Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

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 »

Fashion Forward: Imperfect Articles celebrates five years of art t-shirts

Art Fairs 1 Comment »
HuskMitNavn, untitled (2009)

HuskMitNavn, untitled (2009)

Imperfect Articles was launched five years ago when artists Mike Andrews and Noah Singer took their love of t-shirts (and, in Singer’s case, a growing obsession with the art of custom hand-dying) and turned it into a collective enterprise whose goal is to promote the work of artists they love, and to offer that work to people at a reasonable price and in an eminently wearable form. Their first collection, which included shirts designed by Chicago-area artists like Adam Scott, Danielle Gustafson-Sundell, Josh Mannis and others, sold like proverbial hotcakes when Singer and Andrews brought them to the first Renegade Craft Fair in Chicago. “We were kind of shocked,” Singer recalls. “After that we got invited to the Volta show at Basel. Once we went to Basel we did Nada in Miami, and it took off from there. Last year we did six art fairs, which was crazy. And, um, we’re not going to be doing that again this year,” Singer laughs. Read the rest of this entry »

Chicago’s Alternative

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Version>09, or simply Version, could be aptly described by the instructions for artist Ashley Metcalf’s installation at NFO XPO: “Please look through the wormhole to our parallel universe.” And Version will take you down the worm’s hole, to a sprawling alternate art world of friendly artists, affordable art and beer. Parts of the Version festival are timed to precede Art Chicago, with a small overlap, and upcoming events are posted on their website.

Taking a cue from Chicago’s 2016 bid for the Olympics, Version partnered with several art groups to organize events examining Chicago’s historical international event, the 1893 Columbian Exposition. On April 25 there was a walking tour titled “A Working Man’s Guide to the Columbian Exposition,” which allowed attendees to learn about the laborers of the Exposition. The tour ended next to the Experimental Station, which is hosting King Ludd’s Analog Arcade through the first weekend in May. Physically close to the Midway Plaissance, the site of the 1893 carnival games and rides, King Ludd’s also consists of carnival-style games, made by artists. Following their Luddite title, the games are low-tech and emphatically use recycled materials in their construction. The most ambitious of these was a bike-powered air-hockey table, the actual functioning of which was uncertain at the time of my visit, though that suited the Experimental Station perfectly.
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Eye Exam: Printmaker’s Delight

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wax_carol_01

Carol Wax, "Writer's Blocks," mezzotint

By Steven Wirth

If you happen to be curious about the current state of affairs in the wide world of printmaking then look no further than the forthcoming Southern Graphics Council’s annual conference hosted by Columbia College and Anchor Graphics from March 25–29. Established in 1972, the Southern Graphics Council, or SGC as it is commonly called, is the largest print organization in North America, and each year its annual conference is the largest celebration of printmaking of its kind.

The conference itself means many different things to many different people: Read the rest of this entry »

Eye Exam: Chicago In Miami

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By Alicia Eler

Art Fairing in a new economy, Chicago blows through the 2008 Miami art fairs

The Western Exhibitions booth

The Western Exhibitions booth

Overall murmurs of low attendance aside, Art Basel Miami Beach reported more registered collectors and cultural institutions than any previous year. The Miami Herald said that almost half of the galleries at Art Basel saw drops in sales, however, and after just two days into the fair, only sixteen percent of galleries at Basel and the satellite fairs saw sales growth. There are fewer visitors roaming the fairs than in years past, but the art world won’t give up.

Of the three Chicago galleries at Art Basel Miami Beach—blue-chippers Richard Gray, Donald Young and Valerie Carberry—I noticed a sprinkling of red dots covering David Hockneys at Richard Gray. During an unstable time, art buyers will invest in artists whose names they already know and trust. Kavi Gupta Gallery led the way at the younger, more casual, Chicago gallery-populated NADA Art Fair, even positioning Tony Tassett’s “Snowman” (2008) by the coveted fair entrance. Within the first hour of the fair, that piece sold for $70,000, which “shocked” Gupta according to reports from Artinfo.com. Red dots covered works by Melanie Schiff—a 2008 Whitney Biennial participant—including her “Untitled” (2008), an exquisite play with light, shadow and circular lens-like mirrors and symbols that are curiously shaped like Schiff’s nipples, recognizable in her other works.

David Lieske at Rowley Kennerk Gallery

David Lieske at Rowley Kennerk Gallery

Imperfect Articles represented a more affordable slice of Chicago’s art world at NADA, selling t-shirts designed by Andrew Rafacz Gallery’s Cody Hudson, among others. Nearby, Bridgeport-based Proximity Magazine and Pilsen-based Golden Age showed off their print goods. The West Loop’s Western Exhibitions dedicated their entire space to the work of Chicago’s husband art team duo Stan Shellabarger and Dutes Miller, who are quickly becoming the gallery’s art-fair darlings, and included a live knitting performance of their pink umbilical cord-like tube, making early on a $5,000 sale of a book filled with self-portrait silhouettes. Chicago galleries Rowley Kennerk and Shane Campbell Gallery also showed at NADA.

The West Loop contingent was further seen down the street at PULSE, where Monique Meloche Gallery’s booth featuring L.A.-based emerging artist Kendell Carter sold a variety of his works ranging from $1,700–$12,000, including the space’s wainscot wall installation, something that’s certainly more difficult to sell than, say, one of the artist’s shoelace drip paintings. Lake Street’s Packer Schopf Gallery did Bridge for the past three years but switched to PULSE this year; owner Aron Packer says that Michael Dinges’ paintings on deceased Mac computers and Steve Seeley’s whimsical taxidermy drawings were “a hit.” Tony Wight of Tony Wight Gallery smiled from inside his crisp white-walled space, which included a strong selection of work including abstract, kaliediscope-esque photos from NY-based Tamar Halpern’s solo exhibition recently seen in Chicago.

Catherine Edelman Gallery, Douglas Dawson and McCormick Gallery brought work to Art Miami, another of the vast tent fairs. Chicago representation at the poppy young Aqua Wynwood Fair included Kasia Kay Art Projects and Thomas Robertello Gallery, who smartly curated works from Lily McElroy’s “I Throw Myself at Men.” In this series, the artist hand-selected men either from Craigslist or at dive bars in Chicago, and literally threw herself at them, toying with assumptions about male-female power dynamics.

The Chicago born-and-bred Bridge Art Fair led Chicago representation in Miami, bringing ALL RiSE GALLERY, Accomplice Projects, Antena, GARDENfresh, Swimming Pool Project Space to the Miami location, and Aldo Castillo Gallery and Ryan Schulz Projects (of the recently closed NavtaSchulz Gallery on Lake Street) to the new Bridge Wynwood. Emerging artist Mathew Paul Jinks says “I’m seeing a lot of interest—my Web site stats peaked this week, and GRACE, a Brooklyn gallery, asked me to do a performance next year.” Likewise, at Bridge Miami Beach, gallery co-owner Liz Nielsen, of the less-than-one-year-old Swimming Pool Project Space, saw two $500 video art sales of work by Latham Zearfoss and Aspen Mays.

Imperfect Articles

Imperfect Articles

Talk of sales was still on everyone’s lips until Art Basel Miami Beach closed their doors on Sunday, December 7, at 6pm sharp. As the power went out on Donald Young Gallery’s four-channel Gary Hill video piece, guests streamed out of the convention center. When the Art Basel Miami Beach closing party began at the newly renovated Fontainebleau Hotel at 41st and Collins, which was recently renovated in line with Morris Lapidus’s original design, the food and wine flowed as if someone had just won the lottery and was treating thousands of close friends. Guests ate little slices of decadence, like grilled jumbo shrimp, succulent beef polenta, fresh cherry tomatoes and finger-food desserts of soft sweet cakes, rich chocolate morsels and creamy puddings. Free champagne, wine and mixed drinks flowed endlessly at the bars, some of which were crafted entirely from ice. And as the party meandered into the hotel’s new LIV Lounge, where shiny stairs led the way into a lounge-like pit of sweaty bodies dancing against one another, Art Basel Miami Beach Co-Director Annette Schönholzer smiled, sliding alongside collectors and exhibitors. No one was thinking about unsold paintings needing to be shipped home.

Newcity’s daily coverage from Miami can be found here: Day One, Day Two, Day Three, Day Four

Day Four, Miami Art Fairs: As the image moves

Art Fairs, News etc., Video No Comments »

Problems in video art curation, evolving technologies and copyright laws

By Alicia Eler

Omer Fast, "Looking Pretty for God (after G.W.)," 2008

Omer Fast, "Looking Pretty for God (after G.W.)," 2008

It’s still hard to justify the expenses of technology—and the necessary viewer attention—needed for displaying video art, especially at fairs where each tiny booth must compete with thousands of others. Most galleries don’t want to take the video art risk except, perhaps, Postmasters Gallery (PULSE Art Fair), where owner Magdalena Sawon included Omer Fast’s “Looking Pretty for God (after G.W.)” (2008), Guy Ben-Ner’s “Second Nature” (2005) and Katarzyna Kozyra’s “Don’t Cry Honey, They are Evil They are Men” (2008)—more video than I saw at any booth. Conversely, in a conversation with Jack the Pelican owner Don Carroll (showing at SCOPE), the dealer asserted that including one video in a show actually took attention away from other, perhaps more easily sellable, pieces. Then again, ShanghART Gallery, showing at Art Basel, took up an entire wall with Yang Zhenzhong’s five-channel video “I Will Die” (2000-2005), which showed at the 2007 Venice Biennial, and Donald Young Gallery displayed four 2008 Gary Hill videos arranged as a four-channel piece (“Up Against Down” [right hand], “Up Against Down” [face], “Up Against Down” [back/torso], and “Up Against Down” [left foot]). Likewise, Peres Projects (Berlin) sectioned off a viewing space for a Paul Lee video, as did König Gallery (Berlin) for Jordan Wolfson’s “untitled false document” (2008).

Jordan Wolfson, "Untitled (False Document)," 2008

Jordan Wolfson, "Untitled (False Document)," 2008

Many of the art fairs addressed the video-art viewing dilemma directly by including sectioned-off video/new media art lounges. Art Basel Miami Beach’s gallery show was housed in the Miami Beach Convention Center, positioning the Art Video Lounge across the street at the Botanical Gardens with selections by Rosemarie Trockel, Trisha Brown (including “WATER MOTOR,” 1978, a recording of the artist dancing at Merce Cunningham Studio), and Deimantas Narkevicus’ “Energy Lithuania” (2000), a meditative journey through a town built entirely around an electrical facility. Art Miami presented their first installment of the New Media Lounge, curated by Asher Remy-Toledo, who hand-selected six international institutions to present one video work each inside individual viewing spaces. Guests streamed in and out of Bjørn Melhus’ “Deadly Storms” (2008)—curated by Julia Draganovic of The Palazzo Delle Art Napoli, PAN, Naples, Italy—a three-screen installation best viewed from the middle of the room. On each screen, three panels of the same bald, Star Trek-looking man repeated dialog about an impending attack, stating that no one knew where it was coming from or what exactly was going on. Yellow lights glittered where the newsperson’s name and other variously “important” news scrolls, and swishing “zoom-in” sounds spilled in and out of the speakers, causing viewers to stand on edge as they waited for the report that never arrived. Using the same conceptual base as Candice Breitz’s video “Mother + Father” (2005), which plucked six mothers and six fathers from popular Hollywood films, removed the backgrounds and left them in a black-background setting, Melhus similarly reduces sensationalistic television news reports to their essence, thus revealing the media’s manipulative techniques.

Yang Zhenzhong, "I Will Die," 2000-05

Yang Zhenzhong, "I Will Die," 2000-05

Curation challenges run alongside copyright issues: If each piece of video art is contained on a single DVD, everyone from the artist to the collector must be able to retain control over illegal distribution. Art Basel examined this issue through a discussion featuring Christopher Eamon of the Richard and Pamela Kramlich Collection (the Kramlichs have been video art collector pioneers since the mid-1980s), British artist Isaac Julien, Lars Nittve of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Peter Andersson of the Scandinavian Trust Group (Sweden/Switzerland), and Johan Wilén of GTC Market Support in Sweden. Infusing the idea of “taking the physical art world values into a digital context,” the discussion centered around how an artist can retain digital art copyrights in the face of a YouTube world, but veered off into less legal-focused topics like the changing technological formats of video art, and the idea that buying video is more about the video piece’s content rather than the physical DVD. As such, each piece of video art must be considered a conceptual work of art, not an object. Later Eamon suggested that in an installation context, the environment in which the video is installed is the work of art, not the DVD, meaning that the only truly salable object is a photographic documentation of the video installation. Yet in an age of sound bytes, fast downloads, rapid-fire emails and constant contact via Blackberries and iPhones, perhaps DVDs will become extinct, transporting questions about the object-hood of video art into an even more meta-realm.

As technology continues evolving, and the transmission of data becomes quicker and more compact, video will continue questioning itself. Viewers must ask themselves how best to comprehend a medium that is at once a visual and auditory experience, but also an increasingly cerebral one.

Day Three, Miami Art Fairs: Gimme a sign

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Tracey Emin

Light Luv and Happiness

By Alicia Eler

When one starts seeing the same neon lights on flashy hotel signs in Miami Beach as they do in art fair booths, always remember that arguments about the separation between pop culture and the art world are useless.

Tracey Emin’s heart-shaped neon sign “For You” (2008) at White Cube Gallery’s Art Basel Miami Beach booth continues the Young British Artist’s exploration into, well, herself. Emin never holds back, spilling her guts to the viewer through her soap operatic art-making process. Inside her bright light pink heart, she bends red neon tubes into a scrawly sentence that reads, “I felt you and I knew you loved me X.” Sad and sappy like a tearjerker moment in a bad romance film, Emin’s newest work recalls her 1996 neon sign “Kiss me, kiss me, cover my body in love” that’s almost exactly the same but without the cheeky heart. Jonathan Monk’s “The sex is the same but the dishes start to pile up” (2008), created with the same pink neon but mounted on a black rectangle of Plexiglas (Yvon Lambert Gallery), revels in its mature male sensitivity and conceptual basis, bypassing Emin’s purposefully sloppy, emotive aggravations. While Emin’s work reads with whinyness, Monk’s signage typifies a more rational, poetic approach to one such truth.

Jonathan Monk

Jonathan Monk

How much love is enough, though? According to Uri Dowbenko of New Improved Art Gallery (Pray, Montana), showing at Bridge Art Fair Miami Beach, the answer is…never. Like a knock-off of a Miller Lite Valentine’s Day special sign, the diner-style cursive letters of Dowbenko’s neon pink “Never Enough” (2008) elicit neither an ironic shrug nor a passionate outpouring of emotion. The titular text is encased in a perfectly symmetrical heart, which only adds to this piece’s bland approach to art that’s inspired by real life.

Uri Dowbenko

Uri Dowbenko

When real life and love get too depressing, however, pop a few pills and get crazy happy. British artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster’s conceptual piece, “Happy” (1999), showing at Deitch Projects (Art Basel Miami Beach), a blinking carnival-like sign with the word “Happy” spelled in soft cursive letters, casts a multicolored, schizophrenic and seizure-inducing glow on anyone who crosses its path. The 298 multicolored light bulbs blink randomly,  creating a hypnotic effect that later repels, leaving the slippery taste of artificial sweetener on one’s lips. During tough economic times, this darkly ironic piece reminds one of a Prozac nation struggling to stay present. Glassy-eyed and sad, “Happy” corners haunting global fears.

Tim Noble and Sue Webster

Leo Villareal uses light, but in a way that induces spacing out—not tuning in. “Big Bang” (2008) at Conner Contemporary Art (PULSE Art Fair) is made of 1600 light-emitting diodes arranged in outwardly growing circular patterns that twirl, explode and flicker using a code that coincides with the title. The precisely positioned bulbs on the five-foot-wide circle find Modernist roots in pointillism, but push forward into the twentieth century, recalling 1970s-style psychedelia.

Leo Villareal, "Big Bang"

Leo Villareal, "Big Bang"

In terms of actual wattage, however, light shone brightest at Friday night parties, particularly the Art Nexus magazine party in downtown Miami at the IconBrickell, which was hosted on a fifteenth floor two-acre pool deck. While pianist Julian de la Chica tapped away on piano keys, DJ Shlomi blasted beats, creating a giant lounge-like feel that’s typical of Miami’s over-the-top luxury-inducing spaces. Lying on one of the many beds as green lasers bounced off the façade of the neighboring building, white light reflected off the slick walls, and guests nibbled on powdery circular sugar cookies. Back in Miami Beach, the über-exclusive Vanity Fair party at the Raleigh Hotel had guests lined up down the street. Nearby at the National Hotel, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago hosted an alumni get-together where one could find the likes of Rashid Johnson, Carrie Schneider and Justin Cooper (all represented by Monique Meloche Gallery).

With all these flashing lights and constant party hopping, however, it’s important to eat—something that’s easy to forget about in Miami where you’re either sitting by an oversized or oddly shaped pool, or racing from fair to fair.

Peregrine’s tip of the day: Don’t get hangry, meaning “hungover from hunger.” If you do, the bright signs and flashing light bulbs, combined with celebrity citings of Jay-Z and Beyonce at Art Basel, might wear you down.

Day Two, Miami Art Fairs: Picture this

Art Fairs, News etc., Photography 1 Comment »

By Alicia Eler

Identity-freezing photographs

There’s so much to see in Miami that you either have to create your own lens or look through a camera’s. Photos caught my eye at the art fairs this year, perhaps because in a sea of constantly moving people and new art around every booth wall and corner, savoring a pre-recorded gift is not only refreshing, it’s a necessary means of survival.

Cindy Sherman’s newest work is not just fitting, but perfect for Miami, the city of botoxed lips, fake boobs and women dressed hyper-feminine enough to seem like performed versions of themselves, projected back through a palm tree-lined lens. Featuring selections plucked straight from her current show at Metro Pictures in New York (runs through December 23), these works at Art Basel Miami Beach show an aging Sherman still up to her constantly evolving, though conceptually sound, themes of gender performance. In one “Untitled” (all works “Untitled,” 2008) the artist uses a cheesy fairytale-like photograph of a lush green forest, using Photoshop to insert herself inside an open valley, thus creating a vignette. The low-neck of her mint-green dress seems to form a heart shape, and pearl earrings around her neck suggest her wealth, but the purposefully thick brown drawn-on eyebrows that don’t match up with her real eyebrows cause an uneasiness, exposing the ways that women try to hide their aging process. Keeping in line with the evolving photography process, but avoiding lackluster photography that focuses solely on techie Photoshop tricks, Sherman once again smartly updates her trademark work.

Dealer Luis de Jesus of San Diego’s Seminal Projects (Aqua Wynwood) plucked three photos from Estonian-born Marliss Newsome’s performance series “Flatfield,” in which men and women perform a winterized-version of a nudist ritual. As a group of naked people perch on saddles, instructing their horses to ride around in a circle, four others stand back-to-back in the middle of the thumping horses, all facing out onto the snowy flatlands. Calling to mind a ceremonial performance, the photos catch this artist tribe in the midst of something secret, sacred and mysterious.

There’s no snow falling in Miami, of course, but at the Bass Museum the powerful show “Russian Dreams…” not only sends shivers down our spines, but represents perhaps one of the most well-curated non-art fair shows in town. Post-Cold War Russia is a dark, foreboding place, something that’s reinforced by lining the walls with choppy wooden fencing, appropriately painted dark gray. Light comes into the space, but it’s the harsh fluorescent kind that stings your eyes, burning your retinas. “Défile” (2000-2007), a series of lightbox photos by the AES+F Group, question consumer culture by literally dressing the dead in haute couture, making Vik Muniz’s corpses pale in comparison. These fresh corpses, perhaps only five hours old, seem to float midair, their eyes sinking back into their skulls, the blood in their hands and feet stopped completely. Curator Olga Sviblova writes: “They remind us of the tragic and sublime fate of mankind, stressing the vanity and meaninglessness of life where consumerism and arrogance reign above all.” Viewing these works at an opening where most of the crowd is wearing haute couture (not to mention Calvin Klein, who we spotted making his way through the exhibition), some of the dead really will dress like this.

Peregrine’s tip of the day: If you’re going to drink with the Russians in Miami, bring a flask of vodka. Mixed drinks cost $14-and-up.

Day One, Miami Art Fairs: When bigger is better

Art Fairs, Craft Work, Performance, Photography, Street Art, Textiles, Video 1 Comment »

By Alicia Eler

Dresses swish as fast as palm tree leaves in Miami, where the entire art world gathers for the annual spending spree. Alicia Eler’s daily blog clues you in on finds at the fairs, from the established Art Basel Miami Beach (the mother of all the Miami art fairs) to Chicago’s born-and-bred emerging art fair, Bridge. Tips of the day provided by Kansas City-based artist Peregrine Honig.

Monumental Art:

When bigger is better

Should you pull out the big guns at the beginning, or wait till later? Do it now while viewers still have energy and open eyes, because after a week of looking at thousands of booths filled with art, even a Gerhard Richter might start to look like an Andy Warhol soup can.

Sies + Höke Galerie must have had that same thought when they decided to bring Kris Martin’s “For Whom…” (2008), which takes up the entire Düsseldorf-based gallery’s booth at Art Basel Miami Beach. Borrowing from John Donnes’ eponymous line, Martin’s bell swings, hitting hard metaphorically but not literally precisely because of what it lacks: the pendulum. The nearly 100-year-old bronze bell, originally built in 1929, hangs from the top of a 216.54-inch tall steel support. In its original church context, this bell wouldn’t serve its purpose of keeping track of time, signaling a call to prayer or signaling ceremony commencements. In the white-cube context, one watches the bell swing back and forth, hearing only its whistling movements drift through the air. Posing existential questions about our own mortality and the fate of a flawed system that keeps going despite its lack of working parts, Martin’s piece stuns like a Jenny Holzer truism.

Monumental takes on another form at SCOPE’s grown-up carnival land installation “Fun House” by Miami-based collective FriendsWithYou. One merely slips off their shows and enters the giant inflatable bouncy house through a large circle entrance. Jumping up and down releases any stress and channels the oft-forgotten inner child.

Smiles begone, however, once one sees the installation of an oversized horse three-way scene by Gregory de la Haba (Gallery Privee at Bridge Wynwood). As a giant brown male horse stands on its hind legs—his large cock in mid-air, heading toward the vagina of a white female horse who is adorned with a red feather hat and glittery red harness—a second identical white female horse, floating on her backside, flings her mouth toward the brown horse’s membrane. A child-size doll stands nearby, her back to the scene. It’s questionable as to why a horse three-way would happen directly behind an innocent-looking girl, but thankfully she doesn’t notice the spectacle. A steady stream of viewers do, however; crowds gathered around the horses, muttering stunned remarks to one another. At once intriguing and disturbing, this installation provides an unusual foray into the world of horse sex. I suggest keeping your My Little Ponies at home.

Friendlier beasts abound in a wall-size mural by New York-based artist collective Antistrot, conveniently visible onto the exterior of Aqua Wynwood’s warehouse-like façade. Large-scale creatures and characters spew forth cartoon and comic book-flavored pop culture: A wary gorilla peers to his right, a sense of sadness emanating from his with eerily human eyeballs, while a light-brown-skinned Muslim girl, her big brown eyes distant, solemnly carries a neon pink machine gun.

Though all of these pieces are either large in scale or in message, the monumental theme best applies to a portrait of Barack Obama, arguably the most important man alive today. German photographer Martin Schoeller, whose large-scale 2004 portrait “Barack Obama” on display at Hasted + Hunt’s Art Miami booth, honestly captures the now-president-elect while he was still a state senator. Schoeller, who studied under Annie Leibovitz, uses his detailed lens to take crisp, straight-forward, large-scale portraits of celebrities, including Heath Ledger and Justin Timberlake. For example, in the Obama portrait, he illuminates Obama’s glowing brown eyes, and focuses details on the soon-to-be-president’s nose, cheeks and lips, exposing a feeling of gentle honesty that one can sometimes only see through a frozen moment in time.

With Obama peering out from at least one wall of every fair, the German church bell keeps swinging, never tolling. And so we arrive at Peregrine’s Miami tip of the day: German comes in handy. Learn it, especially if you recognize for whom the bell tolls.

Art Fair Hangover

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By Jason Foumberg

It’s too tempting to not report “overheard at the art fair.” In front of a painting by Neo Rauch, one shopper said to another, “The thing about art is you don’t have to like it.” You don’t even have to see it, either; just order it by name. “Names, names, names, darling!” (Okay, that one was from “Absolutely Fabulous,” but the sentiment holds.) For one whirlwind weekend we had to put our care for meaningful art practices on hold in the hope that Chicago could contribute to the still-thriving art market. Inviting investment collectors and shopaholics to Chicago was to be the nourishment that would sustain thoughtful and quietly productive practices for the rest of the year. The shop-‘til-you-drop atmosphere was further emphasized by the mall-like layout of the fair with rows of boutiques and impeccably dressed gallerinas. The art was almost as good as the people-watching.

Not everyone was distracted by price tags and designer-wear. Justin Polera, curator of last year’s Queer Fest Midwest, rushed me over to see a painting by Keith Haring of Mr. Softy, the 1980s brand icon for ice cream, here turned into a muscled gay icon in Haring’s hand. In the Next fair, artist John Parot swooned over works on paper by Jason Fox. Copies of Proximity, a new art-criticism magazine founded by Version Fest originators Ed and Rachel Marszewski, was being distributed freely despite us being, according to its editors, “in the throes of a recession.”

Printed to coincide with the fair weekend, Proximity highlights some of Chicago’s best alternative spaces such as the Suburban, Vonzweck and Deadtech. These are non-commercial art spaces that hardly have any relation to the huge art-fair commercial enterprise. Surprisingly, several of Chicago’s apartment galleries found their way into the fair, especially in the Goffo-curated arena, organized by Mike Andrews and Noah Singer of Imperfect Articles, the limited-edition artist t-shirt company. So, Old Gold, Green Lantern and Alogon Gallery, known for their usually experimental presentations of art and opening-night celebrations, looked like professional business ventures. Some of the strength of these spaces was drained by their lack of character. For instance, I’m used to Caroline Picard’s cats rubbing against my legs as I look at art in her apartment, and Old Gold’s artists seemed estranged without the wood-paneled basement. But the effort to mingle with the masses was well received. Exposure and accessibility was key for these spaces that don’t sit snugly in the usual gallery districts. Even ThreeWalls, the non-profit artist residency, was given a castoff stairwell space to feature an artist project. This refreshingly giving gesture by the fair’s organizers muted the pay-to-play scheme, even if only momentarily. Elizabeth Chodos called her space the coffee bean in the perfume shop, calming noses between wafts of scent.

Next door to the Goffo section was the Old Country bar, arguably my favorite place in the entire fair. This functioning temporary installation of a dive bar, provided by the Old Gold gallery owners, replicated a quintessential Chicago bar frequented by so many artists. With TV tuned to Nascar, lights dimmed, cheap beer and nachos, old wooden bar and booths, and plastic red-and-white gingham tablecloths, this could have been Inner Town Pub or Skylark. It was a great place to calm the eyes and engage in non-stressful conversation. It was easy to forget that you were in the midst of an art fair.

In the Next fair, the newest addition to the Artropolis conglomerate, small solo artist exhibitions broke up the pounding rhythm of the stalls, as did film screenings interspersed between the galleries. The solo shows, including some by Chicago artists Robert Davis and Michael Langlois, Matthew Girson and Terence Hannum, provided in-depth perspectives where we are otherwise often overloaded with too much to see.

Art about the environment and about war was present, but thankfully not in overkill. Large-format photography, conceptual practices, “unmonumental” sculpture, skulls and skeletons were in attendance en masse. Even Jonathan Schipper’s kinetic sculpture, presented by Pierogi gallery, of two hotrods smashing each other in tense slow-motion, seemed hedonistic even if it was titled, “The Slow and Inevitable Death of American Muscle.” Profound? Perhaps. Decadent? Delightfully so.

While Andy Warhol’s dollar sign still holds up as the dominant signifier for this type of event, Mark Wagner’s reconfigured collages of actual dollar bills, presented by Western Exhibitions, speak more to the creative depth that artists are willing to plunge into when interpreting the art/money relationship. Perhaps it is a flat relationship where desire is represented as that which will fulfill it (the Warholian scheme). But increasingly more artists and viewers are looking to reenergize the market, and their desires, with objects worthy of their wallets as well as their senses.