Chicago Galleries Toughing Out Recession, See Hope in Upcoming Season

August 22, 2009 · Print This Article

The Chicago Tribune’s Sunday edition includes a lengthy article by Mark Caro and Lauren Viera on on how Chicago’s art galleries are weathering the recession.  According to the Trib, many gallery owners in the River North area are reporting that business took a downturn last summer and has stayed that way so far. Yet a number have also seen enough positive economic activity of late to feel glimmers of hope about the future.

“Compared with New York, where The New York Times reported in June that more than 20 galleries had closed, Chicago’s leading art districts have remained relatively stable. River North, the most established gallery area, has seen some businesses move or otherwise constrict their operations, but the bulk are still standing. The West Loop has suffered a few closings, while empty storefronts dot Pilsen‘s developer-designed art district.”

The article notes that Chicago galleries are using various recessionary strategies to stay in business. David Leonardis offered a buy-one-get-one-free sale earlier this summer, while other galleries have also offered special discounts. Still others, like Zolla/Lieberman, are highlighting more modestly-priced works for collectors feeling gun-shy about spending a lot of money during financially anxious times. And in line with what’s happening nationally, dealers who specialize in high-end artists, like Richard Gray, have found the market to be as strong as its ever been for “really rare, really fine, highly exceptional works of art.”

The arts district in Pilsen has not fared nearly so well, with numerous ‘For Rent’ signs on storefronts. Also highly worrisome news: UIC’s non profit I space Gallery may be in trouble. Its private foundation support “dried up,” and director Mary Antonakos is quoted as saying she’s worried the space will close.

It should be noted that although the Trib’s article includes numerous interviews with Chicago dealers in various media and price-points, it’s noticeably thin on accounts from dealers outside the River North area (the piece does include a quote from Carrie Secrist, whose gallery is located in the West Loop, but none from her neighbors Tony Wight, Kavi Gupta, Monique Meloche or Rhona Hoffman–prominent Chicago dealers all).

In the end, however, a gallerist’s actions probably speak louder than his or her words. The fact that all of the above-mentioned dealers are planning strong new shows to inaugurate the new fall season suggests that everything remains on track, for now anyway. Chicago art dealers appear to be hanging in there–holding their breath, to be sure, but hanging in there. Read the Tribune’s full story here.

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