Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Art Fair 2004: ArtChicago, ArtBoat, and the Stray Show

Originally Posted on Panel-House: May 2004

May 7-10 2004 was when Chicago became the location for many different art venues and numerous spots for drinking and commiserating. I have asked many different writers who contribute to the site to reflect on the blur of that weekend to come to maybe analyze what happened if anything at all. I am not entirely sure as to why this is important but I think the responses show what kind of result the fair had on a decent cross section of people.

-Terence J. Hannum, director and mediocre editor of Panel-House

“Art Chicago 2004: Vernissage”

Score! Tickets were free, not because I was a vendor and not because I snuck in like a number of other people I saw, but because a good friend shared my passion for free booze everywhere, black-frame glasses and botox watching. We were also ready to look at some art. No high expectations going in and inevitably a lot of disappointment walking out. I will not be attending this event again.

Ester Partegas provided the most immediate metaphorical opportunity for Vernissage when she, or her representation Foxy Production, installed a giant garbage bag in one of the project spaces. (Yet another garbage bag as art – there seems to be a fascinatingly rich tradition of this object as muse.) Regardless of what you might have heard, I saw a lot of art consuming during the MCA’s drool contest. People were buying. But what they were buying was overwhelmingly predictable and stale. Perhaps Partegas should have handed out replicas at the entrance.

Highlights: the cheery girls from Mouth to Mouth, 1R’s braggadocio, and Mixture Contemporary Art.

Lowlights: Daniel Reich Gallery, Jack Hanley Gallery, and the missing Finesilver Gallery.

(Britton Bertran is a writer on art and curator in Chicago.)


Amidst a great deal of speculation about the possibility of this being its last year, Art Chicago opened as usual with the MCA’s Vernissage celebration but closed on an anti-climactic and uneasy note.

While most expected a fair with diminished exhibitors, attendance and even fanfare, as the weekend progressed many at the fair agreed something was needed to reawaken this unenthusiastic happening.

But why has this event become so bleak? Yes it has become predictable but what seems to have happened is that the organizers, exhibitors, press and even visitors have come to take this fair for granted. Several flaws exist and do need to be addressed (such as why some galleries are repeatedly shut out, I’m thinking Aldo Castillo) but for the most part the fair serves one major function: to reawaken and reconnect the art community after a long and arduous Chicago winter.

While cleaning out Klein Art Works Paul came across a video from 1989 containing news coverage of the devastating fire that tore through a River North warehouse which housed numerous galleries and studios. Galleries such as Klein, Zolla/Lieberman and Peter Miller which were considered the epicenter for artistic activity lost millions in inventory. This happened about a month before Art Chicago yet despite losing almost everything most of the galleries still exhibited in the fair. There was this need, this recognition of the fair’s importance in the community that seems to have been lost and if this connection resurfaces maybe the energy will return.

(Mary Gustaitis Beyer is currently pursing her masters degree in art history at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She works as the gallery assistant at Klein Art Works. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York.)

“Nothing Shocking”

I have two main observations about this year’s Stray Show. One, drawing was everywhere. Painting a distant second. Video and installation scarce but present. Photography lumped between video and installation, and sculpture (whatever that means these days) fits, well, somewhere. There was so much drawing, so many push pins, a lot of tape, some large-scale (but mostly small), and for a large part good. I’m sure part of the reason is the portability of drawing for galleries traveling from far away, but I think a larger part is artists spurning the “preciousness” of paint and returning to the immediacy of drawing. Drawing is no longer relegated to a medium for studies and sketches. It’s an important part of contemporary art production and is finally getting the attention it deserves.

So drawing is the first thing I noticed. Sex is the second. Adolescent investigations into sex, perversion, porn, and orifices are on the minds of artists everywhere and on the walls of Stray Show participants. I really don’t know what it is about work about sex (or that is porn). What is the appeal? Apparently it still gets a reaction from someone, and I guess it’s getting one from me right now. But my reaction is that it’s just plain boring, trite, and tired. Even if there was good work that dealt with these issues, there was so much of it that I didn’t care to spend the time trying to figure out what was good and what wasn’t. The shock is gone, the edginess is, well, what edge? It’s not enough anymore (was it ever?) to just draw, paint, or videotape sex. Something else has to be done with it to make it compelling work.

I’ll admit this was my first Stray experience and I was quite impressed by what I saw. I was impressed by the amount of galleries from outside of Chicago that came to our fair city. Maybe my observations are par for the course, but I was hoping that the so-called “edgy” art fair would have been a little more dynamic and less same-y.

(Todd Chilton is an artist and MFA student at SAIC.)


The speed of art varies from a crank-started jalopy puttering on about Art’s cultural worthiness and the many-pistoned commerce of a racing car that crosses the finish line at art’s monetary value. Art Fairs, unmitigated fiscal free-for-alls displaying artworks in unflatteringly close quarters, are engineered to be the Autobahn of the art world. They also remind me that I, at me speediest, am a Sunday driver.

The best experience I had viewing art during the weekend of Art Chicago 2004, therefore, was aboard the languid early-afternoon voyage of this year’s “Artboat“. The gimmick of a day cruise, when compared to the bedlam underway inside Navy Pier, was a surprisingly effective space for viewership. The gentle lull of the boat allowed me to be genuinely charmed by the whimsy of Bill Smith’s kinetic sculpture when its nostalgic, found-object qualities would have surely relegated it to the passé, Modern half of Exhibition Hall. When compared to the cacophony of the art fair, the cozy first deck provided a palatial space to watch a suite of video works from Canada. Michael X. Ryan’s maps of his daily travels also benefited from the captive expanse of time with which to investigate his detailed recordkeeping. Per usual, Ryan’s calligraphic flourishes continue to elevate his schematic drawings into something more than rote conceptual project. Most enjoyably, selection committee members Heather Mekkelson and David Roman gave polite and informative entrée to the work for the attentive audience aboard.

In general, I am not one to laud what basically equated to a nice day at a museum, but during a full-throttled weekend, a pleasant viewing experience is downright iconoclastic. Had I been on the boat that took off several hours after my cruise returned, I may have experienced something more than affable in Matt Irie and Dominick Talvacchio’s latest in a body of always-engaging covert performances, wherein scripted events take place unannounced in a public setting. Then again, that second cruise, frighteningly dubbed “The Booze Cruise” by some of its attendees, featured an open bar and three times the ticket holders. I imagine that voyage was, by its inebriated end, barely distinguishable from the artless din of parties that buffer the fair and it’s errant cousin the Stray Show. The art was probably lost in a speedboat chase that bounced along Lake Michigan’s wave crests, and I would have wanted to be on “terra firma” peddling my bicycle.

(Jeff M. Ward is a member of the curatorial collective The Pond, which until April 2004 maintained an exhibition space in Chicago, Illinois.)

“ArtChicago 2004”

A few days after I went Art Chicago 2004 I was at work and during a lull looked through my boss' copy of the fair's catalog. I had a pretty good time doing that. It was fun to look at one piece at a time. I saw pieces I'd missed and work I'd seen but not registered in person. Flipping through the catalog was kind of like reminiscing, not in the way you look at your vacation photos but in the way you look at an Artforum twice and like some of the stuff in there better the second time through because it's familiar. It was kind of like I'd never been to the fair at all but just read about it. I'm so used to reading about things. I have a subscription to Artforum. I try not to read it twice, but ever since my subscriptions to Vogue and Blender ran out, I sometimes overdo it with what's on hand. Browsing the familiar is a full-time job. Now that my skills are honed I find myself doing it without even thinking.

(Anna Mayer is an artist living in Chicago. She is primarily inspired by the radio-that-looks-like-a-Coke-bottle she won in a raffle when she was nine.)


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