretty astounding actually), and increasingly excited. Chicago is rolling out a very comprehensive and enticing red carpet, with a city-wide approach that combines a wide spectrum of arts and culture (learn more about this feast of options at the Artropolis website).

... Do please stop in if you're attending. And consider coming if you hadn't already. From all indications, you'll want to say you were there the night Chicago was reborn.

Rebirth, you say?

Paul Klein, too, dropped these two cents around ABMB time:

Let me preface my remarks about visiting the myriad art fairs in Miami the past few days by saying that I’ve been privy to the Chicago 'Merchandise Mart's presentations about what they have been doing and will do to revitalize ArtChicago. Clearly the Mart has very deep pockets, an army of caring, quality event organizers and a passion for substance. In a nutshell, it would not surprise me to see ArtChicago win a World Series long before the Cubs do.

A bit oblique, perhaps, but no less positive.

So, the upshot is that, with a bit of (apparently) competent management at the helm, the early buzz is (apparently) turning out pretty good.

But, to paraphrase David Byrne, how did we get here?

Let's review to the tape...

As Winkleman notes, a major focus of the Mart's efforts has been to revitalize the fair's VIP offerings.

Charles Storch and Alan Artner highlighted this in a December 3, 2006 Tribune article (now offline), "How the Mart is trying to repair Art Chicago":

On Thursday, Art Basel Miami Beach, the sun-tanned spawn of the great Swiss international art exposition, cuts the ribbon on its latest installment. A-list dealers and collectors from around the world are expected to attend the four-day contemporary art fair—as well as several satellite marts in its orbit—and to party with celebrities in homes of the super-rich or the most exclusive nightspots.

Many may even be lured to a party that is to be given by the Chicago-based Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. The Mart last year bought Art Chicago, the longest-running and once-leading contemporary art fair in the country, from its longtime producer. Its team will be at Art Basel Miami Beach—as it has been at other such fairs around the world—to try to make the contacts and find the elements that could return Art Chicago to international prominence.

"We recognized [after last spring's Art Chicago] that to revitalize the show we had to raise the caliber of the dealer base," said Mark Falanga, Mart senior vice president, in an interview last week. He added, "We're mindful there is damage to repair. That's why we are creating a more broad-based, ambitious show than has been here the last few years."


Luring top collectors

Some of the ARTropolis partners have been involved in the Mart's plan to indulge the penthouse tastes of top collectors and other VIPs. Falanga said a three-day symposium on "globalism" would be convened solely for A-listers at Millennium Park's Pritzker Pavilion. They also will get preferred access to Mart shows and receptions, tickets to concerts, reservations at fine restaurants, use of a car service and other perks.

"We're cognizant of what other shows are offering VIPs, and we will be competitive," he said.

But will parties and other favors be enough to draw prospective buyers should top galleries not be represented at the fair? And would the continued absence of more-prominent Chicago dealers undermine the show's appeal to their counterparts elsewhere?

The notion of "a more broad-based" show bears certain undeniable echoes to the populist designs of Pfingsten Publishing's erstwhile Art Chicago usurper, Chicago Contemporary & Classic. As does the Mart's attempt at some level of art-antique fusion.

But by all indications there's a sense of ambition and wide-angle vision in the Mart's plan that was almost entirely lacking in CC&C's 2005 bid for the art fair crown.

Flashing back to '04:

"If somebody were to announce an Art Basel-like show for Chicago, it wouldn't work, because that's such a high sliver of the marketplace that couldn't be pulled off overnight," said Rob Spademan, Pfingsten's marketing director. "Chicago needs to go for the $5,000 to $50,000 price point for collectors."

Mark Lyman of Chicago-based Expressions of Culture Inc.—whose competing bid to produce an art fair in the same time slot at Navy Pier was rejected—disagrees, adding that he is still in discussions with partners for a Chicago show that would aspire to the very top echelon of art fairs.

"They were probably realizing that they were going to have difficulty filling up the hall with the top-level fine-art dealers, so they're taking a more generalist, lower-level approach to this," Lyman said. "I think this makes it very clear that there's a strong opportunity in Chicago for a top-level art fair that would span contemporary and later modern art."

Incidentally, Lyman (of SOFA) remains a sideline figure in the art fair chronicles. Always seemingly on the brink of dipping his toes in the Chicago fine art fair waters, he again pulled back from doing so this past December:

Looks like the Merchandise Mart and Art Chicago won't have to worry about a competing art fair at Navy Pier in 2007; DMG World Media has pulled the plug on its plan to hire a director and mount what producer Mark Lyman had said would be a "world-class show" at the Pier. Lyman says that after polling a number of key dealers internationally, DMG decided the best thing for Chicago would be to "sit tight a bit and let time take care of some things."

Still waiting-and-seeing, then?

Hard to blame him, quite honestly. In their December Trib report, Storch and Artner found Rhona Hoffman and Paul Gray still withholding their blessings:

"There are well over 100 fairs. In New York alone, there are at least a couple a month," said Paul Gray, a director of the Richard Gray Gallery in Chicago and New York.

His gallery has been absent from Art Chicago for some years but is represented in four other large fairs. He said each takes up "a better part of a month" in preparation and execution and the four combined cause a "strain on the availability of inventory."

Although he believes the Mart is trying to "bring the fair to a higher level," he doubts that it can "put together a roster of exceptional galleries that would motivate me" to be represented there in 2007.

Not committing yet

Like Gray's, Rhona Hoffman's gallery here had been a mainstay of Art Chicago until recent years. Like many others, she is adopting a wait-and-see attitude to joining the fair.

"I support my city. People in the greater Midwest would love to have a good art fair here," she said. "If [Mart people] get together a group of first-rate galleries—I don't care if it's 10 or 200—I will sign on."

Roy Boyd, president of the Chicago Art Dealers Association, said he is "very impressed" with the actions being taken by the Mart and is among those who want to have their galleries at the show. One of them is Stephen Daiter, a local dealer in photography who long has been an advocate for the fair.

"I think it will be a lot, lot better than in the last two years," Daiter said, adding, "It sounds to me a very good, at least, regional fair."

Art Chicago expects to draw up to 150 exhibitors. Falanga said the Mart has received 125 applications, with booth deposits, from galleries. He said many of those galleries were not here last spring, and a number of them are of high caliber.

Falanga said the Mart already has brought together dozens of collectors, art administrators and business people for a host committee to assist in planning the fair and ARTropolis. It will seek to recruit about 12 dealers from around the world for a gallery selection committee.

As we've noted already, however, both Hoffman and Gray have since signed on the proverbial dotted lines. Deanna Isaacs fleshed out some of the intervening happenings (and a bit of controversy thereof) in March:

Kennedy said the first thing the Mart did to get this year's show off the ground was solicit the support of the Art Dealers Association of Chicago (CADA). CADA members recall that Mart representatives held a series of enthusiastic meetings with them last fall, turning on the PowerPoint charm and enlisting them as ambassadors to recruit dealers nationally and internationally. A few remember a warning voiced by one of their own: "They might mount a show we can't get into." But at least some felt the Mart was focused on creating a fair with a distinctive Chicago identity. "We were very excited," says Flatfile’s Susan Aurinko. "I was the biggest cheerleader in the city for what they were doing. We were calling people and saying, 'You have to apply.'"

Art Chicago appointed a ten-member gallery-selection committee that included three Chicago representatives: CADA president Roy Boyd, photography dealer Stephen Daiter, and—in a coup—the queen of the city’s tiny A-list, Rhona Hoffman. All three will have booths at the show, and even A-lister Richard Gray was lured back. But only 20 Chicago galleries made the list, which was released last month. Flatfile was out, as was Jean Albano (which would have been showing Karl Wirsum and Gladys Nilsson). Thomas Masters, whose gallery was also turned down, says CADA members realized they'd been "spun off the wheel" in an event striving to be elite rather than inclusive. "Without the Art Dealers Association of Chicago, I'm not sure Art Chicago could have happened this year," Masters says. "The fair was floundering. They came to us and said, 'What should we do? We cannot get this fair off the ground without you.'"

Masters says the Mart abandoned a core group of half a dozen dealers who gave their time and support to the fair with the tacit understanding that they were "forging their way into it." He says "the selection committee was not made aware of their contribution."...

Hoffman, who was in Telluride the day the selection committee met (when it reportedly reviewed 300 applications in about ten hours), says she participated by FedEx and phone. "The goal was to be an international fair," she says. "Sour grapes" notwithstanding, "not everyone should be in it."

Paul Klein, again parenthetically sharing his optimism for the coming extravaganza, also emphasizes Hoffman's role:

There are three world-class galleries in Chicago: Rhona Hoffman, Richard Gray and Donald Young, and quite a few contenders. Rhona Hoffman and Paul Gray (of Richard Gray Gallery) have been major players in contributing to the culture of Chicago and deserve significant credit for supporting ArtChicago in its meteoric rise from the ashes to the celebratory showcase we’re about to see in two weeks. Rhona particularly has been front and center in cajoling her peers to come to town.

Could helping bring a once-proud art fair back from the brink turn out to be the crowning jewel in Hoffman's 30th anniversary year as a Chicago art dealer?

There seems to be hope for the moment at least. So... watch out, Utica: Art Chicago is an art fair on the... grow.

Sauron Sees All

Post Scriptum

Long as this post has grown, I find it necessary to append a postscript; if possible, a short one.

A check of Thomas Blackman's old domain reveals yet more unpaid bills. It's something that's really neither here nor there at this point, but interesting nonetheless:

ThomasBlackmanAssociates.com is Unavailable

This site has been disabled due to issues of non-payment by Thomas Blackman for a period of over 15 months. Thomas, please contact your hosting company to resolve these billing issues soon. Thanks.

Good luck with that.

According to Google's cache, this notice was posted at some point after Mar 30, 2007 13:03:58 GMT, placing the start of the as-yet-unresolved 15-plus-month delinquency squarely in the heart of the run-up to Debacle 2006.

Hardly shocking, I know, but...

"Back up in your ass with the Resurrection"
Posted by Dan at 02:47 AM


Wow! Great post. Extensive! Welcome back and I hope to met you at the Fair. Please wander by my booth.

Posted by: Mark Staff Brandl on April 22, 2007 at 12:42 PM

I plan to be around the Mart on Friday and will definitely make a point of introducing myself. (Mark is exhibiting at the Mart as a part of the Artist Project.)

Posted by: Dan on April 22, 2007 at 01:16 PM

Hot damn...Chicago is Artopia after all. You still coming out to Documenta and the bien Biennale...or would that just be redundant now? My degree show is shooting over to Berlin in August or September, then to Beijing in November, so I'm pretty much 'forced' to stay here through that period (since I plan to, y'know, tag along). The point: I'll be locked down in Glasgow for the bulk of summer if you wanna swing through...

Posted by: Ritchie on April 24, 2007 at 04:16 PM

> Hot damn...Chicago is Artopia after all.

Your clairvoyance astounds, Andy.

> I'll be locked down in Glasgow for the bulk of summer if you wanna swing through...

Set me up a pint of Belhaven, or whatever outre local delicacy you prefer.

(Still wish I had an inside man in the Veneto, though.)

Posted by: Dan on April 25, 2007 at 12:07 PM

Referenced in this post:

ARTropolis: Special Events
Art Chicago
Art Chicago: Exhibitors
Art Chicago: Host Committee
Art Chicago: New Insight
Art Chicago: Our Partners
Art Chicago: Welcome
Art Letter (12/11/06)
Art Letter (4/13/07)
Art Newspaper: Art Chicago re-launches on large scale—Victor Cassidy (16 April 2007)
Artworld Salon: The Ivory Tower erodes, evermore…
Bridge Art Fair
Chicago Reader: The Business: Have Your Rebellion and Deduct It Too—Deanna Isaacs (January 26, 2007)
Chicago Reader: The Business: Is the new Art Chicago too good for some of the locals who helped revive it?—Deanna Isaacs (March 16, 2007)
Chicago Reader: The Business: Updates on some unfinished arts biz—Deanna Isaacs (December 29, 2006)
Edward Winkleman: Art Chicago Reborn
Google Maps: Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL
Iconoduel: A Discouraging Art Fair Digest
Iconoduel: At the business end of the weekend
Iconoduel: Defining 'Debacle' Up
Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art
Jonathan Gitelson
Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair
Notifbutwhen #2
Renaissance Society
The Artist Project
Thomas Blackman Associates
Version 7
Version 7: Friday, April 20
Version 7: Friday, April 27
Version 7: Thursday, April 19
Version 7: Thursday, April 26
Version 7: Version Programming Platforms
We're Rollin', They're Hatin'
Wikipedia: Versionfest
Zhou B. Art Center