||Let me tell you one thing about money -- pigs won't eat it!
-- Tony Fitzpatrick
A few artists were on hand in person for Art Chicago 1999, May 7-11. The voluble Tony Fitzpatrick (who also had several Teamster jokes, see below), beader supreme Liza Lou, abstractionist Wes Mills, photographer Eve Sonneman.
But mostly it's dealers, collectors and the art-loving public. The secret of art collecting can be told in two simple words -- buy art. And that's what goes on at Art Chicago. You've never seen so many cheerful dealers.
Located on Navy Pier in a "virtual airplane hangar" as the cranky Chicago Tribune critic Alan Artner called it, the fair features 214 galleries from 25 countries representing 2,100 artists. Approximately 40,000 people attend Art Chicago during its five-day run, paying $10 for admission ($7 for students and seniors, children under 12 are free). Dealers pay $4,000 for a standard-size booth, and may configure up to five booths into a sizable exhibition space.
Fair organizer Thomas Blackman estimates that $1 billion in art is for sale at the fair, and says that last year over $40 million worth was sold.
The fair almost didn't come off at all, as the Teamsters in charge of setting up the booths decided to stage a job action just before the Thursday night vernissage. Somehow things were worked out, but the snafu encouraged much appreciation by dealers of the aforementioned Teamster jokes that Tony Fitzpatrick was telling. What does a Teamster say to a snail? "Hey, why you been following me around all day." Why do the Teamsters have a horse in their logo? It's the only animal that can sleep standing up. How can you tell a Teamster's kid on the playground? He's the one standing around watching the other kids play.
So how was the fair? Margaret Timmes of Susan Sheehan gallery said, "It's a very Midwestern crowd." She explained that in New York, collectors head right to the booths because they're competitive and want the best choice available. "Here they're more deliberate," she said. "They ask questions, go away and come back, bring in their consultants, and then buy." At Sheehan is a pristine and glorious Marilyn Reversal by Andy Warhol, priced at $450,000.
One observer noted that Art Chicago had lured fewer Europeans across the Atlantic, which he credited to competition from Basel, Cologne and Berlin. Several people remarked on the fair's "conservative" cast, noting that less photography and video was on view. "Artists are starting to paint again," said one. Not everyone agreed. "I see photos of penises, I see sculptures of stuffed animals." Another visitor called the show "the highest form of bin art," and noted the way that "laminated C-prints" had become such a popular format in New York and now were "spreading like cancer" to Chicago and points elsewhere.
In any case, lots of interesting new art was on view. The boom is back, but unlike in the 1980s, collectors are keenly aware of value. "It's the Internet," said Michael Kohn of Kohn Turner Gallery in Los Angeles. "Collectors know what they have and what they want. In the end, it's good for the market."
Big players included Barbara Gladstone, Matthew Marks, Thaddaeus Ropac, Daniel Templon and Leslie Waddington (no Gagosian, no d'Offay). David Zwirner was there with a giant 1983 painting by Sigmar Polke, "Club Fanteuil" chairs by Franz West and a 90-inch-tall monolith in black cast polyester resin (titled Thor) by John McCracken. Zwirner was sharing his booth with his new partner Hauser & Wirth.
Jay Jopling/White Cube continues to represent the Young British Art movement with oversized, Pop-graphic works by Damien Hirst, Marc Quinn, Antony Gormley and Marcus Harvey, among others. A new name at White Cube is Steven Gontarski, a 26-year-old American artist who lives in London and makes spindly biomorphic abstractions out of plastic sheaths stuffed with polyester batting. The six-foot-tall piece in the booth is titled Lady Godiva Was a Freedom Rider. Gontarski's first show is scheduled for the London gallery at the beginning of 2000.
Chicago galleries played host, inviting fair participants to breakfasts at their home facilities before the fair's 11 a.m. opening. Richard Gray, Roy Boyd, Rhona Hoffman, Zolla/Lieberman are only some of the locals who took the chance to show off their wares in the global context.
Everyone was talking about Janet Pihlblad's Window for Thoreau at Gallery A. The $16,000 work includes a minimalist white desk and chair, a working word-processor and printer that visitors can use, and a dramatic window covered with live moss. "I have to mist it three times a day," said Pihlblad. The printer uses a font based on Thoreau's handwriting designed by the artist herself.
Donald Young Gallery had a particularly fetching installation at his booth, with works by Rodney Graham, Gary Hill, Sophie Calle, James Welling and others. The gallery also featured new landscapey watercolors by Anne Chu of New York's AC Project Room, as well as one of her carved and painted wood busts (it sold for $9,000).
At Maya Polsky Gallery, another Chicago veteran, were several life-sized sculptures of sleeping cats by the 40-year-old Spanish artist José Cobo. They look like they're made of wax but are in fact cast polyester. They're a bargain at $2,000.
One of the newer Chicago galleries, Ten In One, is moving in July to New York (508 West 26th Street, room 316). Ten In One director Joel Lieb and his associate Sue Scott had a lively installation of Post-Pop and Neo-Geo-type works by Walter Andersons, Rebecca Morris, Carol Jackson, Michelle Grabner and Ben Stone, among others. One particularly amusing work was an LED signboard by Stephanie Brooks that parodied the international currency market by giving exchange rates for things like croissants, baklava, biscotti and scones, all supposedly denominated in terms of U.S. donuts. The work comes in an edition of three, and is priced at $5,000.
Another younger gallery was Taka Ishii from Tokyo, who opened five years ago. Ishii brought photographic works by Nobuyoshi Araki, Yuki Kimura and Noritoshi Hirakawa, and paintings by Kyoko Murase. Ishii sold several works, including two large black-and-white photos by Hirakawa, which picture Japanese schoolgirls sitting on small stools in the middle of public bathrooms.
In a fair full of eye-catching works, several are well worth mentioning here. Planted firmly at the threshold of Haines Gallery from San Francisco was an eight-foot-tall, bead-covered statue of a shotgun-toting, hot-pantsed figure of Pam Grier crafted by Liza Lou. "It's gotten lots of media exposure!" she said. The gallery declined to give the price though works in Lou's "Superdiva" series sell for $85,000-$100,000. This one had a red dot.
The San Francisco photo dealer Fraenkel Gallery had converted part of its booth into a kind of chapel, a simple closed space with a bench and seven tall photographs of abstracted nature by Susan Derges. The photos are unique "dye destruction photograms" made under water, and are priced at $10,000 each.
New York dealer Gary Snyder was at the fair with his specialty, early 20th-century non-objective painting by Hilla Rebay, Jean Xceron, Rolph Scarlett and others, as well as large painterly abstractions by the contemporary artist Luke Gray. Snyder had on hand copies of his new book, American Abstract Art of the 1930s and 1940s, the J. Donald Nichols Collection, which has just been published by Abrams.
Daniel Templon brought a great selection of figurative paintings by Philip Pearlstein, Eric Fischl and Sandro Chia, to name a few. On the floor was Stationnaire II (1991) by Jean-Marc Bustamente, a color photograph of poplars and ivy curiously displayed as a sculpture in an elegant box made of concrete. Templon said that work by four French artists sells in the U.S.: Christian Boltanski, Annette Messager, Sophie Calle and Bustamente. He also named five newer French artists that he considers collectible for the long term: Xavier Veilhan, Pascal Pinaud, Vincent Corpet, Valerie Favre and Fabrice Hybert.
All kinds of things were selling. At Galerie Hans Mayer, a painted cast bronze of the American flag by Robert Longo, called Heavy Dreams, had been sold for $60,000. The unique work was cast in 1990 but not painted by the artist until this year.
Edward Mitterand of JGM Gallery in Paris was featuring works by Claude and Francois Lalanne, who are known for their fanciful sculptures that incorporate animal and furniture forms. In the center of the booth was Francois Xavier Lalanne's Turtledove, an aluminum and wood chair in the shape of the bird. The gallery had sold two of them by the fair's second day, at $22,500 apiece.
Mariacristina Parravicini of Cristinerose Gallery in New York is expanding into the secondary market. She sold three large photos by Yasumasa Morimura for around $20,000 each. The seven-foot-tall picture on display in the booth showed the Japanese artist, famous for enacting icons of Western art in drag, in the guise of Dante Gabriel Rosetti's Pomegranate, with a face concealed in the contours of the red fruit. Parravicini also sold one of the fair's more arresting works -- a life-size female figure (without head) crafted entirely from those bright green beetles by artist Jan Fabre. Price: $32,000.
At David Beitzel, a Pop-expressionist portrait of George Gershwin by Sam Messer sold for $14,000. Made this year, the work shows the jaunty composer at the keyboard, not once but twice.
Other kinds of things are still for sale. At Thaddeus Ropac of Zurich and Salzburg was a remarkable working electric chair by Tom Sachs, handmade out of orange-striped barrier wood with leather straps and a copper helmet. The work comes with a bucket of salt water to improve conductivity, and a television mounted on the chair playing a variety of films -- Lolita, Malcolm X, Paths of Glory. It's called What Would James Brown Do? and is priced at $45,000.
At Garner Tullis were paintings by the 63-year-old British artist Ken Kiff, who Garner said taught the hot young artists of the Britpack. Kiff shows at Marlborough London but not much in the states. Tullis had several new paintings done with encaustic on museum board using his trademark cave woman iconography, priced between $10,000 and $12,000.
Jack Shainman has some beautiful and delicate portrait paintings by Till Freiwald, a German artist who grew up in Peru and lives in France. His portraits have a soft, photographic quality and a direct address of the eyes that is really engaging. Smaller works, measuring about 30 by 20 inches, are $2,000. Large ones are $6,000. Shainman has scheduled a show in September.
At Feigen Contemporary, small paintings on board by Chantal Joffe could be had for $1,300. A member of the so-called "Neurotic Realism" crowd that recently showed at London's Saatchi Collection, her work can be had in either naughty or nice forms, depicting either sex scenes or innocent snapshot portraits. She'll be showing at Feigen's New York gallery in October along with Nicky Hoberman, another of London's new figurative painters.
At the booth shared by two Italian dealers, Hélène de Franchis from Studio la Citta and Claudia Gian Ferrari, the 30-year-old Enrica Borghi had amusing color photos. For a modest $700 you could buy a picture of a "sadomasochistic quail," the cooked bird in an unusual presentation on the plate, chained and spread-eagled, wearing lace stockings on its drumsticks. Fair visitors were also marveling over Borghi's Transex, a torso without breasts or genitalia covered with multicolored painted press-on nails. "It's unique, it's eunuch," said Claudia Gian Ferrari.
Another work in the booth was a configuration of 300 hexagonal rice-paper "kites" hanging from the ceiling by the Japanese American artist Jacob Hashimoto. It sold for $5,000. "If we'd had 20 of them we could have sold them," said Ferrari. The artist has a huge version with 10,000 elements in the café at the Chicago MCA.
The private art dealer Kathryn Markel was at the fair, and stopped by the Artnet.com booth to tout her own website, The Art Lady, which she says has answers to all the dumb questions beginning art collectors ever asked. Another dealer in the process of launching its own site is Barbara Krakow Gallery of Boston. Barbara, you need a link to Artnet.com, with its 5 million hits a week!
Finally, who can forget the massage, available to relax the hard-working participants in the fair for $1 a minute. "He has healing hands," said Flash Art ad rep Kate Shanley. "I went for all I had, 30 minutes!"
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.