Episode 139: Artropolis

April 26, 2008 · Print This Article

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In 1994 Paul Morris, Matthew Marks, Pat Hearn and Colin De Land had a vision. That vision was that New York City would have an art fair. What began as the Gramercy International Contemporary Art Fair has become the the Armory fair, the jewel in the art fair empire the Merchandise Mart has amassed over the last 3 years; Art Chicago, The Armory, Art Toronto, Volta Basel, Next, and Volta NYC.

This week, Paul “the ‘marts Art Czar” Morris and Tony “Boss of Art Chicago” Karman break down why the Art Fair future is the future. Kathryn Born and Duncan MacKenzie listen with slack jaws and open minds.

The weird thing that happened is that Duncan actually started to get behind Art Chicago and the ‘marts future in the Art Business? WTF? Did he drink the Kool Aid? Was he bought off? Or is there reason to believe? Listen and find out…
Paul Morris, Matthew Marks, Pat Hearn and Colin De Land
Merchandise Mart
Tony Karman
The Armory
Millenium Park
Donald Young
Sikema Jenkings
Louis Bougouis
Barbra Mathes
Richard Grey
Kavi Gupta
Mathew Marks
Katalina Dubacker
Olifer Alliason
Louis Vutton
Yurba Buena Art Center
Mark Bradford
Dan Cambell
Damien Hirst
Chris Kennedy
Art Toronta
Koln Art Fair
Frank Gehry
Annie Feldman
Hammer Museum
Sam Keller
Renae Cam
Raymond Pettibone
Andy Warhol
Pat Hern
Pipolatti Reese
Karen Kalimnick
The New Museum
Jeff Koons
Kiki Smith
Jim Hodges
David Hammons
Chris Burden
Richard Prince
John Mckracken
David Zwerner
Perogi Gallery
Tony Tasset
White Colums
Richard Serra
Hyde Park Art Center
Three Walls
New Langton
Robert Gober
Art Institute of Chicago
Henry Darger

Direct download: Bad_at_Sports_Episode_139-Artropolis.mp3

70 thoughts on “Episode 139: Artropolis”

  1. mskitty64 says:

    That was quite inspiring. Any chance Bridge will return to Chicago some day? I miss the one that was in that hotel up on Belmont.

    In response to Norbert, I’m not sure why I’m going here,- (I was being slightly hyperbolic, I guess) but…..No I do not believe that things or events that perpetuate bad art are a good idea. On the other hand, I don’t think any show sets out to promote bad art. I don’t participate in the Chicago Art Open and I haven’t been to see it in like 12 years and so I can’t judge the quality; but I will say it’s unfair to assume that there isn’t a single good piece of art in it just because it’s self-selecting. Unfortunately, even the best intentioned curated or juried event is capable of promoting bad art. In fact I saw a bit of it last weekend outside of the Artist Project. De gustibus not est disputadum. Right? I suppose I like the idea of it (more than the reality) because it is so completely, honestly what it is in contrast to the who-you-know, behind the scenes stuff that drives most everything else. And being an idealist I’d like to think that in a perfect world, merit wins out no matter how much of a hipster the artist is, or how classically trained or how ironic or whatever fashionable or unfashionably fashionable criteria they’re using at the moment.

  2. Michael Workman says:

    It was fun putting on Chicago’s first hotel fair. Especially in a beautiful old flop joint like the City Suites. I still have a soft spot for that place. I lived for 5 years in the neighborhood and was familiar with some of the ladies who used to work out of there, especially this old woman known around the hood as Crazy Mary who caught syphilis and suffered some real psychological damage. I used to buy her sandwiches at the New Modern Grill and listen to her incoherent rants while I did my philosophy homework. But I think Chicago needs something more than rehashed ideas at this point.

    I’m not sure Bridge would ever come back, honestly. It has a life of its own now, and I find myself being led by what’s best for the show rather than guiding it based on my own intellectual or artistic interests.

  3. Great post Michael. It WILL come to Chi town through people like you and Wesley and others, but not till there is a change of the guard. New ideas are indeed what is needed, but of course they are usually resisted (not embraced as we were taught in school) because they threaten entrenched power fiefdoms.

    Nice comments MsKitty too. You DO know I hope that the real original of that Latin phrase is the opposite: De gustibus est disputadum. Meaning taste is to be argued about. The “non” was added in France in Modern times.

    Steve if its a girl — Pepper Potts? Or Kirby for a boy (the artist who created Iron Man and whose family is getting zilch out of the production) or Roz for a girl (the wonderful wife of the artist who created Iron Man)

  4. tony fitzpatrick says:

    Oh, I had myself some fun at that NOVA fair at City Suites!– we got all of our collectors shit-faced and sold really well and participated( some say started) in a food-fight….. one exhibitor , who shall go nameless, had a ‘Show me your butt ‘ contest in his room ….. Michael Workman knows how to throw an artfair…

  5. Michael Workman says:

    LMAO. We passed out free bottles of vodka to all our exhibitors, that was our first mistake. I remember during tear down we found one kid who worked for us naked and passed out in the closet of one of our galleries. Poor guy, he was clearly in over his head.

  6. Rare Art Trade says:

    Artist’s used to hang together, now they blog together.
    This whole business about whether Chicago is or can be a “player” in the “art market” masks a lot of truths about who we are and what the are market is. As I see it, in the great celestial rings of art heaven (think Dante’s Paradiso), we Chicago artists and art dealers, for the 99% of us, should think of ourselves on the lowest, most outside ring. The action, the hype and glory, is and always has been a New York-London thing. If you include asian art, think Hong Kong.(sorry, Shanghi still has a LONG way to go there). In other words, the art market exactly parallels the international banking market. And how many international banks are based in Chicago now? -oh, none.
    The number of serious new (last 12-15 years) collectors in the entire midwest couldn’t fill a janitor’s closet. OK, I’m quoting a high standard here-collections in excess of $100M. So the 12th floor of the Mart is for these guys, all 8 or 9 of them. And guess what, they aren’t all that interested in art created in the last 12-15 years. This is after all the midwest.
    See this excellent article from the Art Newspaper to get a sense of where Chicago really stands in the artworld.


    (yea, pretty much outside the gates).
    But don’t despair, most of us would gladly sell our creation, product, for a good deal less than what Jeff Koons gets. And therein is the rub. The less you ask, the less you’re likely to receive.
    Bottom line, if you’re a Chicago artist, the likelihood of you selling to a “collector” is about as great as getting hit by a CTA Bus. You are selling to people who are DECORATING their home. They are collectors only in their own mind, the the flattery lauded upon them by ingratiating art dealers like myself.
    Yea, what you guys do is decoration. It’s basically aesthetics. That is, if you intend to sell it. (By the way if your aesthetics don’t sell try politics, Adolf did.
    Or you can just become cranky, old and bitter like a lot of Tribune critics.

    (& Oh, I’d like the person who says her eyes sparkle when she sees money traded for art see me after class for a private showing!)

    Bottom line, the Chicago arts community has to make the best of a not too good situation. What we have to do is the hard thing: We have to build a clientel. It’s not easy, I’ve been trying for 30 years. We need to start art education early and keep it funded through high-school. We have to remove the stigma that arts education has among a so-called intellectual elites that such education is intellectually inferior to “solid” courses. We have to literally change a values system that rewards cultural ignorance. –and after lunch, we can tackle the hierarchic oppression of the creative classes in post-apocalyptic america. ok, you get my drift: be the change you want to see in others.

    BAS-thanks for the opportunity.

  7. Michael Workman says:

    Oh, I know who this is. Ha, took me a minute to figure it out. I love how your pseudonym is an acronym for RAT. What a smartass. So, great points all, but I know you travel outside Chicago too. It’s just necessity, isn’t it? I think it’s important to do the hard work to alter the tide of our thick-headed hometown culture, as you say, but look to the outside world and our traffic in it for those aspects that just don’t exist here.

    It’s funny to me and I agree that the most successful work here is decorative. SOFA will continue to be the dominant show here until the clouds part for the Second Coming. The majority of Chicago’s collector interests have a lot in common with Dubai that way. Equally unsophisticated.

  8. I am an artist/painter from Kahnawake (near Montreal), Quebec Canada. I was part of The Artist Project. I was informed that my work went through a juried panel. I asked many people what they thought of the Artropolis, the answer I received “OVERWHELMING”. Many people did not even have the chance to see all the exhibitors, even after returning a second day. Many artist did not make any sales. Yes I am a struggling artist and could have used my booth money for supplies but I made the decision to invest in promoting myself. There was never a guarantee for sales. I believe I will be benefit from my investment. The space felt very crowded. It felt more like a flea market, because all you could see was miles of booths. People looked tired. Elders were having a difficult time walking. Walls were poorly joined. The cashier booths were not busy with sales. Lighting was not sufficient with three lights. Had to pay additional money. People were getting lost in the maze.

    On the positive side: I made many contacts and friends. I personally did not find the artist to be snobs, quite the contrary. Exceptionally talented artists were located near me, it was an honor meeting them and we all bonded. I shared my cookies with them – that always puts a smile on a face. Security was #1 at the Merchandise Mart. Staff was careful in handling art. I loved the Windy City of Chicago. I sold a painting (last hour of the last day) and will be returning next year to one of the local Galleries. Yes I’ve been guaranteed a solo exhibition. There was an abundance of breathtaking art to be sold at decent prices. People did not realize how many cutting edge talented artists were in that room. It was an honor just to be among them.

    I give credit to the fact at least Chicago is making an effort of bringing art to the forefront!!! As someone new to the Windy City (and yes it was extremely windy), I enjoyed Chicago’s art in the city streets. Everywhere I looked I saw sculptures, paintings, moving art, statues and musicians. I’ve lived in and around Montreal and New York, and Chicago beats them by leaps and bounds as far as “ART” is concerned.

    As to all the critics of The Artist Project – I believe there was something appealing available to evey art lover in almost every style. One mans junk might be someone else’s treasure. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    I just got the notice about The Artist Project in December. I haven’t decided if I will participate.

  9. RAT: great stuff – –

  10. mskitty64 says:

    Mark, I did not know that about the modern addition of “non”; fascinating. I’ll have to look that up…

    RAT, that’s very disheartening news about midwest collectors. I would argue, however that it’s not the intellectual elite which deems art ed inferior, but a midwestern ethos that is distrustful of the arts because they’re deemed elitist. There’s a deep anti-intellectualism that pervades most of the country between the coasts in general (did you know that if you read even one book a year -not a magazine or a newspaper,- but just a plain old book, and book as defined to include Harlequin romances or self-help books – you’re in a highly select demographic -something like 6% of all Americans.) Ironically, art’s OK as long as it’s decorative. But as long as it’s only valued for being decorative, it won’t be taken seriously. We’re digging our own grave. I can’t tell you how many kids I know in Chicago Public Schools who have no arts education at all. My own children are lucky to attend a Chicago Public School which values art and music education, but is beginning to intense feel pressure to convert rooms devoted to art, music, and even the lunch room (!!), to academic classrooms so as to fulfill enrollment requirements that allow for more funding.

  11. Tony Fitzpatrick says:

    If kids don’t get art in school– their not being educated.

  12. Bill Dolan says:

    Growing up in Chicago, art was always a side thing in school and was always on the bubble at budget time. The threat of cutting it (and music) was also often used as PR tool when there was a possibility of a teachers strike.

    There were some great programs though. Art Form was an art history class tought by Art Institute instructors. We would draw what was projected on the screen while discussing the work and artists. I loved it. My first “major” show was of sketches from that class as they took the best and had a traveling exhibit at the Sun-Times building and at Northwestern University. The AP art classes in high school were also very good.

    Unfortunately, the ratio of gym class to art was about 10:1. Plus with the constant threat of art programs being canceled, the idea of art as a burden to society seems to be perpetuated. It always requires funding that is taken away from important things like paying teachers.

  13. Michael Workman says:

    Right, I was the art kid in my high school. Depressing experience, actually, especially growing up in Indiana, where the public education system was shit. After university, however, I looked back in wonder at why basic philosophy courses weren’t a mandatory part of every public education’s curricula. Having spent enough time poring over the existing literature on philosophy of education, I understand the holistic approach, but always thought giving students the basic intellectual tools to face the challenges of a multi-disciplinary “smorgasboard” an obvious need. Art was my answer to that problem, more of an intuitive shift made easier perhaps because of the accessibility of the visual as a jumping-off point for my curiosity about larger socio-cultural questions. Then again, I was very much a Dewey devotee early on and naturally skewed toward fringe thinkers rather than those solidly in the Tradition. And that’s not to say I didn’t do my time with the Pre-Socratics all the way up to Habermas et al. I still read Nagel and Wittgenstein once every few months to refresh my soul. I guess that does make me a bit of a pointy-headed pencil-dick, but I still think I look awful manly holding a chainsaw.

  14. isn’t a lot of this about outreach by the galleries, i know this is a topic that we “talk” about a lot at Gardenfresh. reaching out to the newly ensconsed condo owners in the West Loop. there’s a lot of folks spending upwards of $300K on apartments in the city who need something for their walls, fair play that might not make them collectors in the true sense of the word but it be a start. afterall how much is that $5K flat screen gonna be worth in 5 years? nowt. you’ll need a better one or whatever. however if u spend 5 large on a piece of art in chicago chances are unless you totally do something stupid it’ll be worth at least what u paid for it and maybe a wee bit more. now ask your self how much that plasma screen will be worth in 30 years…. paperweight. right? so why not buy that piece of art after all?

    same with all this ikea stuff folks are willing to drop $50 on a printed canvas at the flat pack mega mall why not drop that $100 on something that might still be worth the same money 5 years later. i dunno, i’m not trying to skew this conversation squarely in the direction of art as investment coz as we all know it’s not easy to flip in any market…. and u should always buy what u like…


    the condo owners do present an opportunity for a young start up gallery / artists to do a couple of things….

    1. direct mail to new home owners….. i just bought a house in sunny OP. u wouldn’t believe how much mail i get for home owners insurance, decorations, linens, auto insurance, etc etc, it’s all junk mail of course…AND i welcome it (of course), and will make it into art, ha ha ha ha ha…..but the info is part of the public record galleries / artists can presumably access this and send info to new home owners who might still have some money set aside to make their homes look pretty…..

    2. tours. i used to work for a gallery that organized tours of galleries in river north and west loop. it was a great way to bring new buyers into the market p;lace. again a younger gallery could probably do quite well at this… some of the established ones would probably view it beneath them, who’s to say?

    3. partner with developers. i know condo developers and real estate guys are satan. but grudges about gentrification aside, i would love to open a project space in the ground floor of a new condo building or even in one of the units (if any developers are reading this pls email me,) and sell to the residents…. could be a total failure but so what….


  15. duncan says:


    We are organizing a discussion show and it is to be one of the topics. But we are a week or two away from it.


  16. Gina says:

    Wow, if registries like White Columns are held up as the great hope for the unrepresented among us, we’re in trouble. Rarely are the artists from the registry ever used in shows at the gallery anymore and it took a year and a half for me to hear back about my submission (We had over 6,000!) which was a rejection. After trolling around the internet in my pissed off state, I found out I was not alone. Some people have waited two years to hear that they’ve been rejected.

    Such lip service given to these programs, and I’m sure some are functioning to foster ’emerging’ artists. White Columns is not one of them.

  17. I’ve seen that often in my 29 years as a profi artist. These slide registries and documentation libraries and group-www-portals etc. are all a crock of shit, usually created and used by consensus curators and the like to appear to be doing something for the “region” where they operate (and where their money comes from). Nobody, and certainly nobody “important,” looks at them anyway. Forget it. The only way to get attention is to get attention, unfortunately, thus all the not-really-but-trying-to-be-shock art and the like. Best would be if artists consequently suggested each other to visiting curators and critics. I try to do that a lot, but seldom see much reciprocality.

  18. edmar says:

    Gees guys
    Glad I found this thread. I just got back from a fantastic trip to some great art festivals and fairs and spaces abroad. Even though they blew my ass away I still felt all proud and impressed with what happens in our our 2nd rate town and I spread the gospel. Keep in mind that it’s a pretty fucked up situation for artists in most of the planet and we have some really great things going for us here.

    Even though i was stressed out of my head during the version festival and the art fair madness i have to say that i am still on the path of believing that the city is the right place to live and work. NEXT was better than I thought it would be, and yeah, the whole Artropolis was overwhelming, but we had a great time.. Especially at Version. This year Version was really well attended and i was surprised to hear the comments from lots of people, especially this not big enough gay community, that the art shows rocked. Even our little NFO XPO project had awesome work in it and a few visiting spaces from overseas actually sold stuff. Launching our mag this past April also was a nice contribution to the horror. We loved how freaked out people were when they got a copy.

    I think we need to spread the hopes of the city over the course of the year and not just one weekend in April. Tom and Michael and many of you guys had some nice observations and advice. I am going to absorb and claim them as my own… 😉

    We all have some nice ideas in front of us that might add some volume to the Chicago stereo system. I am excited to see what will happen next. I do know that there are some great models out there that i have experienced that can truly showcase what happens in this city during art fair time… I think i am going to organize these models and propose something to the larger communities. I just hope that the “powers” that be might want to hold hands with us when they get hatched.

    anyways buy a copy of proximity magazine.
    we are going to help.

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