The Stray Show, Dec. 13-15, 2002, produced by Thomas Blackman Associates and co-organized by Heather Hubbs at a huge warehouse at 1418 N. Kingsbury, Chicago.
The future of art fairs is being redefined by Thomas Blackman, the producer of Art Chicago, which bills itself as the longest running and most successful art fair in America. Blackman, who is also responsible for the San Francisco International Art Fair and the soon-to-be-unleashed Art Las Vegas, has a new experiment in the works, an unconventional art fair called the Stray Show.
"Stray" was a term coined by Chicago critic Chuck Mutscheller in 2000 to describe the spaces involved in the resurgence of the alternative art scene in Chicago during the late '90s. For Blackman, the Stray Show is more than just alternative galleries, it is an attempt at turning the spotlight on the rising young community of emerging curators, artists, magazines, unconventional spaces and collectives from around the United States.
The exciting component found in Blackman's Stray Show, missing from other fairs, is that it adopts a formal structure and philosophy suitable for freedom in contemporary art practice, while at the same time it keeps the commercial edge. Everyone involved in the Stray Show is treated equally. Everyone gets the same type of booth, the same type of lighting, for the same $300 price. Magazine booths are as important as those of galleries. By avoiding hierarchical structures, Blackman emphasizes the multiplicity of roles adopted by individuals in contemporary art today.
The second edition of the Stray Show took place in mid-December in a huge warehouse space. Boasting 37,000 gross square feet, the facility housed approximately 40 exhibitors. The show opened with a benefit premiere for the Society for Contemporary Art, a patron's group for the Art Institute of Chicago. At the gala, it seemed that many old-line patrons were overwhelmed by the more marginal and cutting-edge artistic manifestations exposed at the fair. This is not a surprise, since most collectors in the city prefer to avoid the younger galleries in favor of the more established contemporary fare of dealers like Rhona Hoffman and Donald Young.
Still, many of Chicago's leading art-opinion-makers were on the scene. Among those present were Museum of Contemporary Art director Robert Fitzpatrick and curators Sylvia Chivaratanond and Michael Rooks, Refco collection curator Adam Brooks, Peter Doroshenko from INOVA, supercollectors Susan and Lewis Manilow and Sandy and Jack Guthman, and Chicago Cultural Center curators Lanny Silverman and Gregory Knight.
The traffic on Friday was slow but Saturday and Sunday saw a huge crowd. As part of the festivities, every night at 10 pm the warehouse became a club, with DJs spinning until the early hours. Taking a turn at the turntables were Renaissance Society wizard curator Hamza Walker and Heavy Metal legend Velcro Lewis, among others.. In the special events included the premiere of Jennifer Reeder's first full length feature Tiny Plastic Rainbow.
Galleries at Stray
In the exhibition booths at Stray, one obvious trend was the continual interest in drawing and photography. Presumably, with the stumbling economy and the fear of war, artists feel that a small gesture on a piece of paper can be as heroic as a huge painting or installation. Many of the drawings have an unfinished quality to them, suggesting that, as Walker put it, "there is a lot of scribbling around. . . a lot of unpolished work."
Jack Hanley Gallery from San Francisco had an amazing selection of drawings by Cristopher Garret, an artist who does self-portraits with weird animals and lines of colors emanating from his head, like a classic representation of psychic force. Garret's drawings could be easily classified as Outsider Art. Hanley's elegant booth was one of my favorites.
The star of the Stray Show was L.A. artist Alice Konitz, who had works on view at Boom from Chicago and at the nonprofit Midway Contemporary Art from St. Paul, run by John Rasmussen and John Balenger. Konitz makes extremely refined sculptures and drawings that nevertheless manage to evoke a slacker attitude.
The imagery compiled by Konitz in her collages, sculptures and drawings is diverse and weird, and ranges from owls to tractors to crowns. Her drawings are extraordinary and cheap at $500 each. Shelf, a hanging sculpture in cardboard, bamboo and Styrofoam with a flashlight attached to it, is $3,000.
Chicago's Standard Gallery offered two large-scale graphite drawings by Frank Magnotta of buildings decorated with an overbearing number of commercial signs, each priced at $3,000. Also at Standard was Potential Weather, a great photo by Minneapolis artist Jenn Murphy of black smoke filling up a gallery space.
At Joymore, war and ghosts were the rule. Puerto Rican artist Jorge Zeno reflects on terrorism with La Nave, a smudge of black charcoal on paper depicting an aircraft carrier. On closer inspection the viewer notices that tiny crows instead of war planes rest on the top of the ship. Zachary Lowing's computer rendering of imaginary small-scale models of sci-fi war machines were a visual extravaganza. And Jennifer Ramsey's photographic close ups of gallery books were an attempt to channel the identity of gallery visitors by means of their signature.
Warsaw Project Space from Cincinnati was the surprise of the show with Jose Versosa's Bikes and Paper. The sculpture was exactly that, two dirty bicycles standing together with some sheets of white paper draped over the seats. The sculpture, which seems to share an esthetic with the work of Gabriel Orozco, was one of the best pieces in the show but ridiculous expensive at $4,000.
The bazaar esthetic worked perfectly for Daniel Reich Gallery from New York. The booth could be described as a beautiful mess with the most notable paintings in the Stray Show. Among those were a weird Scott Reeder painting of a purple man with two heads. Also at Reich were prints of groovy floating patterns and fashionable people in costume by the Rhode Island collective Forcefield, that are very affordable at $400 each. On the floor of the booth one could find, among many other things, a deer's head decorated with colorful bandanas and straw by Christian Halsted.
Western Exhibitions was another space with a messy esthetic, featuring works by platformist Nicholas Frank (Milwaukee), Kirsten Stoltmann (Chicago) and Aaron Van Dyke (Minneapolis), among many others. Stoltmann's I'm not leaving yet, a photo of the artist in a pool with drink in hand and a menacing facial expression worthy of a drunk movie star, was one of the standouts of the show. The photo didn't find a home -- stupid considering that Stoltmann has an impressive resume, and the photo is a steal at $1,500.
Dogmatic Franchise showed off its stuff with four prints by Yuki Kokubo. In This isn't going to work, the artist imposes the phrase over an image of rooftops taken while riding the train in Chicago. The photo has a Hallmark quality to it, but instead of being celebratory it marks that depressing and transitional time after a painful break up.
Detroit's Revolution Gallery, usually one of the highlight spaces during Art Chicago, exhibited a set of sculptures and photography by Conrad Bakker. Bakker models wooden sculptures after common objects. Sometimes he places the fake sculpture right besides the actual object in places such as a supermarket or in his garage. This year gallery artists Anne Wilson (Chicago) and Peter Williams (Detroit) had works included in the "Whitney Biennial Exhibition."
Huge projections with a festive feeling could be found at LURE (Lighting for Urban Rooftop Environments) from Philadelphia. Paul Swenbeck's revolving projection of a plastic cup with Christmas ornaments was simply beautiful. At APT 1-R Gallery, Siebren Versteeg unveiled the glorious Untitled, Coca-Cola, a computer animation that is a vision of sorts -- it uses the Coca-Cola font to deliver the daily news. To accomplish this confusing special effect the artist uses a computer program that connects to the internet and uses live news from the Associated Press.
Chicago's Julia Friedman Gallery exhibited Uros Djuric's prints from his "Hometown Boys" series. This exhibition marks the United States premiere for Djuric, who lives and works in Belgrade and recently exhibited in the first Tirana Biennale. Djuric's fictional magazine covers are especially disturbing for the way that the artist glamorizes war and prostitution, however ironically. Also at Friedman's booth were Sarah Morris and Gerwald Rockenshaub editions from the EN/OF series.
Curated booths Law Office, the Chicago collaborative, made a spectacular entry at the fair with "Garden," inviting over 30 artists to contribute a sculpture and matching pedestal. Participants ranged from senior artists and grad students to self-taught artists and cranks, and the booth was so overflowing with work that it was impossible to enter. The artists in the booth lost their individuality but the curators managed to keep theirs. Law Office's "Garden" is a reflection on the recent trend that turns curators into rock stars and artists into scapegoats.
Substance abuse and rock n' roll were at the curatorial core of Sara Conaway's "Destroyer Inc." One of the best pieces in the show was a group of drawings of cocaine mountains by John Parot, but the show-stopper was a leather pelt by Carol Jackson titled Information Center, that had in its center a painted arrow embossed with flowers in different colors. Also notable was Sterling Ruby's photo montage of a dude's bloody back. Ruby's print is disgusting, passionate and a perfect tribute to rock n' roll.
KDP distributed Result, a video compilation that "seeks to promote young video art to curators with a video subscription that will arrive at your doorstep four times a year." The new issue, Result #2, features Revolution or Bust by Pittsburgh artist Jocelyn Jacobs. In the video the artist stands lazily in a street with a sign in hand that reads like the title, a sad commentary on a generation that has had it too easy.
A motley selection of video art from Glasgow was provided by Seven Three Split. My favorite was Shout Out, a collaboration between band El Hombre Trajeado and Stephen Sutcliffe. The artist shot his video at a U.S. bowling alley with El Hombre Trajeado's track reversed and played over the bowling alley's sound system -- the whole video was then reversed, resulting in a remarkably simple yet spellbinding work, evocative of choreographed modern dance.
Shout Out appears on the Glasgow media label Shadazz's video compilation Evil Eye is Source, which features collaborative videos from ten artists and bands working in Glasgow. Seven Three Split has just released the compilation on U.S. video format as part of its Glasgow and Chicago exchange.
At Garden Fresh was an excellent tribute to bureaucracy by Ginger Wolfe, who is a writer and curator as well as an artist. Her sculpture, T-series cubicle (manufactured by Ginger Wolfe), is an empty and sanitary office cubicle enclosed in glass, like a colorless Liam Gillick for the purification of ideas. The only problem was that Wolfe's reflective space was overshadowed by a horrific mural of a green Army tank by Tom Burtonwood and Holly Holmes.
For a city so lacking on art critics it was surprising to see the proliferation of art magazines. White Walls, directed by Anthony Elms, is a curatorial enterprise that manifests itself in the form of books and records. For Stray, White Walls worked in collaboration with Academy Records to produce Filler, a compilation of sound works by Matt Hanner, Andy Hall, Steve Lacy, Michael Colligan and Fred Lonberg-Holm. The 45 rpm record is a limited edition, and is accompanied by a poster.
Filler's highlight is Hanner's ode to conceptual art, titled The North Sea (for Bas Jan Ader), a beautiful piece of sounds from the sea, taped in the actual place that the legendary '70s conceptual artist Ader sailed off to his unexpected death. The compilation is accompanied by a photo of Hanner facing the coast, with flowers on hand. Simple and direct, the piece gets the point across without falling into the traps of sappy nostalgia.
Making its debut was TheKit.org, a zine presenting both web based projects and audio interviews with artists, critics and musicians. The Kit is run by University of Wisconsin UW alumni Gregg Perkins, Curtis Whaley and Amanda Browder.
Two other Chicago-based magazines represented at Stray booths were Ten by Ten, a glossy with a flavor for architecture, design, music and art; and Bridge, which has knack for poetry.
The future of the Stray Show
Whether the Stray Show has value as a model for the future is yet to be seen. Though it was clearly a success for everyone involved, it was hardly an event of wide economic impact. It would be nave to deny that Art Chicago has been threatened by competing fairs on the East Coast, including the Armory Show in New York and Art Basel Miami Beach.
Many local observers complain that their homegrown art fair, Art Chicago, has lost its energy or its edge. Maybe a Stray shake up is what Art Chicago needs. Who knows? Maybe the Stray Show could be a good replacement. But one thing is certain, is a good sign to know that Thomas Blackman has something cooking.
PEDRO VELEZ is an independent curator and critic from Chicago.