Art Letter

December 2004 Archives


I've never seen a December with so many good shows. 
More group exhibits show up in December than many months, in part because artists and galleries perceive it as a difficult month for sales and because with the holidays galleries want to hedge and present more pieces and smaller pieces. So with the prerequisite that a good December exhibit be a group exhibit there are some group shows that really distinguish themselves.
Carrie Secrist has been fun to watch since she's moved into the West Loop.  She has expanded her aesthetic, gained confidence and parlayed that energy into some really good shows, like this one called Departures.  Here she has challenged Chicago's leading artists to make a different kind of work of art, something they wouldn't normally do. You've got a table by
Richard Hull, abstractions by Tony Fitzpatrick and a really nice sculpture by Victor Skrebneski.  Even if you don't like the work the show is still worth seeing. 

Upstairs from Carrie, Kraft Lieberman also has a super group exhibit. "Artists Gifts," is the idea so again artists are doing work they wouldn't normally do, but it is a different sort of a departure.

Also in the building at 835 West Washington are
McCormick Gallery with a show of new work by Vidvuds Zviedris.  And Kavi Gupta has a show of paintings by Angelina Gualdoni.

I was really impressed with the
Andrew Lord exhibit at Donald Young Gallery.  Per usual Donald's presentations warrant a second look.  There is a forceful presence to these narrative sculptures.  While acknowledging their ceramic antecedents I found them strikingly refreshing in how much they gave and simultaneously demanded of me.  They are remarkably 3 dimensional and as one travels around them they reveal themselves. One journey is not enough. There's more there.

Sometimes I think
Dzine has so much hustle that his work lacks substance. While waiting for his show that opens tonight at Monique Meloche I've only seen a smattering of Dzine's art including one very wide piece in the gallery at the State of Illinois Building. Seeing one piece and seeing it covered with zillions of clear little glass beads is a lot of beauty and not much else to relate it to. That, plus it seems this is the show everyone in town is waiting for, makes me want to run the other way.  So I had to go look.  And lo and behold, I really liked them.  Disarming.  I was surprised. And all these are covered in beads too. There are 3 large paintings in the show and a row of little ones. It was the little ones that sealed the deal for me.  Yeah, the big ones are strong, but the row of little puppies shows a remarkable range and a constant ability.  Maybe most of you already have, but I'm ready to step forward and say Dzine has shown me good enough work long enough that as much consideration as he has been getting he deserves more. Nice going.

Over the years, I hope I've grown from my macho boy roots - heck I'm even really responding to and liking embroidered art these days, but every once in a while I see a show of honkin' big ol' sculpture like the show at Jason Verbeek's studio at 14 North Peoria Street. Makes me seriously want to start welding again. Felt like I was visiting old friends who've gotten even better the last couple of years - especially
Tom Scarff whose new piece is a triumph.

I'm reminded how sad it was when Michael Rooks left he MCA (he'd curated the glorious
Westermann exhibit) to head to the Honolulu Art Museum.  In a really swift move Tony Wight of Bodybuilder & Sportsmen Gallery asked Michael to curate a show of contemporary Hawaiian artists. This work is really good, fresh and sheds a whole new light on our awareness of Hawaiian culture today. Oh yeah. Some are so cheap I can't believe it.

Susan Gescheidle has a super exhibit called birds & b(ees).  I really like seeing some of these thematic group shows dealers are generating.  There are fun, creative, and expose new relationships between works of art that would otherwise not arise.  Likewise over at
Schopf on Lake, another solid group presentation, and at Bucket Ryder, Jean Albano, David Leonardis, Carl Hammer, Zolla/Lieberman and Aron Packer as well.
Rhona Hoffman and Alan Koppel, have interesting, thoughtful presentations.

Let's save the best for last: 
Jerome Powers at Roy Boyd gallery and Melissa Oresky at Van Harrison Gallery.  Essentially these two are painters.

I've never seen Melissa' Oresky's work before walking into Van (check out his new mustache)
Harrison's yesterday and these paintings are eye-openers. They're like tangy orange juice, with pulp, the way she paints these rather benign looking semi abstract objects with Thiebaud shadows.  That's all fine and dandy. And then with a little brush she lays down little trails, vines, fragmented networks that want to hover just in front of the picture plane. These are really nice. If you get there before me, save me one.

I used to exhibit
Jerome Power's work before I closed my gallery. His work is sparse, reduced, warm, elegant and slightly quirky. I first saw Jerome's art in a reception a graphic design firm was having because somebody's wife wanted to et their art shown somewhere, somehow and god it was hard to find.  I only went because I liked the image in the email I'd been sent, and it wasn't Jerome's.  I'd never seen anyone use hair to draw a line like Jerome did - sort of a cross between Brice Marden and Richard Tuttle (okay Jerome, stay humble!).  Jerome never seems to be in a hurry. I asked him to bring me some work.   He said he would.  A month later I called him and he said he wasn't ready. Maybe a month later he brought me a few pieces and I really liked them and people responded immediately - I think Jerome was pleasantly surprised.  Some people didn't like that they have hair in them - seems a revulsion to the personal content, but all this hair is handed to Jerome; it is not as if there is some ritual that involves his procurement.  His work keeps growing, keeps getting better, and his pieces at Roy Boyd are the best ever. Here, want some voyeurism? The long horizontal one at the end my wife and I commissioned to hang in our bedroom. 

Aren't you glad you read this far?



What's it about when one collector owns 8000 works of art?

I've just returned from 4 days Art Basel / Miami - an incredible mardi gras of an experience, situated on Miami Beach, the doormat to Dante's Inferno.  Hedonism abounds and the art market is thriving.

We have a brilliant contrast here on a numerous levels - the differences between 2 art fairs and the differences between 2 cities. 

Art Basel / Miami succeeds on so many levels because it encourages others to participate.  And then they think of absolutely everything; shuttle busses running every which way, VIP passes for everybody and their plastic surgeon, video series, book signings, and on and on.  Professional from top to bottom. 

The show itself is glorious and odd. The art is awesome, the dealers exemplary. And it isn't about the art at all. It is all about commerce.  I rather felt as if the art was demeaned, that it was looked at for its dollar value and not first or second for its intrinsic merit. Just about everything belongs in a museum and here it is in the bazaar, denuded.

The NADA Fair (dealers of new art) was on the mainland because last year's location flooded in the recent hurricanes. This show totally contrasts with the big show. Perhaps one quarter the number of galleries, all allocated identical size single booths, present new art by new artists. The only thing that is different from booth to booth is the art - each booth even has the same number of lights. And the art has no provenance, no auction records, and nothing to give you an independent sense of value.  It's all about the art. I like that.

So were the Scope fair and the Frisbee Fair, but they take over a hotel and each exhibitor has a guest room in which to hang their art.  One invariably feels captive walking room to room and compelled to make a moment's small talk even if you want to exit post-haste.  The phenomenon gets old after a bit.

As a city, Miami is incomplete and sporadic. The climate is hot. There is a lot of skin.  More conspicuous consumption than Chicago, and a much higher percentage of new money.  The museums need a hand and a larger support base.

Two collectors have amassed separate holdings, ├╝bercollections and have scant interest in benefiting their communities even though they give lip service to it. One major collector even took out a full page ad in the newspaper to defeat a bond proposal for a new museum facility (it passed) saying they didn't have enough of a collection to merit a new building.  The hotels near the Miami Beach Convention Center are competing to amass the most ostentatious collection of lobby art, and paintings sold at Wednesday night's opening could be seen hanging in several hotels by Thursday.  Art has many purposes: in Miami it is an indicator of which hotel has the deepest pockets. Oh joy.

The success of the Basel / Miami Fair is completely attributable to the remarkable competence of the organizers, and the failure of Art Chicago likewise lies solely in the hands of those who put it on.  Art Chicago has suffered from a thorough lack of vision and bad manners.

Many are prone to laud Miami and blame Chicago for the fairs' relative success or lack thereof, but that's not really the truth. It is however safe to say that the Miami extravaganza is easily 4 times larger than Art Chicago in a city less than one quarter the size - so of course it's going to have a greater impact there.

This is not to say that Chicago blew it, or that we can't have a kick ass fair here. But it damn sure says that none of the existing players are sufficiently competent to pull off a good Chicago show. There are certainly many collectors who want to come back to Chicago, but I'm not sure this country's increasing population of philistines will support 3 fairs (the 2nd being the
Armory show in New York).

Next May, at least in theory, we will have two, mediocre at best, "art" fairs. Thomas Blackman Associates is no longer welcome at Navy Pier, for good reasons, and he says he will be putting a show on in tents, but I don't know a single one of his former exhibitors who wants to leap his burnt bridge.  And Ilana Vardy's Pfingsten Publishing Group, which does have Navy Pier's endorsement for next May, has a history of a financially viable (for the organizers) show that is neither cutting edge nor innovative, just lucratively bland.

Here, look at the numbers. Approximately 150 galleries with take 4 booths, each at $5000 per booth, yielding the organizers Three Million Dollars. Even if they charge as much as $20 to enter, which they never have, and get 30,000 attendees, which they won't, the attendance figures only generate $600,000.

In other words, as Chicago's two organizers go forward into vaporland they really don't care about the quality art that brings in quality visitors; they care about the number of exhibitors.  Hey, they may succeed economically, but we're going to be screwed.

My hope is that both shows cancel, admit defeat and slink away.  They don't care if they are an embarrassment. Heck, the Old Town Art Fair will probably be better - at least they care. I would prefer a void.

With a void we have a need and maybe we will be lucky enough that the Basel group steps up and does a real show. Or Mark Lyman, but the Basel group has already raised the bar so high that only they, I think, could do a successful show here, because only they can draw the right exhibitors.

I'm not holding my breath.

Chicago has so much more substance than Miami. Our collectors don't need to collect 8000 works of art to compensate for anything. And we support our institutions. And if you don't agree, let me buy you lunch at Millennium Park and then we'll head over to the Art Institute for additional discussion.

Bon Appetit,

PS:  Other good articles can be seen at:

Chicago Life #1
There was a novel in here somewhere. The saga of the journeyman artist, male or female, set in Chicago. Where the glory of the well-deserved accolades still hang on the distant horizon while the daily tasks methodically measure the incremental wisdom that comes with age.  

Often, artists are drawn to art as if it were a calling, or a suitor; the perceived freedom, the appreciation of nonconformity, and the dominance of questions over answers. The urban renegade.

Short novel. Replaced by a do-it-yourself guide.  Art becomes a business. Self-sufficiency, exposure, integrity, vision, statement, career, rent, boyfriend girlfriend, marriage, whose career comes first, forego children, forego marriage, where to spend time: in the studio, with another artist and a beer, talking up a collector, at an opening, shall I wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled?

The decisions don't come easy. Not choosing is still choosing.  Most artists don't make the cut.  (I used to think this was a bad thing - all that "failure." Only recently realized that having a segment of our society art school educated is a good thing even if they don't make "art.")

Foolishly, waves of artists avoid mentors. The cadence of the same mistakes parade past.  No, good art will not get you there all by itself.  No, you cannot bask in the studio all day.  Yes, some people get lucky. A strategy helps.  So does implementing it.

Over a decade the labile whims of the art world average out. The highs and lows become cyclical.  Success can't even be measured yearly. Larger issues loom: the relationship of one's studio to one's art. - both ways.  The bigger picture gets bigger.

Staying the course normally mandates adjunct activity. Whether that activity is organizing jpegs, making appointments with dealers or prospective client/collectors, or is working for a salary is a damned relevant consideration with layered implications, including whether that work should be teaching art or something entirely not art related. What is better for the art?

Is it about the art? Should the art become master?  Should the art dictate the large, and not just the small? Probably not.  Better a collaboration. Art and artist.

Art has history. Art has baggage. Artists can play into or off of that history.  Knowing it matters.

After two decades, if you're still in, you've learned the history and lived a lot of it. And the issues have changed again. High art doesn't need high drama.  It needs methodology. One artist recently said "this is about being alive and being free to struggle to death." Another responded "let me emphasize practicality over romance."  I think so.

These artists who have stayed the course, the lifers if you will, have become pragmatic. Many believe their good years are ahead and bide their time.  Some actively work to bring that day closer.  And others have given up.

There really isn't very much glory.  There's not even adequate recognition.  Validation must come from within.  Critics rarely really get it and when they do their appreciation is invariably tame.  Unfortunately, artists who spend many more hours making art decisions and garnering art knowledge and know-how are appealing to an audience that cannot know as much about the subject as its creator.

It doesn't help that America as a whole has a suspect opinion of art and artists, nor that our government follows suit with its global bottom-of-the-rung support. It is hard to function as an artist. The conditioning is such that businesses are prone to take legitimate requests for materials or collaboration as folly.  Being made to feel like a pariah is not conducive to good art.

Artists are as important as their art. They stand for freedom of speech and our right to the open exchange of ideas. They protect our flanks, from the scurrilous attacks of those who would restrict our rights.  (Politically, sociologically speaking, there is no real center. It is constantly moving, from one administration to another from one event to another.)  If we don't protect our flanks we will all be vulnerable.  The trees at the edge of the forest, though more frail, are no less important than the rest of us wood.

To affect the most good we are all better served by purchasing, supporting, encouraging art within our own communities. Let me explain. In many ways it is much like a grass roots campaign.  We need to raise the level of consciousness within our community.

The point is not to say that we must spend more money on art.  The point is that by spending our art money at home, in our own communities, we can parlay the power of our dollar to generate more good.

How? Because, with a clear conscience, you can be proud.  You can say to you neighbor "Howdy Neighbor.  I supported my community by buying a work of art from an artist in town.  What have you done?" You can share your enthusiasm where it can make the most difference. And others will catch on.

Most American artists - let's go with around 90% - have a "straight" job to make ends meet, rather than compromise the integrity of their vision. That is how important art is to them.  Because art is their priority their jobs are not normally careers and their income reflects this choice.  If an artist sells 10 works of art a year they may be doing pretty well.

Acquiring art locally increases the benefit to the artist, keeps the money in town for multiple benefits, and grows your community.  The ramifications are significant.  The impact on the community multiplies.  The benefit you generate comes back to serve you, your home, your schools, and your quality of life.

Art not only documents the heights of our very existence, it is a bellwether preparing us, enabling us and teaching us about what lies ahead.   Art needs us because we need art. The more we nurture art, the more we improve our community, the more we benefit ourselves.

Come.  Let us cultivate our gardens.


Paul Klein closed his gallery in May 2004 to take on other challenges. He supports his community.