Art Letter

April 2008 Archives


Tonight is the opening of the art fair extravaganza known as Artropolis at Chicago's Merchandise Mart. Five fairs are presented under the Mart's one large roof.

This is the Mart's 3rd year operating the fairs after ArtChicago was essentially immolated by bad luck and bad business.  The Mart's ownership of ArtChicago has returned it to world-class status and makes a real difference to what goes on in our city. (Here's a
pass for free admission to tonight's openings.  And here's another that is good Friday through Monday.)


There are a lot of good things to say about ArtChicago.  The very first thing I noticed when I walked in was that there are no 'booths.'  The Mart has constructed walls for every exhibitor that appear to be permanent - all the way up to the ceiling. This adds an element of class that that I've not seen at other fairs in the U.S. or Europe. Bravo.

There are some wonderful galleries from around the world who are either returning to exhibit in Chicago after a long hiatus or are new to us that I'm glad to see.

I appreciate the breadth of media on exhibition. More painting than I usually see.  Plenty of new media and video and a nice balance of photography, drawing and prints. Not only that, there is a broad price range from what I'd consider affordable to somewhere way beyond.

It's a damned good show and with dealers installing and workerbees scurrying everywhere. There is no sense of the pretentiousness that I disdain at most other fairs. Whether this changes once the dealers put on their smiley-faces remains to be seen.

All in all this show - all by itself - is well worth seeing. And there are 4 more.


This year is the first incarnation of the NEXT Fair. Smart title.  Showcases young up & coming galleries and fresh art talent.  The show looks good, aggressive, fun, dynamic and almost as good as I thought it was going to be.  I was expecting more one-person presentations and more installations of over-the-top, in-your-face projects. (Perhaps my expectations were unrealistic.) As it is, there's a lot of damned good art, some special galleries that we wouldn't see otherwise and a few galleries that are exhibiting in ArtChicago and NEXT.

The exhibition is an invitational which gave the organizers the ability to sculpt their own show, which they've done.  There's a bit of a raw, first time effort quality at play here that is refreshing.  And next year they'll have the opportunity to expand and improve upon this solid start.

The Artist Project

The two-word phrase that keeps coming to mind to describe
The Artist Project starts with the word 'cluster.' This is a show that has the potential to be more exciting, more pivotal, more innovative than any of the others and the Mart refuses to allow it to become what it could be.

Yes, there are some exceptionally good artists in the show.  I was one of 4 jurors.  We concluded that there were 50 artists worthy of being exhibited. The Mart choose to include about 250.

Equally frustrating, given my inclination to empower artists, is that the Merchandise Mart makes this an exhibit for solely unrepresented artists, which obviously reduces the pool of quality from which to draw and placates the dealers who must be afraid of being undermined.  (There are lots of ways for myopic dealers to get around this - like by paying for the booth and taking a percentage of their artists' sales.) 

Ya know, there's the internet out there. Artists are no longer isolated like they used to be. Artists are evolving and taking much more responsibility for their careers and their relationships with dealers are changing significantly. Dealers must grow and evolve or decay. Life moves forward.  And so should this show.

That said, go seek out the quality of the artists who have solid art and belong here.

The Intuit Show

On the same floor as the Artist Project is the Intuit Show which presents an admirable selection of "naive" and outsider art.  This show has bounced around an array of sites over its history and feels smaller here than it has in years past.  Nevertheless, the show is good with a nice and diverse selection.

The Antiques Fair

The fifth of the Mart's fairs is the Antiques Fair which has been a fixture at the Mart for quite a while.  From an art point of view there's a fair amount of interesting material there. As for the range and quality of the antiques, I'm just not sure.  It's too far from my field.

Some events happening this weekend that I'm looking forward to:

VersionFest: This is an exciting mishmash of talent and no-talent art that would not easily fit within the confines of the Merchandise Mart.  Sometimes great.  Always fun.

Friday Morning:
McCormick West Art Opening for the permanent installation of 50 very large scale works of art.

Saturday evening:
MoniqueMeloche Gallery opening:  Karen Reimer - a great Chicago artist. 

Allegoric Gallery After Party at Tony Fitzpatrick Studio:  Go. 'Nuf said.

Saturday night:
Sharkstock for those who don't sleep!

For some current gallery exhibits:
see the last two Artletters:
April 4
April 18

Have fun out there.
It's easy,
Paul Klein


A while back I saw the Winslow Homer and Edward Hopper shows at the Art Institute.  Definitely worthy shows by a couple of master paint-pushers; the kind of ability I don't see much anymore. 

Maybe with
ArtChicago in town next week we'll see some other good painters. It's always a pleasure.  One of the most memorable shows I've seen for a while is a show of large, powerful fresh-smelling oil paintings by Chicagoan Claire Sherman at Kavi Gupta Gallery. I was reminded immediately of the first time I encountered Neil Jenny's dumb, simple, oh-so-smart paintings.  But Sherman's work transcends his; more meditative, less gimmicky, simultaneously engaged and detached, I marvel at how she made these.  They're seductive, but intelligent; meaningful, but not overbearing. I was impressed.

Cat Chow may be one of the most significant artists of her generation to come out of Chicago. Her new exhibition opening at the Elmhurst Art Museum shows the strides she's made since leaving behind her fashion based art. There's an enigmatic balance between what's wrapped and what's contained in Chambers and its levels of meaning. It's the ambiguous parallels that fascinate me - like allusions to Louise Bourgeois and Sol LeWitt at the same time. Cat Chow's work has really grown, and found new footing.  She is talented, intelligent and savvy. Small show. Totally worth the trip.

Hamza Walker's, Renaissance Society's exhibit Black Is, Black Ain't kicks butt - quite a bit actually.  Obviously conceived and curated long before Obama's race speech, this exhibition somehow lifts off from where Obama left off. There are a lot of aspects to discussions about race. Here race is related to gender and class.  For me, I was pleased to see some humor as a subplot. It is important that we laugh at ourselves and the universal characteristics that we think are unique to each of us.  Yet, this is a mostly a serious discussion.

The show feels fresh and authentic - not rehashed, not forced. I'm prone to having difficulty with shows like this, where the curator seeks to prove a point and the art is forced to play an uncomfortable role it was not intended for.  And specifically that is not what is going on here. The exhibit is thoughtfully installed and thoughtfully balanced. It is not overbearing.  It leaves room for us in the equation. That's a helluva lot for one show to accomplish. It exists and succeeds on lots of levels.  You could look at this exhibit as a tutorial on how to properly curate.

Ken Fandell has met Stephen Hawking - well, at least in his dreams.  And in them Fandell counsels Hawking on the metaphysics of his lectures.  Together, they've worked on making the deep space experience relevant for mere mortals and art fans. I'm pretty sure Hawking has assisted Fandell on his art. Think about it.  At the newly eponymous Tony Wight Gallery with a show curated by Robert Mollers.

Chris Ware is back in force at Carl Hammer. Ware is an immense talent. There are things he does in his comic book pages that great many artists don't even attempt, like the dynamic way he folds space, moves backwards and forwards in time and composes on multiply levels simultaneously. and that's to say nothing of the psychological territory he explores as he becomes more vulnerable and revealing over time. These are truly rich.

These are the shows that I'd recommend to an out-of-town visitors. I'm proud of these.  I think they say we're diverse with painting, mixed media and endorse cartooning as fine art. We're confident of our own aesthetic as we appreciate what prevails elsewhere. 

This is a pretty good place to make and see art.

Thank you,
Paul Klein


There's a short-lived calm settling over the Chicago art scene right now; sort of like the calm of a rattle snake slowly curling its tail preparing to strike.

ArtChicago returns to the Merchandise Mart April 24th through April 28th and Chicago galleries are beginning to stage the exhibitions they'll be presenting during the hometown's most important weekend of the year.

There's some good art to see and some good shows coming. These are after all the exhibitions the dealers presenting them think best defines their gallery as well as being shows they think they can make money on.

I'm impressed with what's coming up for
Artropolis and ArtChicago. The Mart's built solidly on last year's performance, substantially increasing the caliber of the galleries participating. It's a good list. And the Mart has moved the fair up several floors to where they've installed permanent walls throughout which significantly improves the exhibition's ambiance.  More than booths the space will read like lots of individual galleries.

I'm most looking forward to the introduction of
the NEXT Fair which is an invitational and will be presented just a few floors down from ArtChicago.  It is a balanced show of challenging strong galleries each of whom will be presenting but one single artist. I've had lot of problems with the hyperbolic sensationalism of the "better" fairs around the world. I've even canceled attending international shows because of the B.S.  And I'm eager to see the NEXT Fair. I expect it to be meaty. Something I can ponder and learn from - and get into some context, because there are other works nearby. I like that there's an entire show dedicated to a risky principal. Check out the list of exhibitors.  This show alone is reason enough to come, and it's not even the "A" show. That's ArtChicago with quite a few folks we haven't seen in Chicago ever - or in eons.

My work at
McCormick Place West is coming to an end.  Only Sabrina Raaf's sweeping sculpture remains to be installed. McCormick is hosting at Art Opening on the Friday morning of ArtChicago - April 25th from 9 AM to Noon.  The public is invited. In anticipation of that event I've added an audio slide show - kind of like a movie - to the images I've already had online.  Come the morning of April 25th to see it in person.

I like
Jason Peot's work a lot.  He created a significant work of art for McCormick Place and he has an exhibition opening tonight at Navta Schulz Gallery. He pushed himself a lot for his McCormick piece. He took risks and broke new ground.  His accomplishments there benefit from his thorough pursuit.  At the gallery exhibit his new pieces show an increased confidence, playfulness and assertiveness, as they reinforce what he's learned in the past.

Upstairs in
Gescheidle, Chris Verene is at it again. A really good photographer, you can't help but wonder what kind of community he grew up in, or who he hangs out with. Raised west of here in Galesburg, Verene documented his community for a longtime - his warm, friendly, vacant-looking, and just so slightly strange neighbors.  Growing on that experience has led Verene down some not so usual paths and his newest work looks at some of the friends he's made and the vulnerability they've shared - which is not something we get to see very often.

As a gallery
Linda Warren is getting more sure of herself, her aesthetic, her taste, and the zany art she's happy to be a proponent of.  Picture her new show by Carson Fox.  The amount of work that goes into these pieces is absurd.  First Ms Fox casts these fun little flowers in resin. They're very imaginative. Then she sticks pins in them a pushes the pins into the wall. Then she takes them all down to send the art to an exhibit.  They're cool, fun, dimensional, art historically referential and not too serious. But, a little bit.

Michael Genovese is an enigma.  I like his art. I keep going places expecting to find him. I've never met him. I've tracked the pieces he's made with Cody Hudson and Juan Angel Chavez.  I've followed him to the MCA where he had a recent artist-in-residency.  Just missed him.  I went early to Packer Schopf Gallery to preview the show that opens tonight sure that he'd be installing. Nope.  Finishing touches someplace else.  Oh well.  Genovese is real. His art is strong, relevant, fun, interactive, community based, solid and unique. Time to buy one

Thanks for coming along,
Paul Klein