Ryan Duggan, "Today, Tomorrow," 2011. Johalla Projects at NEXT.
Last weekend, as I wandered around 2011′s iteration of Art Chicago–now value-added with crunchy nuggets of NEXT!!–I came to the odd realization that I now feel more “of” Chicago’s visual art scene than outside of it, and as a result I am starting to lose what’s always been precious to me: my ability to call shit as I see it, regardless of who I might offend. I really want Art Chicago and NEXT to succeed because I want the galleries and artists who live in Chicago and who partake of the commercial system to thrive and to prosper. So let’s think of the forthcoming assessment of this year’s combined Art Chicago/NEXT fairs as the ‘If You Don’t Have Anything Nice To Say…’ report, because I feel like I have to emphasize the positive, in the face of what I personally experienced as mostly negative. I will say this: I sincerely hope that Karen Archey’s info on ArtInfo is accurate, and that Art Chicago/NEXT’s 2011′s participating exhibitors did indeed sell the shit out of their wares, because I saw not much other purpose to it all other than successfully doing just that. To be sure, commerce is what art fairs are all about, but it doesn’t hurt if you throw a little ‘shock of the new’ at people while you are selling the aforementioned crap out of it. In the two previous years of this fair that I have attended I saw a fair amount of interesting experimental projects and a slew of lively–and just as important, timely–public conversations thrown into the mix, along with some stupid stuff like Jell-o wrestling and teeny tiny DIY-comedy clubs–projects that felt amateurish and ad hoc and yet whose purpose, I realize now in retrospect, was to remind people, in a kind of ‘have another beer and you’ll see what I mean’ kind of way, that it was the art fair context itself that was truly ridiculous. That kind of silliness was mostly absent from NEXT this year, and I, for one, missed it.
This year’s fair merged NEXT’s presentations of galleries focused on emerging artists with the more established Art Chicago vendors, now shown side-by-side on the same floor. This was no doubt an economic decision, but it had a deadening effect overall, with NEXT’s galleries not surprisingly suffering the worst from it. Whereas in previous years NEXT (and its high-energy GOFFO sub-section) provided a breath of fresh air along with some genuinely good art, this year the NEXT booths were slotted into a section on Floor 12 and thus became pretty much indistinguishable from their coiffed and business-suited elder brethren. I barely felt the presence of GOFFO this year. Proximity to Art Chicago seemed to implicitly encourage all the NEXT booths to play it safe and be on their best behavior, and while this somewhat more formal atmosphere may have benefited larger commercial galleries like Kavi Gupta or Western Exhibitions it made the work in booths from smaller alternative spaces/projects like LVL3 or ACRE feel less adventurous than they might have otherwise. On the other hand, some of the best paintings I saw at NEXT were by a Canadian artist named Beth Stuart at the aforementioned LVL3 booth, and my ability to hone in on said paintings in relative quietude no doubt benefited from the fact that there wasn’t some crazy-ass parade marching up and down the aisles to distract me. So I guess that legitimacy thing works both ways.
ACRE booth at NEXT, view of Matt Nichols' sculpture Untitled, 2011 in foreground.
LVL3 Gallery at NEXT - 2011. Photo courtesy LVL3.
Beth Stuart, Scanty Shanty, 2010 | Oil on pastered linen on panel, 14″ x 17″, at LVL3 at NEXT 2011. Photo courtesy LVL3.
Kate Steciw. Photo Rug/Portal, 2011. Polyester rug, edition of 3, 72" x 48", at LVL3 booth NEXT 2011. Photo courtesy of LVL3.
Overall I thought Art Chicago suffered even moreso from what it usually suffers from: ‘over the couch’ syndrome, i.e. too many mediocre paintings and photographs, all of reasonable size and ‘striking’ visual impact to hang as an appropriate ‘statement piece’ over the living room couch. Archey characterized a lot of the Art Chicago work as having a “sci-fi transhumanist” feel to it, and I’d have to agree. As I wandered about I started playing a little game with myself: what if someone took a digital image of every painting and photograph in both Art Chicago and NEXT and then layered them, Jason Salavon-style — what would this quintessential work of fair art look like? Pretty much like any number of the paintings that were already hanging on the walls, I concluded. There was also an odd, images-encased-in-glass, plexiglas, and/or resin trend running through the fair which greatly disturbed me. Two examples follow–the first is blood encased in glass, the second is drinking straws sculpted in the forms of lips and eyes and then encased in glass–although there were countless additional works of this type that I didn’t photograph:
Jordan Eagles, Lifeforce. At Patrajdas Contemporary Art Booth.
Works by Sang Sik Hong at Patrajdas Contemporary.
Sang Sik Hong at Patrajdas Contemporary, Art Chicago 2011.
I think I’ll just sum up the rest of the fair–my personal take on it, anyway–Best/Worst style, as follows:
Best non-Chicago booth at NEXT: I’d give this to Charlie James Gallery, a commercial space located on Chung King Road in L.A. James seems to have brought his A-Game with this booth, and also showed a variety of artists–I especially liked Ala Ebtekar’s collage drawings and Libby Black’s built-to-charm, paper and hot-glue versions of roller skates and opera glasses. Nothing terribly deep here, but all the work looked sharp, sellable, and smart–everything that a good art fair showcase should be.
Ala Ebtekar at Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles booth at NEXT 2011.
Glam paper roller skates by Libby Black at Charlie James Gallery at NEXT, 2011.
A for Effort Award: to Robert Berman Gallery, for making a good-looking, focused booth that (presumably) sold the shit out of Shepard Fairey’s album cover art. Obey, indeed.
Revolutions: The Album Cover Art of Shepard Fairey at Robert Berman Gallery’s booth at Art Chicago, 2011.
Shepard Fairey album cover art at Robert Berman Booth, Art Chicago 2011.
Best Chicago booth at NEXT: I thought they all did a great job, but I’d say a tie between LVL3 and Post Family. LVL3 for its super-”on it” presentation of works–all were strong, and they all looked great together, and Post Family for showcasing the collective’s usual sense of flair in a visually engaging yet uncompromised manner. (Bad photo, sorry!).
Post Family booth at NEXT 2011. "Dear People of the World," by Scott Thomas in foreground.
Work most likely to be impulse-purchased at NEXT: Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet’s print duo, “A Conservative Map of the World,” 2011, and “A Liberal Map of the World,” 2011, both archival pigment prints that could be had for the set at $3900, courtesy of the above-mentioned Charlie James Gallery. A huge crowd-pleaser, and genuinely amusing.
Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet, A Conservative Map of the World, at Charlie James Gallery booth at NEXT 2011.
Sandow Birk and Elyse Pignolet, A Liberal Map of the World, at Charlie James Gallery booth at NEXT 2011.
Best Chicago booth at Art Chicago: this is a tough one, but I’ll go with Carl Hammer Gallery. They gave a lovely presentation with terrific examples of works by gallery artists such as Joseph Yoakum and Roger Brown. The full package, elegantly presented.
Carl Hammer booth at Art Chicago 2011, work by Roger Brown in foreground.
The ‘Where the Heck Were They??’ Award: Shared by Rhona Hoffman and Tony Wight.
Worst Art-Making Trend: the above-mentioned bodies, body parts, and viscera-encased-in-glass works seen throughout the fair.
Best Attempt to Do Something Different: Team Art!’s ongoing auction/destruction performance, in which any work of art that didn’t sell during its auction slot was immediately hacked to bits. Maybe not the freshest idea in the world, but the participating artists felt genuine pain at the destruction of their works (which included a preponderance of sad-eyed kitty cats and doggies, natch), while my own refusal to save the life of a threatened work filled me with a real, albeit fleeting, sense of guilt. Like I said before, it was the kind of silliness that effectively pointed to the larger sense of silliness that surrounded us all.
Team Art! puts the art in its booth on the chopping block.
This work did not sell.
Cuteness not making the cut.
A webchat with Andy Warhol, Oliver Laric (http://oliverlaric.com/webchat.htm)
Here’s what’s got my attention, web-wise, so far this week:
*San Diego Museum of Art director Derrick R. Cartwright appointed director of the Seattle Art Museum.
*Art Institute of Chicago director James Cuno hopes to initiate massive fundraising drive for free Museum admission.
*No Boys Allowed: yearlong exhibition at the Pompidou Center is for women-only.
*Barack Obama: The Freshman.
*Now on Vimeo: watch the NYFA Panel Discussion on ‘How the Recession Has Impacted the Art World’ (featuring Edward Winkleman, Sean Elwood, Stephanie Howe, Kay Takeda; via Edward_Winkleman).
*Scope Basil is only three weeks ago away, and still ‘aint got no permit.
*”I spent a year asking why the contemporary art bubble was the biggest, bubbliest bubble of them all”: Ben Lewis’ The Great Contemporary Art Bubble preview clip on YouTube ( ART21′s Ben Street has a funny post on the film too).
*Boing Boing writer Joel Johnson chides Wired Online for being clueless about the importance of online media–a great post, but look to the comments for the real dirt. (via ArtFagCity’s Twitter).
*Speaking of Twitter, it could be coming to a t.v. near you.
*Grrr. Argh: Monster Kid Home Movies (via Boing Boing).
*Pierogi’s famed flat files now searchable online. (via Art Fag City).
*A live conversation with a dead Andy Warhol, via psychic via webchat (via Rhizome.org).
*Beautiful/Decay needs YOU to help pick the theme for its next limited-edition publication. Winner gets a copy of the book. For free!
*Applications for the 2009 William H. Johnson Prize are now available. Due date is July 31st. (Via Artipedia).
Today I’ll be posting some images and brief commentary on this past weekend’s Artropolis/Art Chicago/NEXT fairs. There was a lot to see and unfortunately I couldn’t adequately document it all, so consider these posts in terms of what they’re meant to be: snapshot images of work that intrigued me, some of which has stayed with me long enough to want to find out more about the artist in the future. In a number of instances the pictures I took were poorly lit or otherwise crappy, and it would have been a disservice to the artist to post them, so take this as a partial and anecdotal summation, not as some sort of Top 10 -type list which I pretty much detest anyway.
All of the Special Exhibitions were very well done, although I think calling out certain works in the booths as part of the Fair’s so-called “Salute to Realism” was a bit strange. As I mentioned in a previous post, I personally liked Lynn Warren’s Hairy Who presentations the best, but I learned something from every exhibition on view and in general thought they all worked pretty well in an art fair context. There was a lot to see, and my picture-taking skills are at level zero, but here’s what I was able to capture while on the 12th floor.
New Insight (I think this was actually at NEXT, on the 7th floor, but whatever): This was an exhibition of MFA students from some of the country’s top graduate art programs, curated by Renaissance Society director Susanne Ghez. The pool of art schools included Cal Arts, Carnegie Mellon, Cranbrook, Hunter, Maryland Institute College of Art, Rhode Island School of Design, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, San Francisco Art Institute, UCLA, University of Illinois at Chicago, University of Illinois at Urbana, and Yale. Some interesting work here; ironically I never got a photo of Jesse Mclean’s 6 min. video of reality show losers “Somewhere Only We Know,” although I think it was probably the best work in that show.
Ryan Sluggett (UCLA), Untitled 2008, acrylic, solvent transfer on canvas.
Nery Gabriel Lemus (California Institute of Art), Praxis within the politicization of my formative years, 2009, installation shot.
Im Schafer, (Cranbrook), Area Codes, 2008, slipcast ceramics, automotive paint, chrome, neoprene, wood.
Kristof Wickman (Hunter College), Untitled, 2008, laminate, mixed media.
Kristof Wickman (Hunter College), Untitled, 2008, laminate, mixed media.
Society for Contemporary Art’s Acquisition Selection for 2009
Members of the Society for Contemporary Art of Chicago
met last Sunday to choose from works by Paul Chan, Rebecca Morris, Nancy Spero, Matt Mullican, and Martin Barre. Apologies, but I could not get a half-way decent shot of Barre’s “76-77-C,” oil on canvas painting, nor could I find an image of it online.
Matt Mullican, Untitled (Before Birth), Untitled (Death), Untitled (Sign), Untitled (Heaven), 1980, sign paint on paper. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition Selection.
Paul Chan, 6th Light, from the series 7 Lights, 2007, digital video projection. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisition Selection.
Rebecca Morris, Untitled (#15-07), 2007, oil on canvas. A Society for Contemporary Art Acquisitions Selection.
Nancy Spero, Woman Breathing, 1978, hand print on paper. A Society for Contemporary Art acquisitions selection.
Partisan: Another special exhibition was the Mary Jane Jacob-curated Partisan, a group show of work selected from galleries exhibiting at Art Chicago “dedicated to the artistic exploration of social and political ideas.” You know, take what you will from a show of political art at an art fair. It’s a brave thing to attempt and I respect the effort, I’m just not sure how much attention viewers are willing to pay to a show like this one when there’s so much distraction surrounding them.
Partisan at Art Chicago.
Peter Drake, Horn, 2008, acrylic on canvas, at Partisan/Art Chicago. (Photo from Linda Warren Gallery)
Partisan at Art Chicago.
Dinh Q. Le, Untitled from the Hill of Poisonous Trees (two men), at Partisan/Art Chicago. Photo from Artnet; PPOW Gallery.
Dinh Q. Le at Partisan / Art Chicago.
Tania Bruguera, San Titulo (Habana, 2000), 2006, lambda print, at Partisan/Art Chicago.
Colleen Grennan of Mahan Gallery
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 publically, 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.
Ric Ocasek at Mahan Gallery
Ric Ocasek at Mahan Gallery
Ric Ocasek at Mahan Gallery/NEXT booth