Art Letter


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