All eyes turn to the Windy City this weekend, as the giant-sized Artropolis weekend of art fairs takes off, Apr. 30-May 3, 2010, at the Merchandise Mart. The centerpiece of Artropolis, of course, is the venerable Art Chicago fair, which this year features a diverse but impressive roster of 150 dealers.
Some 33 of Art Chicago’s exhibitors hail from Chicago itself, including Carl Hammer Gallery, Nancy Hoffman Gallery, Carrie Secrist Gallery and Perimeter Gallery. Other notable galleries include London’s White Cube, the Christie’s-owned Haunch of Venison and New York’s Pace Prints, while more international dealers make the trip from the Ukraine (Mironova Gallery), Shanghai (X-Power Gallery) and Helsinki (Galerie Forsblom). There are also a few quirkier presences, like the Chinese American Art Council. As Chicago art booster Paul Klein commented of the line-up: "Much better than I would have expected."
Sharing a floor with Art Chicago is the well-liked NEXT fair, dedicated to "emerging art," and featuring 88 galleries. A third fair, the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair, inhabits the eighth floor of the Mart with some 105 antiques dealers.
The Artropolis organizers this year seem to have a subtle focus Texas, at least judging from the panels, which include "Big Culture: Contemporary Art in Texas," as well as a "Texas Collectors Panel," featuring Melissa Meeks of the Dallas Cowboys Art Program, among others. Additional talks focus on fabric art, Midwest photography, and (of course) social media. "New Insight," a program highlighting promising MFA students that is curated by the Renaissance Society’s Susanne Ghez, returns for 2010. The Swiss artist Florian Graf has been invited to "create a space that is the origin and birthplace of some nomadic sculptures that will wonder [sic?] through the fair."
All in all, there will be plenty to see at Artropolis -- maybe too much. The fair is not without its critics on this score. The Chicago Tribune published an April 25 feature giving vent to dealers’ displeasure at Art Chicago’s super-sized approach, described as privileging "quantity over quality." Most memorably, gallerist and long-time Art Chicago participant Carl Hammer carped that "those of us that had paid full price for our booths saw others walking around thinking the main fair was on a different floor, and so on. That spoiled it for us last year."
VOLCANO ASH MAKES FOR ART HEADACHES
Also causing some headaches for Artropolis, according to the Art Newspaper -- Eyjafjallajökull. Volcanic ash from the unpronounceable Icelandic volcano shut European airspace from April 15 to about April 20, and has caused major ongoing disruptions for art shippers. Some 30 of Art Chicago’s dealers hail from Europe. Of these, a third had already sent over their wares before the crisis hit. That has left the remaining 20 dealers with a perilously short window of time to get their art across the Atlantic. According to the head of art shippers Gander and White (in an April 24 article in the Financial Times), art shipments were likely to be backed up for a while: "All the flights are full and the airlines are not accepting freight until further notice. I don’t see any change soon; the backlog is huge."
Fortunately, according to Art Chicago’s Giovanni Garcia-Fenech, all of the participating galleries were able to overcome nature’s hurdle. The one victim of the volcano problem, he said, was artist Achim Zeman, who was scheduled to spend a whole week creating a site-specific installation at the fair (an image of part of the piece can be seen at his website. Zeman was only able to arrive three days before the opening -- but with the help of a troop of volunteers working around the clock, he was able to complete the piece just in time for the preview opening. The artist was described as "exhausted but happy" with the experience.
DEMOLITION PARTY AT RED OCTOBER
Say good-bye to Moscow’s Red October Chocolate Factory, which since late 2008 has been home to the young art curator Maria Baibakova’s celebrated Baibakov Art Projects, which most recently mounted "Paul Pfeiffer: Perspective Machine," Oct. 23-Dec. 12, 2010. Baibakova’s lease on the 3,000-square-meter space is up on May 1, 2010, and the landlord was disinclined to renew (though the building had been empty two years ago, now it is prime real estate, commanding much higher rents from office clients). So Baibakova threw a "demolition party" over the weekend, complete with graffiti writers decorating the walls and skateboarders and BMX bicycle riders performing on a makeshift ramp.
Baibakov Art Projects lives on in a new facility located a mere eight minutes away, on the same side of the Moscow River. "We’re happy," Baibakova said. "It was time for us to move on." The new space, located in an old Soviet House of Culture, is set to open on May 27, 2010, with a large group exhibition, organized with curator Kate Sutton, titled "Perpetual Battles," based on the Foucaultian notion that struggle is necessary for progress. "The building has a bunker in the basement," she said. "Perhaps it will come in handy."
ARTISTS FOR LABOUR. . . SORT OF
Is anyone inspired by Gordon Brown and the Labour Party these days? With major losses in the upcoming national elections looming, staunch Labour paper the Guardian commissioned a phalanx of British contemporary artists to make posters for Labour, a project titled "Make A Mark" (viewable at makeamark.org.uk). The resulting images and accompanying artists’ statements, while nominally pro-Labour, do not exactly speak of any burning passion. In fact, by exposing the tepid basis of support for Brown, the artists’ works may actually end up doing more harm than good. Shepard Fairey they ain’t. Some comments on the project:
* The strongest pro-Labour endorsement comes from painter Maggi Hambling, whose poster of waves bearing a quote from Shakespeare, however, avoids reference to Brown or the party at all. "I vote in London, where my MP is Labour’s wonderful Kate Hoey," Hambling explains. "She is pro-hunting, as am I, so she’ll be getting my vote."
* On the other end of the spectrum, Gerald Scarfe offers up a caricature of both Gordon Brown and his Tory rival, David Cameron, as steaming turds. "They’re both crap, I suppose that’s what I’m saying," explains Scarfe.
* If there is a common theme among the artists, it is disillusionment with Labour’s foreign policy. David Shrigley noted, "I have voted Labour, but not since the Iraq war," adding that his poster of a grotesque Gordon Brown cartoon with the words Re-Elect Our Leader "doesn’t express my strong personal support." Bob and Roberta Smith said, "I stopped voting Labour after the Iraq war, and started voting Green," and also -- rather unhelpfully for a campaign poster -- "I don’t want to tell people how to vote." Goshka Macuga professed "mixed feelings about Labour, especially regarding the war in Iraq," concluding that the message of her poster, which features the slogan Left Right Forward, is that "It seems like the two parties have merged into one."
* Probably least insightful is Yinka Shonibare’s piece, featuring the slogan "Vote for Me" over some images of flowers made from African textiles. "I want people to vote for me," Shonibare says. "My party is the Me party."
* Liam Gillick references the Labour party’s original description of itself as "The democratic socialist party," telling the Guardian, "I find it perverse that Labour is shying away from its own legacy." Alas, this gesture is more likely to remind voters of everything that New Labour under Tony Blair and Brown has ceased to represent than to inspire renewed devotion.
* What passion that does appear in the "Make a Mark" posters seems to be centered on revulsion for David Cameron, rather than any genuine optimism: Mark Wallinger’s poster offers the slogan "David Cameron Ha Ha Ha," while Jeremy Deller gives a portrait of Rupert Murdoch with the tagline, "Vote conservative for a new Britain." Deller is careful to add that his graphic is "anti-Conservative rather than pro-Labour."
* Photographer Martin Parr tells the paper that he will probably vote, not for Labour, but for Nick Clegg’s Liberal Democratic Party, which has surged in the polls lately. Parr chalked this up to voting "tactically" -- but his poster shows an African-Caribbean carnival in Bristol with the slogan "Vote for Britain" overlaid, thus pointedly avoiding any reference to Labour. Parr calls his poster "neutral and ambiguously loaded."
* Last but also certainly most ominous (for Gordon Brown) is an anecdote related by media artist Alison Jackson, who produced a fake image of Brown helping rival Nick Clegg get made up before their televised debate. Jackson relates the difficulty she had trying to find anyone to play Brown: "no one wanted to put themselves forward," she says. "I put five casting directors on it, and they were practically in tears: they had never experienced anything like it."
YVES KLEIN, SOCIAL MEDIA GURU?
Yves Klein (1928-1962) did a lot of eye-catching art stunts in his day -- photographing himself suspended in the air, using models as human paint brushes, etc. -- but he is about to perform his greatest yet: coming back from the dead. On Facebook.
In the lead-up to its survey of Klein’s work, "Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers," May 20-Sept. 12, 2010, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Park has announced that it will be using the wonders of social media to allow fans to "experience [Klein] in his own words, as he explains his goals, process, artworks and projects." What this means, essentially, is that the institution’s Facebook and Twitter accounts will be all Yves Klein, all the time, May 1-20, with daily postings of aphorisms and links to pictures of his work on YouTube and Flickr. Further, these transient postings will be aggregated into a more permanent "ongoing timeline" on the Hirshhorn website. Whether the Hirshhorn’s "Yves Klein" will actually interact with fans is not yet clear.
What would the French artist have thought of the performance? The Hirshhorn press release pitches it as extension of one of Klein’s own (somewhat cryptic) aphorism: "to realize in my own creations that ‘transparence,’ that immeasurable ‘void’ in which lives the permanent and absolute spirit freed of all dimensions." The museum’s Facebook page is here; Twitter here.