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Art Chicago in the Park, 2005

Ganges River Basin
ca. 3000-2500
Douglas Dawson Gallery, Chicago

James Balog
Canyon Live Oak

Sarah Krepp
White Noise? Rhythm Section
Roy Boyd Gallery

Ruben Torres-Llorca
The Annunciation
Praxis International, New York and Miami

Romare Bearden
Near Shelby Road
June Kelly Gallery, New York

Clark & Pougnaud
Anne Charlotte, Arnaud et Stephane
Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

Cathy Daley
Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art, Calgary

John Neff
The Hobbyist
Western Exhibitions

Michael K. Paxton
Lock Up
Gescheidle, Chicago

Michael K. Paxton
Mexican Bullfight
Gescheidle, Chicago

Art Chicago 2005
by Victor M. Cassidy

A rechristened and reconfigured Art Chicago in the Park opened Apr. 29-May 2, 2005, in a 75,000-square-foot tent erected on Butler Field behind the Art Institute of Chicago. Of the 94 exhibitors, 71 come from the U.S. and 23 from overseas -- mostly Korea, Spain and Canada. Of the 23 Chicago galleries, seven are new to the show and one has returned after a ten-year absence. But 17 galleries who participated in 2004 are not here -- and they include some heavy hitters: Bodybuilder & Sportsman, Richard Gray, Carl Hammer, Rhona Hoffman, Monique Meloche, Peter Miller and Zolla/Lieberman among them.

In 2004, Art Chicago boasted more than 150 exhibiting galleries. Why the dropouts? We show in other fairs here and in Europe, said one dealer, and do well. There was great uncertainty about Art Chicago when we were making our budgets, so instead of exhibiting, were having splashy openings this weekend. Frankly, we hope were making a big mistake. We want Art Chicago to succeed.

New at Art Chicago are seven galleries, all young and all invited, which means that they did not pay the full fee. We found no nonprofits at Art Chicago, no magazines and no events such as panel discussions. This is a bare-bones affair.

We arrived for the professional preview to a scene of last-minute chaos, with some galleries ready to go, some still installing and some absent altogether. The sounds of vacuum cleaners and forklifts filled the air, but everyone was cheerful and we found attractive art. Generally speaking, the quality is good, if a bit tamer than in years past -- though there are still plenty of pudenda. We saw only one limp political piece.

Best booth
Our prize for best booth goes to Douglas Dawson Galleries from Chicago, who returns to Art Chicago after a decades absence. Dawson, a dealer in primitive artifacts, had a scrumptious display of copper pieces, all beautifully patinated, from Thailand, India, Nigeria, Liberia, Java and the Dominican Republic. There were feathered things too, African statuary and more, but it was the copper that stirred our soul.

Nature photographer James Balog makes spectacular collaged images of trees, works that were shown by the Halsted Gallery from Bloomfield Hills, Mich. To photograph a giant sequoia, Balog shoots a line up to the top of the tree, secures it, dons a harness, and hoists himself slowly to the top, stopping every ten feet to take a picture. The tree is a solid mass in his finished image, but the landscape looks different at every interval. Instead of a gee whiz picture of a huge thing, we get a tree thats oddly human. Somehow, Balog photographs himself at different levels in the tree, even waving from the top. He published his work in Tree: A New Vision of the Landscape (Barnes and Noble Books).

Sarah Krepp is one of Chicagos liveliest painters, as is attested by her White Noise: Rhythm Section (2003). In this oil-on-linen painting, she creates an active field based on circles, which seem almost to explode. This energy comes from her driving brushwork and layering of red and white paint. Symbols including the letters X and Y, arrows, contour lines and diagonal yellow and black caution stripes are scattered everywhere. Chicagos Roy Boyd Gallery, which represents Krepp, is giving her a solo show this summer, which we await with enthusiasm.

Salt of the Earth
Ruben Torres-Llorca may be a realist, but hes definitely not magical. Represented by Praxis International, a gallery with branches in Miami and New York, this Cuba-born resident of Miami is showing The Annunciation, a collage and construction showing a frightened woman with a 1940s hairdo and a baby in her arms. She is menaced by flying-saucer-like discs printed with art fairs, art market, art options, art collectors, art magazines, art dealers and art critics. (It was all very amusing until he got to the art critics.) Another piece, called American Kamikaze, shows a tough guy threatened by taxes, recession, inflation and more.

One of the most charming pieces at Art Chicago is one of the least pretentious. Romare Beardens Near Shelby Road is a smallish collage on masonite, composed of sheets of paper that the artist painted with watercolor, cut into chunks and affixed to his support. A woman, seen in profile through the open front door, is cooking inside a rural North Carolina cabin. Behind her is a fire in a grate and some pictures on the wall.

In the yard is a basket of freshly washed laundry and a broom. New York dealer June Kelly, who has the Bearden work in her booth, reads a black structure in the front yard as a chair where the woman will sit when she finishes her labors, but we think its a wringer-washer -- and the two of us agree to disagree. Bearden had a love of the commonplace, said Kelly. The people in his pictures are the salt of the earth.

Anyone can like the work of Clark & Pougnaud, French photographers who show in Chicago at Catherine Edelman Gallery. The artists have produced an entire series of elaborately staged photographs entitled Hommage à Edward Hopper and featuring their personal interpretations of the American artists paintings. We especially liked their take on Night Hawks, which is an icon of the Art Institute of Chicago. Hoppers work resonates with theirs because they create images of individuals surviving in solitary or frightening circumstances.

Newer currents
The artist Cathy Daley shows with the Newzones Gallery of Contemporary Art from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Her black oil pastels on vellum show willowy, leggy ladies in diaphanous gowns. We see no heads or faces, just the hourglass figures and sometimes only the long, long legs. She lets the whiteness of the paper come through her soft vertical black lines to communicate the transparency and lightness of the dress fabric.

Western Exhibitions, one of the invited galleries from Chicago, exhibited John Neffs The Hobbyist (2005), a photograph that suggests that Art Chicago may be tamer than in the past but hasnt gone soft. We see an intensely serious hobbyist in his workshop carving a huge erect phallus. There are chips around his piece-in-progress and tools behind him. This is a man in love with his work, who makes us wonder what he does with the rest of his time.

At Art Chicago and in her Gescheidle Gallery, Chicagos Susan Gescheidle is showing new drawings by Michael K. Paxton, a veteran Chicago artist who is finally coming into his own. Paxton, who has a distinctive style based on forthright lines that he smudges slightly, has made numerous images of the figure, boxers, and, more recently, of his home town in West Virginia where he went to see a dying relative.

Now he has begun working at monumental scale, finding newspaper and magazine images of forlorn spaces where some disaster (e.g., bombing, tsunami) has occurred. Whispering Eastside (2005), which is five feet tall and 11 feet wide, shows an empty, gloomy place, possibly post-tsunami, with structures of some kind, loose fabric, and a kind of doorway at the back.

Paxton came to Gescheidle after ten years with another gallery that did not like the direction he was taking in his work. Gescheidle is pleased to show him and delighted with Art Chicago. Tom Blackman [director of Art Chicago] was good to me and Ive stuck with him, she said. Theres a whole lot of enthusiasm and positive energy here.

VICTOR M. CASSIDY writes on art from Chicago.