The 10th annual Art Chicago opened on Navy Pier on May 9, 2002, with a gala preview for patrons of the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, who paid upwards of $250 for the pleasure. Over 200 dealers from 20 countries with artworks by some 5,000 artists are on hand for the fair, which runs through Monday, May 13. The question is, will the collectors make themselves known as well?
Despite concerns that the exposition had lost some of its luster (and top dealers) to competing fairs in New York and elsewhere, Art Chicago makes a good first impression. An invited (and subsidized) group of 19 younger galleries, such as the one-year-old Julia Friedman from Chicago, the newly founded Maccarone from New York and the only slightly older Goldman Tevis from Los Angeles, made one corner of the sprawling pavilion a hotbed of new art.
In one of many small "project" spaces also scattered throughout the fair, the irrepressible Michele Maccarone presented a delirious but classical video installation by Christian Jankowski, in which Maccarone and her grandfatherly downstairs neighbor, the proprietor of an appliance store, each tells the autobiography of the other. "Deliver on time and deliver the goods ordered, that's my motto," intones Maccarone.
Among the interesting finds at Friedman's booth were works by two Japanese artists that specifically upset the esthetic of kinky female cuteness that seems to characterize so much Japanese pop culture. Yoshiko Kamikura convinced prominent Japanese men to dress up in the costume of their favorite fantasy babe, with gender-bending results. Tomoko Sawada presents a grid of 100 sets of four passport-type black-and-white photos, all self-portraits in a dazzling array of guises. It's $6,000 in an edition of 15. The 24-year-old artist was included in the gallery's recent "Chameleon Dreams: Transforming Identity in Contemporary Japanese Photography," as was Kamikura.
Adding to the avant-garde liveliness was an independent curatorial project organized by Peter Doroshenko, which included a disco lounge by Thai artist Surasi Kusolwong. Besides promoting a general party atmosphere, Kusolwong was selling copies of the fair catalogue for $10 -- 60 percent off the official price. Kusolwong made a hit last year in New York with his show at Lombard-Freid, where he sold artworks for as little as $1. "I have a lot of collectors," he deadpanned.
Further contributing to the pandemonium was Chicago Law Office, the collaborative group of four artists who mount shows and make mischief. They took over the small media booth of Zingmagazine from New York, building a tall lifeguard's stand out of 2 x 4s and plastering it with invitation cards and photographs. "I believe it's our first sculpture," said artist Vincent Dermody. Law Office also convinced an artist to streak through the gala, with "LAW" written on one cheek and "FFICE" on the other. . . .
The fair is not wholly given over to such hijinks, by any means. The booth of Landau Fine Art from Montreal carries the trademarked motto, "Only Masterpieces," and indeed, the selection included enough breathtaking modernist works to stock any evening art auction in New York. An early Marc Chagall landscape of Vitebsk, vue de Mt. Zadunov, painted in Russia in 1917 during the Bolshevik Revolution, is surprisingly serene, perhaps because it includes a small outlined figure of the artist's future wife, Berta. It's priced at $1.7 million. Other showpieces in the Landau Fine Art booth include things like a Fauve landscape by Georges Braque, a 1939 proto-Constellation by Joan Miro and an energetically fragmented late Picasso, Les Dormeurs, from 1965, which is priced in the range of $8 million.
Chicago dealer Richard Norton features more eclectic modernism in his booth, which is dominated by a huge eye-catching aluminum relief by Etienne Hajdu, a French abstractionist who died in his late 80s in 1996. Hadju's Entre deux etoiles (ca. 1967-68), which could be described as a cyborgian desert landscape put up on the vertical, is priced at $85,000. Alongside it are an industry-scape by George A. Aldrich that looks like it comes straight out of Sinclair Lewis, and a ca. 1925 portrait by Albert Bloch, the only American to participate in the Blue Rider group.
In addition to the modernist blue chips, Art Chicago includes plenty of galleries that specialize in more contemporary masters, many of their booths organized around a central agora -- Richard Gray, Karsten Greve, Annely Juda, Greenberg Van Doren, James Goodman, Hans Mayer, Rhona Hoffman and others. At Gray is Jaume Plensa's huge aluminum pot, over seven feet tall, called Meeting Point (1997), inscribed with the names of all the countries on the globe. It was recently on view in the lobby of Chicago's Hancock Building, where Gray has his headquarters. The price: $95,000. Nearby is a new painting by David Hockney, called Guest House Wall (2000), one of the artist's recent series of garden scenes, that takes the celebrated Pop painter closer to classical Fauvism than ever before.
Most galleries at Art Chicago bring a variety of works by many artists, giving the kind of "art bazaar" feel that makes an art fair different than any other art show. One exception here, however, is the booth of Weinstein Gallery from Minneapolis. Proprietor Martin Weinstein has given his space over to new photographs by Mike and Doug Starn, for an overall effect that is focused and scholarly. The Starn Twins' new work, black and white inkjet prints on Thai mulberry and other exotic papers, with applications of encaustic and varnish, portrays huge, ancient trees and other icons of nature. One showpiece in the booth is the large (86 x 74 in.) Structure of Thought #8, an image of the grand-daddy of all oaks, which is priced at $30,000, in an edition of three.
Art Chicago includes several booths that feature the kind of technically accomplished and allegorically charged painting that the critic Donald Kuspit refers to as "New Old Masterism." Certainly the leading dealer in this regard is Forum Gallery of New York, which represents Odd Nerdrum as well as several other such painters. One of the showpieces here is a huge painting by Steven Assael, a 47-year-old painter who lives in Queens, representing a group of leather-clad and pierced Club Kids (2001), looking even more post-apocalyptic than they ever thought they could. The price is $85,000.
But another surprise from Robert Fishko, Forum's director, is the delightful section of classic modernist works on paper by Jackson Pollock, John Graham, Max Weber and numerous others. Certainly the highlight here is a large 50 x 80 in. painting by Raphael Soyer from 1969-70. Called Avenue of the Americas, the work is very much a picture of the 1960s, and features among its sandaled, flower-powered throng a self-portrait of the artist, looking like a refugee from an earlier era. "We showed it in 1969," said Fishko, who represents the Soyer estate, "and are pleased to show it again here." The price now is $200,000.
Another trend evident at the fair is the growth of interest in art from China. The London dealer Michael Goedhuis, who recently moved to New York and opened a branch of Goedhuis Contemporary there in January, concentrates entirely on contemporary Chinese art. "The market in China is tiny now but will certainly grow," he says. "And the artists are dealing with watershed cultural issues." At the entrance to the booth is a large bronze by the ca. 50-year-old Taiwanese artist Li Chen, All in One (1998), which is priced at $65,000 (edition of six).
The fair is full of serendipitous juxtapositions. At Modernism Inc. from San Francisco, along with abstract works by Charles Arnoldi, Burgoyne Diller and Peter Lodato, is a nude by Photo-Realist avatar John De Andrea, who lives in Denver and had a retrospective survey at the gallery last year. Today, De Andrea's works give a sense of existential exhaustion that paradoxically coexists with their life-likeness. His Seated Figure (1994), made of oil-polychromed polyvinyl, measures 63 inches tall and is priced at $90,000.
As it happens, across the aisle at Waddington & Tribby from Boca Raton, Fla., is a sculpture by Duane Hanson made in 1992, a couple of years before the artist died. Called The Photographer, it's a rare bronze, and priced at $300,000. Also on hand are works by Larry Rivers and Jim Dine. "We just happen to love that period," exclaimed Theo Waddington.
At James Cohan Gallery from New York, one item that's moving well are SCUMAK sculptures by Roxy Paine. These glossy white blobs, which sit on a tabletop like mounds of meringue, were made by Paine's "sculpture making machine" (thus their title), and are $900 each. A survey of Paine's work recently opened at the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis and travels to the CAM Houston and Site Santa Fe; Paine's 50-foot-tall stainless-steel tree, a highlight of the current Whitney Biennial, has recently found a buyer (at $350,000), who remains anonymous at present, though it's a New York area collector.
Other finds include a wall piece by Janet Henry at P.P.O.W., a string of Africanist beads that spells out the word Once. There is a Twice, apparently -- perhaps it will be on view at Henry's forthcoming show at the gallery in New York. Down the aisle at Patricia Correia Gallery from Santa Monica is a portrait by San Franciscan Patti Heid of her smiling daughter with her braces overlaid in sequins and beads, titled I'm Rich and meant, we're sure, in more ways than one. It's $5,000.
Today's final word can go to the sunny Costa Rican dealer Jacob Karpio, who has been known to sweep into your booth saying, "Where's the booth, where's the booth?" He presents stainless steel Adam and Eve sculptures by Luis Efe Velez, who was born in Colombia in 1953 and traveled north to attend the fair. Though the figures look mechanical, everything is handmade. "I've been working since December!" he proclaimed. The sculptures of Lheo and Rhada are 68 inches tall, and in their robot nudity make a comic comment on the erotics of technology.