Art Letter

December 2006 Archives


Let me preface my remarks about visiting the myriad art fairs in Miami the past few days by saying that I've been privy to the Chicago 'Merchandise Mart's presentations about what they have been doing and will do to revitalize ArtChicago. Clearly the Mart has very deep pockets, an army of caring, quality event organizers and a passion for substance. In a nutshell, it would not surprise me to see ArtChicago win a World Series long before the Cubs do.

Despite being immersed in the art world for over thirty years now, I'm perpetually asking new questions, or at least considering new answers to old questions. I've been in Miami for a few days participating in the extended extravaganza generated by the booming success that is Art Basel Miami, a highfalutin fair of exorbitant proportions and the near dozen satellite fairs that have sprung up around it. All of which makes me think about the relationship of art to commerce; how it is necessary for an artist to be commercial savvy to survive and how the potency of art is diminished by some sense that it must be able to be consumed monetarily.

I attended the VIP opening of the big fair and was bombarded by hyperbole. So much money. So many high prices. So much commerce. Some great art - lost in a sea of bling. Like looking for Timex at Tiffany. There are so many injustices in the art world; so many imbalances and false directions where deviance now seems - at least at this fair - to be the mean.

To some extent the Basel Miami show wants to be about art. But it can't help itself. It is about commerce. And commerce was happening. The days following the opening I went to the satellite fairs. And when I returned to the Big Show a couple of days later a whole lot of art I'd seen two days earlier was gone, replaced by something different to sell. People were snapping up 6 and 7 figure art.

But the stories weren't about the art, or its quality, or its message. The stories were about the pursuit, the competition for the perceived choice pieces. These people could have been buying anything, and some bought obviously covetable pieces. But mostly it didn't matter. Art for most them is just a way to keep score - yup, Pokemon Cards for the jet set.

On the whole, the other fairs, the satellite fairs, were much better. Well, at least they felt like they were more about substance. At them I tended to see a belief structure where the purveyors genuinely cared about the artists whose work they were showing, where they endeavored to explain the arts' content, where they were interested in a discussion and relationship with the viewer. I thought this was good.

And of all the art fairs I've seen all over the world I saw more art, good art, by Chicago artists than I've ever seen anywhere else before. Nice going gang. You are making it better for all of us.

Each of these satellite fairs has their own personality, though the differences are often extremely subtle. Some were in hotel rooms where the entire hotel is given over to dealers have removed the beds and an all available space is consumed by art (Yes, technology now allows a painting to hang on a mirror.) And some are in huge, interlocking tents with a nice overall translucent light emanating from above, and a few are in commandeered buildings.

Where one fair has a proclivity for new media, electronic, digital art, another will be more coarse. Where a second fair thinks itself filed with relatively higher end galleries and the commensurate snooty attitude, yet another tries to defy categorization by being inconsistent, apparently by intent.

There is something for just about everyone, especially if you are after contemporary art, but I overheard one woman frustrated with going from fair to fair, booth to booth, piece to piece, comparing it all to trying to find the perfect pair of shoes.

All Miami has been energized by the Basel Miami Fair and its coterie of smaller fairs. Museums put on special shows with early morning receptions. Collectors show off their acquisitions (I think Marty Margulies trumps them all with vast holdings of quality art that reveal his passion, preferences and personality).

The Big Show, the Satellite Fairs, the Art on the Beach, the Collections, separate and together do precisely what an exemplary work of art does. They challenge convention. They stimulate our senses. They raise questions. And they satisfy our desire to be something greater than ourselves - even if we can't quite quantify or comprehend it.

Now to get ready for ArtChicago and satellite shows here. It's going to be good.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


In advance of the art fairs next week in Miami, I've been thinking about what distinguishes successful artists from the rest. And to a very large extent it simply boils down to who is taking the initiative and the responsibility for a successful career. And who isn't.

Many artists take appropriate responsibility for making a single work of art, or ever a series. But that doesn't constitute success.  Often artists "attain" gallery representation and think that's enough.  Nope. At best your dealer is a partner.  And having a dealer does not diminish an artist's responsibility.  It just alters it.

The internet is a great tool.  It is changing the landscape for art, the distribution of images and information.  Galleries are no longer the gatekeeper. Artists need to get their persona and their art, out there.  Think about successful artists. Look at their websites.  Look at their galleries coverage for them. Consider how many artists are now being successful, very successful, without a gallery.  Times are changing. (Check out these exemplary artist driven websites: 
Chicago Artists ResourceBad at SportsSharkforum, Art or IdiocyIconoduelThe Other GroupLumpenChicago New Media)

Brian Ulrich has an excellent website. And he has a solid, charming exhibition opening tonight at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.  Brian has been developing his audience for this exhibition all fall, not obnoxiously, but calmly. I've been looking foreword to the show and it's satisfying to see the work in person.  The art is accessible, the scenes vaguely familiar and the situations warmly humorous.  I'm impressed.

Deb Sokolow too whose multilayered, expansive investigative drawing at 40000 brings her art to a new level.  How fun that she is riffing on the Winchester Mystery House.  What a memorable place and how fascinatingly it melds it Deb's art. Yes she is talented, but I suspect that more than talent has led to recent shows at Polvo, the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Three Arts Club and into our awareness. That is where success comes from, and she deserves it.

Jason Pickleman is a good example as well. And he's not even an artist. But he has immersed himself in art and culture in Chicago and segues his enthusiasm for all things art to benefit his business. Now he has curated an exhibition at Monique Meloche which all came out of his house.  There's visual poetry here: creative juxtapositions, diverse content, and a handsome installation. Kudos to Monique for using her commercial space for an exhibit in which nothing is for sale.

Walsh Gallery has a good exhibit by Xue Song.  Chinese art is very popular today and a fair amount of it is a vapid calculation of what I suspect Chinese artists think an American audience wants to see.  And I don't think Julie Walsh succumbs to that. She presents really solid exhibits that are thoughtful and reveal something of the artists' personality, intellect and soul. Xue's exhibit is evidence. The work reads like paintings, but is oversized collages of large, almost serious, statements from common and mundane Chinese characters, clippings and artifacts. Nice balance. Interesting exploration.

I thoroughly enjoyed the lighthearted prurience of Loretta Bourque's deviant dalliances at
Linda Warren. These pieces are a lot more substantial than the one-liner, near comic art we are too often exposed to. They're a look at the constraints and arbitrary mores of provincial America, and what we (or they) consider decent - or not.

NavtaSchulz, Keer Tanchak explores the decadence and romance of Watteau's 18th century by quoting his images in her work. On her aluminum panels we encounter known historical references in an unfamiliar environment, which is appropriate to her quest, which includes painterly concerns about surface. It's thoughtful work.

I've been intrigued by
Mark Murphy's work at ZG for quite a while; how he looks at life and translates that into his imagery. His technique is to bisect the common and recombine it in fresh ways, often literally employing jigsaw techniques and processes.  The work is refreshing, just different enough, and insists on be looked at.

And a few tidbits to wrap this ArtLetter up: Quietly and significantly the
Art Institute of Chicago is presenting more art and content from Chicago. Up through April is an insightful, thought provoking show called Young Chicago, which features two of my favorite artists (Nick Cave & Cat Chow) and a lot art, architecture and design.

Richard Tuttle show at the Museum of Contemporary Art kicks butt. He's even smarter than I thought.

And to finish where we started:
Tony Fitzpatrick is a perfect example of an artist taking thorough responsibility for his career, and he is thriving. Saturday afternoon the 9th he is having a studio sale.  Tony maintains a store front studio (on Damen south of Webster) and the door is always open.  If you haven't been, or you want to go incognito, this is the perfect opportunity to learn, witness, and of course to buy a piece or two with a holiday discount.

I'll see you out there,
Paul Klein