Mahan Gallery owner/director Jacqueline Mahan and her associate director Colleen Grennan are both art fair newbies, or at least they were before participating in NEXT this past weekend. Mahan Gallery, which is widely regarded as one of the best galleries for younger contemporary artists in Columbus, Ohio, has been open for almost five years. At NEXT, their booth featured the paintings and drawings of Ric Ocasek (yes, that Ric Ocasek).
On Monday, the last day of the fair, I asked Grennan to share some thoughts about her experience at NEXT/Art Chicago.
How did you like NEXT? Was it a positive experience for you?
Definitely. We’ve been able to meet and network with so many galleries that we hadn’t made personal physical contact with before now. (After being open for five years) we’re finally at a level where we felt we could contribute something to an art fair. Being here has kind of broken a psychological barrier for us. We’ve learned so much about what other galleries are doing, about new artists that are out there. It’s been a learning process – we overpacked artwork, for one thing. We’re learning where to stay, what to do, how to effectively network. Jacquie and I were both able to see what other galleries were doing and I think it will give us the courage to do even more challenging exhibitions ourselves.
Were you happy with your sales?
Our sales were really low. We did sell some work but definitely did not cover what we paid to get here. Sales seem to have been low with everyone we talked to. One dealer told us in past years, booths would sell out at the preview. So (the sales end of things) was a disappointment to us.
Were you able to go to any of the talks, panels and discussions?
I was able to go to two talks, and I found them both to be valuable. This fair is about the young and the new, so we see it as an opportunity to immerse ourselves and just soak up everything it had to offer.
What kind of response did Ric Ocasek’s work receive?
“Is that Ric Ocasek from the Cars? Wow, I didn’t know he was an artist!” That was always the first reaction. This fair, and his April show at our gallery, are the first times he’s ever shown his work publicly, so there is always some initial surprise. Then people would get into the work and get excited about seeing this person that they know as a musician in terms of his work as a visual artist. People could make connections with him in new ways.
So what do you think you’ll take away from your experience here?
Personally it’s made me think a lot about how to engage local audiences and a larger national audience at the same time. We’re ready for that next step as a gallery and being here has given us the opportunity to think about how to position ourselves and to get our name on the map outside of Columbus.
This piece, exhibited at Gallery 400’s ‘Better to light a candle than curse the dark’ presentation at NEXT/Art Chicago, wins my award for most personally meaningful work of art encountered at the Merchandise Mart. Last Friday, I rounded a corner and saw it, and it summed up everything I had been feeling that day, that week, and every single day of my life for the past three years. I’m told women were lining up to get their picture taken next to it. So thank you for making this piece, Danielle Gustafson-Sundell. You kick ass!
While a lot of the art featured in the booths on the 12th floor of Art Chicago wasn’t really my cup of tea, I did like all of the special exhibition projects, especially Lynn Warren’s side-by-side presentations of “The Hairy Who and Imagist Legacy in Contemporary Art” and “The Hairy Who and Chicago Imagists.” These small-scale exhibitions were extremely well executed — curated at just the right size to capture the momentary attention span of passing fair-goers, and providing just the right amount of information for those who are unfamiliar with this generative period in Chicago’s art history. Hopefully, visitors to the city who saw the show will be encouraged to seek out more while they’re in town (two places to start: Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery, which has a strong focus on Chicago painting and works on paper, and Russell Bowman Fine Art, which has a Roger Brown exhibition up through May 16th ). Below, a few pics from Warren’s Art Chicago shows:
Images From “The Hairy Who and Imagist Legacy in Contemporary Art” at Art Chicago:
Images From “The Hairy Who and Chicago Imagists”at Art Chicago:
The exhibition is located on the 12th floor of the Merchandise Mart, I’m pretty sure it’s next to the MCA Bookstore display.
Some find these creepy, others strangely erotic. Check out the demo for the Digigrade leg extensions created by Seattle artist Kim Graham.
Rarely have I felt the sting of my own digital poverty to the degree that I did today, my first day at Art Chicago, which would have been so much more pleasant had I not been lugging a flippin’ laptop around for hours (I thought they’d have Wi-Fi in the press room and I could blog every so often while on -the-go, but alas, there were no such free connections, and so my laptop was about as useful to me as the proverbial ton of bricks and quickly starting feeling that way). Rendering me even more the unwieldy dinosaur was the fact that I do not presently own an iPhone or similar small multipurpose lightweight phone and texting device that would allow me to Tweet my reactions to things on the spot, which would have saved time on the front end of things (or is that the back end? I don’t even know, I’m so tired right now) and now that I’m home I don’t have the energy to fully recap everything I saw in a manner that will do it all justice. Oh and did I mention that I also don’t have my digital camera at the moment? Yeah. An iPhone would have helped with that too.
But apart from all that I thought NEXT was pretty great, and I spent my day exclusively there on the 7th floor of the Merchandise Mart, with plans to “do” the Art Chicago portion tomorrow (the latter being the part devoted to the more established galleries, while Next focuses on up-and-comers, emerging artists, the fresh and the new, etc.).
Art Chicago is extremely well-run and I thought the floor devoted to Next looked terrific. Clean, bright, and surprisingly spacious booths for the exhibitors. I felt like I could breathe and actually look at things, tho this, as with all Fairs, isn’t the place to try and digest too many big ideas. This was my first time at Art Chicago, but they had plenty of super nice Mart employees stationed right when you walk in to guide everyone to the right place with hardly a blip of initial confusion. The first thing I did after checking in (and pouting internally about the lack of Wi-Fi) was zoom to the 7th floor to catch the first panel scheduled for that day, “Crisis and Opportunity: Programming and Exhibitions in the New Economy,” which was part of the “CONVERGE Chicago: Contemporary Curators Forum” program.
I loved the set-up for NEXT Talk Shop, the area devoted to the panels and discussions. It’s basically a lounge, with rows of chairs facing the speakers but some comfy couches and tables towards the side. It’s not in a separate room but totally open to the rest of everything else, so that it’s easy to drop in late or leave early without causing offense or undue commotion. A perfect way to stage these sorts of discussions in this context. The Crisis and Opportunity panel was great, and if I have the energy later on I’ll post bullet points from the presentations and discussion, but I would encourage everyone attending the fair to check out at least one of the panel discussions scheduled in the NEXT Talk Shop area — it’s comfy, the audio and visuals are working well, the speaker line up is fantastic, and it provides a nice sort of palette cleanser in between all the frenzy of the visual.
Except, NEXT isn’t really frenzied at all, and that’s what is so refreshing about it. I expect it will be a lot more crowded tomorrow and there were certainly plenty of people there today, but the booths were all concisely curated, and each focused on only one or two artists rather than the full slew of what a gallery has to offer. Don’t miss the Goffo section of NEXT, which had a really fun, laid-back yet energized feel to it. There were a lot of great, ultra-affordable artworks, books, prints and small editioned pieces. Also in the Goffo section was Tara Strickstein’s Jelly Roll: The Spectacle, which involved a cute girl (was in the artist herself? not sure) wrestling various volunteer (?) participants in a rubber pool filled with some type of silicone crystals. Scoops of the sweat-soaked, hair and skin-coated crystals were bottled after each performance and sold as multiples, although I neglected to ask for how much.
Once I get my hands on a camera I may go back and photograph some of the booths, but for now here are just a few of the artists whose work caught my eye in a good way, in no particular order. Consider this just a teeny slice of what there is to see (all of the images below are lifted, but these are the actual works that are on view at NEXT right now).
Ben Gest at Steven Daiter Gallery
Jesse McLean, “Somewhere Only We Know,” (6 min. video), part of Gallery 400’s special project for NEXT, “Better to light a candle than curse the dark.”
Carlos & Jason Sanchez, Light + Sie Gallery
John Sparagana at CTRL Houston (he has a piece up at Tony Wight Gallery right now, too):
Sangbin Im at Dean Project
Florian Sussmayr, Nicholas Robinson Gallery, New York