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by Walter Robinson
Art Chicago 2000
at Navy Pier
Duane Hanson
Motorcycle Accident
at Zwirner & Wirth
John McCracken
in stainless steel
Bill Viola
at James Cohan
Yinka Shonibare
Cloud 9
at Stephen Friedman
From the "Hairstyles" series of J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere at Galerie du jour agnès b.
Victor Rodriguez
Powder Box
at Enrique Guerrero
Orlan at Yvonamor Palix
Tokihiro Sato
at Gallery Gan, Tokyo
Michael Manelli
at Kohn Turner
The weather gods have smiled on the global contemporary art world once again, bringing glorious sunshine to Art Chicago 2000, the international contemporary art fair that unfurled during May 12-15 on Chicago's scenic Navy Pier.

But was the art market smiling as well? Chicago's status as the pre-eminent contemporary art exposition in the U.S. has come under challenge from the Armory Fair in New York City, which is generally seen as a newer, more focused cutting-edge fest. "Chicago's not the hot zone anymore, the in-your-face stuff is gone," said one visitor. "There are no penises!"

The fact is, while Art Chicago boasted plenty of new art, it had a distinct shortage of high-gloss properties. Arguably the biggest show-stopper was Duane Hanson's Motorcycle Accident, a Photo Realist sculpture of a highway disaster (complete with gruesome broken leg) that was originally made in … 1967. The work -- included in the Whitney Museum's recent Hanson retrospective, and uncannily prescient of the YBA sculpture of Gavin Turk -- was displayed in the booth of New York dealer Zwirner & Wirth, where it was priced at $125,000.

The gallery also had a great new abstraction by John McCracken, a rectangular prism in stainless steel that though perfectly contained and solid is surfaced with shifting reflections (price: $28,000). McCracken is slated to show at the gallery's uptown location in New York next September.

And though the crowds were large enough, a palpable buzz seemed lacking. "Not a lot of people are asking questions … not even dumb questions," joked DC Moore's Ed De Luca. The DC Moore booth boasted a sparklingly colorful Janet Fish still life and several exquisite drawings by the late Paul Cadmus, among other works.

Despite such cautious assessments, the dealers are happy at Art Chicago. "We're very excited," said James Cohan, who opened his own gallery on 57th Street in New York a year ago. Cohan's booth featured works by Richard Patterson, Fred Tomaselli, Yukinori Yanagi and a large stainless steel sculpture from 1987 by Jeff Koons called Humpty-Dumpty. But Cohan's showpiece was a new video work by Bill Viola titled Eternal Return, a flat, plasma-screen spectacle of a kind of watery rebirth. Produced in an edition of five, it was priced in the low six figures and moving fast.

"We feel welcome and we've sold well," said San Francisco dealer Cheryl Haines. The Haines booth got a certain amount of attention thanks to a kinetic video work by Alan Rath, in which two video-screen "eyes" seemed to track and scan passers-by. Haines also had works by Yukinori Yanagi, whose trademark ant farms feature colored sand arrayed in the pattern of national flags. The ants are taken out before the flags are sold; small works are priced at $10,000.

Art Chicago is very much an American operation, with 131 galleries from 27 U.S. cities, ranging from Steamboat Springs, Co. (Riverhouse Editions/van Straaten Gallery), to New York City (61 galleries in all). But the total of 217 galleries includes a good-sized contingent from France (15 galleries), Spain (15 galleries), Germany (14 galleries) and England (11 galleries). Exhibiting galleries are chosen by an international committee of dealers; booth rental begins at $4,000. Art Chicago is run by Thomas Blackman Associates.

Although many dealers bring modernist blue-chips to the fair, Art Chicago's main draw is new work by contemporary artists. The African English artist Yinka Shonibare, who made his mark on the international art circuit with manikins in Victorian dress made of African fabrics, sent along an astronaut to Chicago. Dubbed Cloud 9, it was on view at the booth of Stephen Friedman Gallery, where Shonibare has showed since 1995 when the gallery opened. Shonibare has a group of Africanized aliens on view at the Chicago MCA, a 25-panel painting at the Art Institute of Chicago, and showed in New York at Brent Sikkema last spring.

African artists are increasingly becoming part of the global art world, as Shonibare would seem to say. Indeed, at Galerie du Jour agnès b. was a one work by J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere, a photographer born in southwestern Nigeria in 1930. Ojeikere's "hairstyles" series, made with a 6 x 6 Rolleiflex in the 1970s and '80s, are the subject of a new book from Scalo by Andre Magnun, the Africanist who is curator of the Pigozzi Collection in Zurich. Agnes b. also shows the now-well-known nightclub photos of Malick Sidibé and formal portraits by Seydou Keita. (Fyi: Tony Guerrero, who has run the gallery for the famed designer agnès b. for the last year, is leaving for other projects.)

The booth of Mexico City's Galeria Enrique Guerrero was dominated by a large acrylic Photo Realist painting by Victor Rodriguez called Powder Box (1999). Most of Rodriguez's paintings picture his wife, Maite, while smoking, reading, sitting on the toilet, writing graffiti. Some are pointedly erotic; others are anamorphically distorted. Rodriguez, who is 29 and lives in New York, had his first solo show at Guerrero in 1999. Four people are vying for the painting, which goes for $9,000. Rodriguez also had paintings on view at the booth of Yvonamor Palix, who has galleries in Paris and Mexico City.

Yvonamor's booth held new color photos by Orlan, the daring body artist who is notorious for undergoing plastic surgery designed to remake her in the image of ideal beauty. In the new "Self-Hybridation" series, she has become multicultural -- the much-retouched pictures show her with model features from Mayan and Olmec cultures -- a broad flat forehead and beak-like nose, for instance. They're $7,000 each and are produced in an edition of five.

The photographer with buzz at the fair was Tokihiro Sato at Gallery Gan, Tokyo. His black-and-white photos show cityscapes dotted with spots of dancing light, "like a gathering of Tinkerbelles," as the critic Barbara Pollack put it. Sato, who is a professor at Tokyo University of Fine Art and Music, displays his photos suspended by a custom apparatus over a grid of circular fluorescent lights. An exhibition of his work opens on May 24 at Leslie Tonkonow Gallery in New York.

At the booth of L.A.'s Kohn Turner Gallery were two doll-sized figures by Michael Manelli, an L.A. artist whose postmodenist pastiches combine body parts from all over. One puts Snoop Dogg's dreads on the head of the Deliverance banjo prodigy, which sits on the torso of Matthew Barney's Cremaster and the legs of Mia Farrow from Rosemary's Baby. These witty works are a bargain at $2,000

The Jirí Svestka Gallery in Prague, founded four years ago by the former director of the Kunstverein Dusseldorf, brings to the Czech Republic exhibitions of mainstream contemporary artists like Tony Cragg, Dan Graham and Robert Moskowitz. For Art Chicago, Svestka brought several things, new and old, from the former Iron Curtain country. A large black-and-white photo by the 32-year-old Markita Othová shows a table with upholstered chairs and a cut glass vase. "Communist-era luxury," said Svestka, who is pricing the work (in an edition of five) at $2,500. Also on view was a comic 1902 illustration by the pioneer modernist Frantisek Kupka. It shows two male Neanderthals fighting for the favor of a bouquet-holding female of the species. Darwinian notions of the "survival of the fittest" were popular at the time, the dealer said.

In addition to all the gallery booths, the fair also had more dot-coms than anyone could ever want (the industry leader --, of course -- was joined by several newcomers) as well as a long row of booths devoted to the art-world's beloved print media. The award in this group goes to Zingmagazine, with boxes of magazines stacked up like Chicago's skyline and its booth walls painted with an orange pattern of floating garments by Brooklyn artist Ester Partegas.

WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.