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CHICAGO A GO-GO
by Brook S. Mason
 
What art dealer has brought the increasingly popular art-world "pop-up shop" idea to a city skyscraper? Surprise, surprise, it’s Richard Gray Gallery, better known for expertise in blue-chip moderns and contemporary veterans like Jim Dine.

Dealer Paul Gray has cleverly scored a temporary project perch 24 stories high in the John Hancock tower. Located directly beneath his 25th-floor gallery, a cavernous 10,000 square feet is devoted to nine astonishing and enticing video installations by the Prague-born Israeli native Jan Tichy. One is already under consideration by a major New York museum.

Jan Tichy, John Stezaker
A Chicago resident, Tichy merges astronomy, architecture, ceramics (he’s mastered the creation of porcelain objects), lighting art and early television and video, which he merges in single installations crammed with subtleties and ambiguity. Frequently focus is shifted from a projection of a tiny sliver of light to shadows cast on small geometric forms with some evoking planets and others futuristic cities. No wonder Tichy has been included in nine museum shows in the past two years.

If you only have 15 minutes in Chicago, grab Tichy’s show. He’s bound to be crowned the next Tony Oursler.

On view upstairs in the Gray Gallery is "John Stezaker," a show dedicated to the London collage artist who is represented in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, Saatchi Collection, the Rubell Family Collection and others. Long known as well for teaching YBAs, Stezaker is getting increasing attention for his new collages.

Stezaker mines Hollywood stills, vintage photography, postcards and other printed material for sometimes jarring work. Deco arts fans may spring for his Prague I in which he juxtaposes portions of book illustration of the cathedral and landscape that sparks a touch of vertigo. It’s $16,500. Already plucked up is a Stezaker collage destined for the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art.

When Paul Gray closes his 2009 books, he expects to look back on a year of solid sales in comparison to the prior one. "The first half of the year saw a lot of pressured sellers," said Gray, who did business with works by Motherwell, Picasso and other 20th-century masters.

His views on Miami? He expects an "Obama bounce" to produce a flurry of sales.

Donald Young Gallery
Then there’s dealer Donald Young, whose eponymous gallery sits opposite the Art Institute of Chicago. Young said his gallery is skipping Art Basel Miami Beach this year, though he plans a visit to the fair, of course. "I work with high profile artists who produce very little over a year’s time," says Young, who is opting to save material for Art Basel in June.

For example, Seattle artist Josiah McElheny, who works in exquisitely crafted, hand-blown glass objects, often fitted out in severely rectilinear cases, may complete only six pieces annually. On view at Young is McElheny’s 2008 Chromatic Modernism (Blue, Red, Yellow), a glass-case sculpture that comments on Modernism and Mondrian with a nod to Yves St Laurent’s fashion line based on the Dutch painter. With two books on McElheny, one by Rizzoli and the other by the University of Chicago Press, due out next year, this artist should garner more widespread attention.

Also of note is Young’s current Dan Flavin show, which in addition to the familiar colored fluorescent light sculptures also includes an early work from 1960-66, a tour de force made from a can of tomatoes ("Pope" brand) with an exotic religious-themed light bulb -- part found object, part Folk Art and part religious mockery. It's from Young's own collection.

Young said that the weakened dollar had tended to help out his European clientele. His largest most recent sales were to European foundations. "Unlike museums, foundations have funding, he noted.

Photos at Douglas Dawson
Tribal arts dealer Douglas Dawson is venturing into the contemporary photography arena. Debuting this month is a show of two decades worth of black-and-white photographs by Rato Buddhist monk Nicholas Vreeland. The grandson of fashion authority Diana Vreeland, Nicholas worked under both Richard Avedon and Irving Penn. His signed and numbered images at Dawson are a modest $1,000 each, with proceeds supporting the construction of Rato Dratsang, a Tibetan monastery in India.

SOFA Chicago 2009
The Dow vaulting up past 10,000 provided the perfect jolt to the SOFA Chicago vernissage, held on Nov. 5, 2009, at the city’s mammoth 80,000-square-foot Navy Pier. A stunning 3,600 visitors flooded the aisles of the fair, at which 68 dealers presented their wares. Attendance was up more than 25 percent from 2008, and by the end of the event, more than 31,000 people had come to take a look.

The recession seemed all but forgotten at Holsten Galleries, where bright Lino Tagliapietra glass vessels went for at $50,000 a pop and gold jewelry by Israeli artisans flew off the shelves. Overall, the huge crowds snaking through the aisles confirm the enormous populist appeal of the material on view.

Emerging as the Gagosian of the glass world is Muli Litvak, a former concert pianist and internet entrepreneur. His gallery took a stand approximating the size of a spacious Manhattan pre-war one-bedroom apartment. Next month, Litvat debuts a new gallery in Tel Aviv. "We’re also looking for space in London," he says.  

Here at SOFA, he devoted an entire room to Czech master Vaclav Cigler’s sculptures of optical glass. The installation conjures up an alien planetary system with Cigler’s planet-like luminous glass ovoids. The reflective nature of optical glass is compelling in itself and considered one of the most difficult of all glass mediums to master.

Another sign of the emergence of Israel as a design hot spot is art jeweler Isaac Levy, who is showing with the nonprofit Association of Israel’s Decorative Arts (AIDA), turning a winery into design school and center for Ethiopian immigrants in Jerusalem. Named the Andrea Bronfman School of Jewelry and Art, it is slated to open in May 2010.

Already Levy is scoring interest among the Tinsel Town set. "Angelina Jolie will wear my brown diamond and pearls ring," he says. Also of note, Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Jane Adlin is lending her creative skills to AIDA artist-jewelers and ceramists.

On hand at the California-based del Mano Gallery is a Sam Maloof 1982 rocker in walnut for $56,000. Maloof is really the rock star of the American studio furniture movement. So far, the late California artist is the only cabinetmaker to merit a MacArthur Award and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan were among those who acquired his rockers.

What drives Maloof prices is the sheer scarcity of examples on the secondary market, and the huge amount of back orders attest to his continuing popularity. "We’re still filling orders from five years ago," says a Maloof studio spokesperson.

That demand spills over into the salesroom. "At Bonham’s, a Maloof went for over $140,000," said Frank Maraschiello, the firm’s 20th-century decorative arts expert.

Manhattan’s Heller Gallery is sporting a museum-worthy piece: a Stanislav Libenský / Jaroslava Brychtová monumental glass screen dating from 1980. It was created for the Czech Communist Party and sited in their Prague headquarters. Entitled Dove after the images of just that emblem of peace emblazoned across the 210 cast and cut crystal blocks more than seven feet across, the price is $450,000.

Heller sold two Beth Lipman creations, including her 2009 Oysters, Books Fruit and Candles, another all-glass rendition of her 17th-century "tablescapes" with intricate goblets and other symbols of wealth from the Golden Age of Netherlands. The price was $55,000.

Narrative ceramics are now front and center. Pittsfield, Mass., dealer Leslie Ferrin devoted her entire stand to this new genre that blends folk and contemporary commentary in ceramics and really draws from 19th-century popularity for Shakespeare and Biblical tales.

Ferrin achieved a sale of Chris Antemann’s Rococoesque 2009 Vignette in sugary pinks and flesh tones while packed with 18th-century-like nudes to Louisville private museum owner Laura Lee Brown and Steve Wilson.

Vintage material was moving briskly, as well. Florida secondary market dealer Donna Schneier totaled up more than 17 sales, including a Michael Lucero 1990 ceramic bust, topped by a massive Madame de Pompadour coiffeur concocted from Missoni yarn and sporting squirrel and shell ear pieces. It went for north of $50,000.

The mood of contemporary collectors? "No one is scared anymore," proclaimed Schneier.


BROOK S. MASON is U.S. correspondent for the Art Newspaper, and also writes for the Financial Times and other publications.