The 2007 version of Art Chicago put this venerable show back on firm footing. After a messy near-bankruptcy last year under former manager Thomas Blackman and a last-minute save by the current owner, the show has gained additional credibility this year from its committed and deep-pocketed new owner, Chris Kennedy (yes, of those Kennedy's) and Merchandise Mart Properties, Inc.
On the Saturday of the fair, Kennedy announced several major art show deals, proving just how driven he was to be top dog in the art market. He said that Merchandise Mart Properties had formed a "strategic partnership" with the New York Armory Show and Volta, a satellite show at Art Basel (more in a separate article). Both staffs would remain in place at each show, but clearly there would be synergies among the fairs. The owner of Merchandise Mart Properties is also expected by many sources to take over the rental of the piers, a major venue for art shows, for the City of New York.
Here in the Windy City the enlarged and sold-out Art Chicago 2007 brought in 132 top contemporary art dealers from around the world (twice as many applicants were turned away as were accepted), many showing art photography and video here. That was about double the exhibitors and a clear up-tick in quality. The total audience numbers for the five shows involved in ARTropolis, including Art Chicago, broke just a hair over 42,000 attendees. While the audience was still somewhat limited to the Midwest, the change in the show and in the city of Chicago's attitude towards it was astounding. The concept of ARTropolis--a citywide event that celebrated the arts with Art Chicago as the crown jewel--came off spectacularly. And the VIP program here clearly outshown any previous such approach at other fairs. VIPs could not only get into all the events and shows as a part of ARTropolis, but could even get free meals, limo service and tickets to special shows and programs. As a harbinger to future audience expansion, Lufthansa sponsored a lounge to hype their private jet service for VIP collectors.
This was a more serious fair and program, especially compared to the raw hedonism of Art Basel Miami. While Chicago might not draw quite as big and boisterous a crowd as Miami, its more approachable art and its programs that are more focused on the art itself rather than just celebrity definitely do have their place.
The dealers who did make the show were many top guns, who had either not been at the show in years or had never been there before. Montreal's Landau Fine Arts (which reportedly had over $200 million in art on the walls here), London's Annely Juda Fine Art, Chicago's Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and New York's P.P.O.W. and Shainman Galleries were just a few of the big art gallery names exhibiting here.
The show management put the spotlight on photography by creating a series of special AIPAD Project walls, each spotlighting a top contemporary artist represented by one or more of the AIPAD galleries exhibiting here. The 11 artists and their galleries included: Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, Ltd. showing Arthur Tress; Charles Cowles Gallery and Robert Koch Gallery, Edward Burtynsky; Stephen Daiter Gallery, Charles Fréger; Catherine Edelman Gallery, Joel-Peter Witkin; Peter Fetterman Galley, Sebastiao Salgado; HackelBury Fine Art Limited, Malick Sidibé; Paul Kopeikin Gallery, David Maisel; Robert Mann Gallery, Jeff Brouws; Laurence Miller Gallery, DoDo Jin Ming; Yossi Milo Gallery, Loretta Lux; and Weinstein Gallery, Alec Soth.
While some of the photographs up on the walls were expected iconic images, there were also some interesting surprises from this group of fine photographers, for instance, Arthur Tress' complex color work documenting his installation art at an abandoned hospital on New York City's Welfare Island.
Xiliary Skylar Twil, director of Los Angeles-based Jonathan Novak (honest, no relationship to the writer of this article) Contemporary Art was direct in her observations: "I believe that this was either our 12th or 13th year exhibiting at Art Chicago. The only year we did not exhibit was last year, as we lacked confidence in what the fair had become. We were delighted to exhibit again this year. Not only is Chicago a great art city, with tremendous collectors, museums and dealers, but Art Chicago has a venerable history that is part of our professional experience. A critical factor that made this year's fair so positive is Chris Kennedy and his staff; each provided a high level of detailed involvement with the exhibitors. Each of our concerns, whether they arose before, during or after the fair, was dealt with quickly and with a smile. This makes us want to return next year to exhibit again. (In fact we have already put in our application for 2008)."
Twil continued, "We sold quite well, including works of Sam Francis (whose estate we represent), Frankenthaler, Cornell and Dine. We are working on quite a few deals as a result of the fair and expect to sell works by Goings, Cottingham, Hockney and Thiebaud, as well. Overall, the quality of the fair was high. I heard of some extraordinary sales, and I know of many dealers who were very pleased. I certainly was."
Twil noted the added value of the special program: "The fashion show that was produced one evening after the fair was extraordinary--beautiful fashions, run well and packed. Music, free gifts: what a great idea. I also saw some great apartments with incredible art collections and spectacular views of Chicago. We love this city and always feel at home there."
AIPAD member Larry Miller of New York's Laurence Miller Gallery told me, "We found Art Chicago to be a very well-run fair, although the number of collectors present needs to be improved. We hope that in the future they will be able to encourage collecting groups led by museum curators from throughout the Midwest to attend. Overall the quality of exhibits was very high, although nothing too radical or amazing comes to mind...the exhibitors in general made their respective stands look very well designed, without much of the chaos found at other photo fairs and contemporary art fairs.
"Our sales were balanced between contemporary and modern works, and included two large DoDo Jin Ming seascapes, a Walker Evans' "Main Street, Saratoga Springs,1931," a Helen Levitt dye-transfer, and a large Toshio Shibata landscape. We remain in conversation with several collectors that we spoke with at Art Chicago and are hopeful that more sales are to come."
Another AIPAD dealer, Stephen Daiter of Chicago's Stephen Daiter Gallery, told me that he was very active during and after the show. During Art Chicago, he sold ten Yasuhiro Ishimoto color prints, a Ray Metzker composite, a vintage Harry Callahan of his wife Eleanor, two Andre Kertesz prints, a vintage Edouard Boubat self portrait with Lella and "two or three" Ben Guest color prints. Two Paul D'Amato color prints of the Barrio were sold as a direct result of contacts made at the show.
Associate Paul Berlanga of Stephen Daiter Gallery added, "This year Art Chicago gave evidence for renewed optimism as the Mart Properties team made good on its promise of regeneration. Aside from a snafu involving the number of loading docks available at the beginning of the week, the exhibition hall and fair details were such that this hometown gallery felt proud to be taking part in the extravaganza."
Berlanga continued, "Stephen Daiter Gallery did well, especially during the opening night and the following day. Sale prices ranged from $3,000 to $30,000. What surprised me most was the wide range of interest in the very different work we offered, from vintage Callahan and Kertesz to two artists who have recently joined the gallery--Ben Gest and Paul D'Amato. Local favorite Art Shay, whose strong documentary work filled thousands of pages of magazines and books over the last 60 years, caught several buyers' attention with his images--all vintage silver prints--of the post-war west side of Chicago. Two rare images utilizing a number of techniques by Paul Citroen were offered as a pair for $80,000."
Although making most of the gallery's sales in the first two days, Berlanga noted though that fellow dealer, Carl Hammer was "in fine spirits over his Sunday sales and a number of other associates had strong weekends. Our gallery looks forward to next year at the Mart."
Santa Monica gallery owner and AIPAD member Peter Fetterman told me, "Art Chicago is definitely a work in progress. It was probably the best organized, most highly marketed show I've ever attended. It had great energy and an enormous will to succeed. It was certainly well attended by the general public. Real collectors writing out real checks in abundance were somewhat thin on the ground. But that was to be expected in the first year of its reincarnation. As with any new venture it will need time to mature. Hopefully within two to three years it will be completely back on track."
Fetterman noted, "We sold well with Salgado's new "Genesis" series and also our great wall of Harry Callahan's. Chicago is certainly one of the world's great cities. Midwest people have such good manners and genuine interest. As an exhibitor it was very "user friendly". The VIP program was superbly organized. I enjoyed my free rides in the Courtesy Audis and my free tickets to great Chicago Theaters. An A plus for trying."
New York City gallery owner Edward Winkleman reported, "We did fairly well at Art Chicago, with sales that covered all our expenses and a little left over. We placed some work into a few excellent collections and expect a few follow-up sales as well. We did well with the work by Kim Rugg (newspapers with their images and text obsessively reorganized) at $4,000 each and the photography of Gulnara Kasmalieva and Muratbek Djumaliev at $2,500. The latter had a solo exhibition up at the Art Institute during the fair. What didn't sell were paintings priced at $3000, drawings priced at $1800 and some photographs priced at $900--meaning we sold our more expensive work."
Winkleman also writes a very intelligent and balanced blog (although some of those who leave comments on his blog are not as well balanced) on what he terms "art, politics, gossip and tough love." You can find it at: http://edwardwinkleman.blogspot.com .
David Judah of Annely Juda Fine Art, London, told me that he "thought that the show was good, in fact very much better than expected", and he thinks that it will get better every year. One piece of art that he was particularly struck by was the Gerhard Richter painting on the Galerie Hans Mayer booth.
This was a show to sell contemporary work at, which is what our own company, Contemporary Works/Vintage Works, did. Amsterdam-based artist Lisa Holden, whose mixed media (photography, paint, varnish, digital manipulation and performance art all in one) work was featured in the booth, was flown in to discuss her work with clients. Several major pieces by Holden flew off the walls, as well as some smaller pieces. Her work sells from about $3,000-20,000. So did work by Croatian photographer Stanko Abadzic, whose images had to be replaced several times on the walls. Other contemporary work by Charlie Schreiner (a great multiple exposure of downtown Chicago) and Dianne Blell also sold quickly.
Some vintage 20th-century classics also found owners, including images from Henri Cartier-Bresson, Max Waldman, Ray Metzker and Erwin Blumenfeld. Several clients expressed interest in other of Lisa Holden's pieces, Marcus Doyle's saturated night-time color photographs (starting at $2,500 and $4,000 for the two sizes) and Arthur Tress' wonderful large-scale prints (from $3,500-10,000). And the Irving Penn's, Man Ray's and Andre Kertesz's all had their admirers. While the show wasn't a blockbuster for us, it was a solid performance, and we hope to be back next year.
Elizabeth Russell of Shoshana Wayne Gallery of Santa Monica, CA described the experience at Art Chicago as "good". "No trends were noticed, but less video overall. There was good quality of art and the booths looked very good--well installed and good light. It was a very well organized fair."
The organization by the fair's management was something that most exhibitors commented on positively. This was a very customer-focused group. I must applaud the management team here myself. They kept their cool under sometimes tough circumstances and pulled off a smooth running event, especially when you considered that Art Chicago was only one of the many events that this group had pulled together under the ARTroplis banner, and that this was only their second year in charge of the event. There were also the Intuit Fair (of folk and outsider art) and the International Antiques Fair (with its special Paris Antiques Market, including even a French bistro) that took up the entire floor above Art Chicago, plus the performance tent, the Bridge Art Show and the Artist's Project spaces just next door to the Mart. Yes, as is typical of such events, there were a few small glitches, such as with the freight transport, etc., but I have no doubt this group will tweak all those small problem areas for next year.
This is clearly a show that has turned itself around and is on the move upwards. Crowds were strong every day, except perhaps for the last Monday. While the audience does need more expansion beyond the Midwest, the show itself looked clean, organized and well done. Next year's show will be even better as it moves up a few more floors and will feature higher walls that go up to 12 feet. This will be a boost for big contemporary work. The new permanent show space will also feature better lighting, polished concrete floors and completely enclosed and finished ceilings. The Mart staff was comparing the new digs to the Maastricht, Germany venue. While they may be comparing the venue to Maastricht, I think they have their eyes more on Art Basel Miami.
Next year's show dates have already been announced for April 25-29, 2008. If you are a serious art photography collector, this will be a must fair for your itinerary.