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Eye Exam: Fair Enough

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Ryan Duggan at Johalla Projects

By Damien James

“It’s the same old shit punctuated by happ­iness and tragedy,” read Ryan Duggan’s screenprint for Johalla Projects, a statement that aptly encapsulated 2011’s Artropolis. That happiness is the piece causing you to gape in wonder, the rare work you can’t tear your eyes from, while the tragedy is everything else on display, reiterating the fact that you can show art wherever you want if you’ve got the money.

What’s been true of Artropolis in the past still stands: NEXT continues to excite more than Art Chicago; people-watching is worth the price of admission; and the entire fair is becoming smaller, evidenced by joint tenancy on the twelfth floor of both NEXT and Art Chicago, which only sharpens your focus to the difference between the two. The energy of NEXT is undeniable, where art spreads itself across more forms; it rolls, spins records, hacks itself to pieces, stretches across rooms, flashes and sings at you, and even makes you want to take a bite out of it. Art Chicago, on the other hand, exists mostly in squares and rectangles on white walls.

Not that Art Chicago is bereft of enjoyment, though if you pulled the Ed Paschke’s down the overall temperature would’ve grown tepid. All of the Shepard Fairey’s sold, which makes Santa Monica’s Robert Berman Gallery the big winner, but Hammer Gallery stood up for Chicago by releasing a $75,000 Roger Brown painting into the world, along with a lovely Karl Wirsum. Carl Hammer himself said that the weekend was moving slower than in past years, but that he was pleased with how his space came together. If I had Chris Ware and Henry Darger on my walls, I’d be pleased too. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Fair Play

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photo by Marian Frost

By Laura Fox

In a day and a half in Bridgeport last weekend, connections both professional and personal formed between local art groups and artists. The catalyst was the new MDW Fair.

The fair’s genesis itself is a bit of a feat in community-building. In February, Ed Marszewski, the founder of The Co-Prosperity Sphere, Version festival and Public Media Institute, asked threewalls and Roots and Culture if they wanted to help host an art fair focused on Chicago artists and art organizations. In two months and with less than $10,000, the three partners recruited sixty-plus exhibitors to fill 25,000 square feet of exhibition space in the Geolofts warehouse, plus a separate sculpture garden. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Fair Enough?

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Dayton's Castleman, showing at the MDW fairBy Monica Westin

As we look ahead to an overhauled Art Chicago fair next month, some local art galleries are quietly planning alternatives. Unlike the dozens of satellite fairs in Miami and New York, a new crop of Chicago art fairs aren’t poised to coincide with the behemoth fair on the last weekend of April, but they do stand to be competitors of sorts. The new MDW fair, which focuses on “local art ecology,” appears to be something of a DIY one-off affair with an impressive list of gallery exhibitors and cultural programs: threewalls, Roots and Culture, Theaster Gates’ The Dorchester Project, Ed Marszewski’s Reuben Kincaid gallery project, Ebersmoore, Antena, SAIC’s Ox-Bow, The Suburban, ACRE, Iceberg Projects, and The Post Family. Several of these galleries participated in NEXT in the past; only a couple will be returning this year.

The MDW fair, pronounced “Midway,” is named for Chicago’s other airport, the one “people forget about sometimes,” says Ed Marszewski of the Public Media Institute (of the Lumpen family), who is producing the fair as a part of his long-running Version festival, along with threewalls and Roots and Culture. MDW hopes to be another kind of visual arts landing in Chicago, using GeoLofts’ (The Iron Studios) 25,000 square feet of exhibition space, and with an additional 10,000-square-foot sculpture garden, all featuring work by Chicago artists. Marszewski admits that the fair’s dates, April 23-24, in part don’t coincide with Art Chicago because they “don’t necessarily have the apparatuses to reach out to that audience,” but there is also an element of wanting to “contrast what’s happening with the more independent art scene versus what’s happening at the Merch Mart”—as well as not wanting to compete with or undermine local artists going to NEXT. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Fair Thee Well

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Olof Olsson, The Suburban's booth at NEXT. Photo by Paul Germanos.

By Jason Foumberg

This year I had a bit of a different perspective on the art fair. It was the first time that Newcity exhibited our Breakout Artists, and in addition to selecting the artists for the cover story, I installed their art in our booth, on the twelfth floor, in Art Chicago. During installation, gallerists scrambled to unpack crates, boxes littered the hallways as rock music spread over the speakers, carpenters and electricians with handcarts scuttled about the booths like bees in a hive. Some booths, reserved by galleries from farflung locales, remained volcano-delayed and empty until the zero hour when their crates finally arrived. Bulbs were screwed into place, sculptures dusted, the music turned off, and then there was an eerie calm. The gallerists sat down at their tables, applied lipstick, straightened ties, and waited. Although I’ve installed exhibitions before, it was a humbling experience to see hundreds of galleries prepare for a massive opening in tandem. I wanted them all to succeed.

For as much hope as the art fair stirs in me, it delivers an equal amount of dread. Though we were a show booth only, and not set up for sales, manning the booth recalled my days working at a commercial gallery, and by instinct I started flashing my waxy grin to stoic faces. And who were all those faces? Go to enough gallery openings in Chicago and you’ll recognize the same twenty people, but here were streams of strangers, all apparently interested in viewing contemporary art. Was this their annual art pilgrimage, like attending church on Christmas eve? Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Just Passing through Achim Zeman’s Site-Specific Installation

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In a Northwest-facing corner on the twelfth floor of the Merchandise Mart, German artist Achim Zeman perches near the top of a blue-and-yellow ladder with a tape measure in one hand and, in the other, a precisely cut strip of vinyl tape so red it buzzes. He pauses to inspect the color-coded printout of the master plan for his installation. “Insight on site” is a vertiginous use of electric red vinyl tape applied directly to the wall in ambling lines. Zeman makes a mark on the wall, leans down to pick up a level, peels the back off the vinyl tape, drops the curled backing to the floor and presses the tape to the wall. He smoothes it flat and parallel to the twenty-seven other vibrant red horizontal lines affixed there.

Scattered around the room, eight volunteers work similarly and in silence doing the same, over and over. Each devises their own way to place the vinyl tape properly and track which lines remain to be taped.

Nominally, Zeman is an installation artist, and this red-striped piece he’s working on is located in the main speaking venue on the Art Chicago floor of Artropolis, an enormous contemporary-art-cum-antique fair taking place this weekend at the Merchandise Mart. The formula for his work is color, provided by electric red vinyl tape, and geometric pattern—in this case, lines. These two visual elements he adapts to highlight some aspect of the room in which they appear. Here, he explains, it’s all about the corners and creating graphic discontinuity that doesn’t line up with the three-dimensional features of the wall. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Chicago Art Open and Dali Lamb Museum/River East Art Center

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Joseph Kim

What if you’re an artist but nobody wants to show your work? Every artist has probably faced this challenge in the modern era, at some point in their career. It was especially challenging for early modernists in Chicago, who felt categorically excluded from commercial galleries. Thus was born the “No Jury” shows of the 1920s. Today’s version is called the Chicago Art Open, sponsored by the Chicago Artists Coalition, and this year the show is held at the elegant, recently developed River East Art Center. Unlike the earlier versions, the 2010 show does have a jury of local art experts (including an editor, a gallery owner, a former non-profit director and a university photography teacher). Their job was not to keep artists out, but to highlight the best work and give it a room of its own.

Meanwhile, stroll down the hall of the River East Art Center and discover how an artist can avoid getting cut from the selection process: just buy the gallery yourself! Read the rest of this entry »

Preview: Manifest Urban Arts Festival/Columbia College

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With only a week before graduation, the real world, and Sallie Mae loan officers descend, the seniors and graduate students of Columbia College will gather on Friday, May 15 for the seventh annual Manifest Urban Arts Festival. Though past festivals have boasted impressive musical headliners like OK Go and Lupe Fiasco, budget cutbacks have brought the focus of this year’s festival back to the students’ endeavors. Student artwork will be on sale throughout the festival, whose various hot spots in the South Loop Arts Corridor will be accessible via the free Chicago Trolley or by good, old-fashioned foot power. Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: All’s Fair

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Angel Otero

By Natalie Edwards

Doesn’t Artropolis sound like a futuristic Ethan Hawke movie where uniformly dressed artists and gallery owners pursue their dream of a utopia based on a foundation of aesthetic principles in an art-historical context? It’s not. Artropolis isn’t utopian or dreamy, and it isn’t over in an hour and a half, but it can be eye-numbing and interest-suppressing, just like movies with Ethan Hawke. Artropolis, like most large art fairs, feels like a celebration of quantity, more than a celebration of art. Making money is a great thing for art to do, and it is something that it must do, but the crap economy and the need to fill up two floors of the monstrous Merchandise Mart means that Art Chicago and the NEXT fair became arenas where mediocrity threatened to gobble up thoughtful stuff on a visually droning, super-sized stage.
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The Forecast: Fair or Foul?

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art-chicago-08-crowds-1Compiled by Jason Foumberg

I asked art fair participants and insiders to make predictions for this year’s fair. At turns grim and hopeful, the responses present a slice of Chicago’s varied interests.

Brian Sholis, Art Critic: I suspect this year’s fair will be a cake of apprehension and worry frosted with taut smiles and outward expressions of hope.

Britton Bertran, Curator and Dealer: Commodity expectations are at their lowest and artists will do whatever they can to be heard in the loudest possible way. But what might be more interesting is when galleries and other enablers (non-artists) start to rear their own heads in protest and anger without repercussions from their own enablers (those that run these fairs). But what are they protesting against?

Carl Baratta, Artist: Everything will be at least competent except the free drinks. They will be perfect. Read the rest of this entry »

Bonfire of the Academics

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wjt-mitchell-cloning-terror-a-lecture-ols-karlsruhe-2-maarch-2008Our Literal Speed [OLS] is a self-reflexive, art historical all-star, conceptual art “media pop opera” taking place in Chicago over the May Day weekend. Its first iteration occurred last winter at the Center for Art and Media Technology in Karlsruhe, Germany, and brought together an A-list roster of jet-set historians, artists, critics and curators for a program that attempted to materialize the structures of consumption and circulation that make up the contemporary art world—with the idea that these structures have become the material of contemporary art itself. Through performances, panel discussions and art happenings, the OLS events in Chicago represent a collaborative effort to literalize the theoretical and pedagogical technologies that make up the experience of contemporary art, particularly as that experience is mediated by various institutions such as the museum and art historical discourse. Read the rest of this entry »