Just Another Day


Left: Rahm Emanuel. Right: Monique Meloche, founder of Gallery Weekend Chicago, with Art Expo director Tony Karman and Sondra Karman. (Except where noted, all photos: Pedro Vélez)

“THANK YOU FOR OBAMA and thank you for this fair! From now on art people should flock to Chicago instead of Basel Miami. No one likes Miami anyway.” An effusive Jerry Saltz was happy to give his appraisal during the lively vernissage for the first edition of Tony Karman’s Expo Chicago, which took place in the notorious lakefront tourist trap of Navy Pier. Saltz proceeded to hug and praise fellow critic and artist Robin Dluzen, a former student of his at the Art Institute. “Jerry used to say that I make art like a man,” Dluzen confided while the critic moved swiftly along the wide aisles of the fair, saluting everyone on his path like some sort of statesman or motivational guru. Truth is, Saltz was working the floor in preparation for his keynote speech at the fair the next morning. I didn’t get to see him talk, but Dluzen’s report for New City described the event as a frenzied, “bleary-eyed full house.” From his many disjointed declarations, one in particular struck a chord: “Chicagoans move slow, and our money moves slow.” Who knew that would be the main theme during the weekend?

But I’d be lying if I told you Saltz was the biggest star at the vernissage. In Chicago, where politicians are patriarchs, there is only one king: Mayor Rahm Emanuel. His triumphant entrance to the fair grounds, flanked by paparazzi and bouncers, dwarfed the art on view. (King Rahm was fresh from a weeklong standoff with the Chicago Teachers Union that had ended the night prior. Was he there celebrating or drowning his tears in art?) Also spotted was MCA curator Naomi Beckwith, one of the year’s best-dressed personalities (thanks, Chicago Social Magazine), and Jessica Stockholder, who seemed to enjoy seeing an obscene amount of her combines going up for sale in every corner. A logical move by dealers since Stockholder surely has a captive audience after her recent move to the city. Some say they saw actor Billy Zane, which must have seemed like breadcrumbs to Art Los Angeles Contemporary director Tim Fleming, also present, when his fair’s red carpet attracts A-listers like Adrien Brody. At least local collectors Larry Fields, King Harris, Penny Pritzker, and Sam Zell showed up to support Karman’s endeavor. Sadly, none of the supercollectors who flock to other big fairs were present, which goes to show once again the feeble rallying power of the city’s aging collector class.

Left: Jerry Saltz with Chicago-based critic and artist Robin Dluzen. Right: MCA curator Kristin Korolowicz and Omar Lopez-Chahoud, artistic director of the UNTITLED fair.

While pleased and amazed by the fair’s organization, look, and feel, many dealers expressed disappointment with sales during the busy opening hours. “Let’s wait another day and I’ll let you know if there should be another edition,” said John Riepenhoff of the Green Gallery. Over at Gering & López the hopes of finding a home for a Josef Albers were slowly diminishing, and Belgium’s Tatjana Pieters was surprised to not have people lined up to buy accessible works by Belgian Conceptualist master Philippe Van Snick. Needless to say I was surprised too. Not even the hype surrounding satirist Jayson Musson (aka Hennessy Youngman) and his Coogi sweater painting-collages at Salon 94 could seal a deal that night.

Once the shindig was over, crowds were diverted to another VIP party on the rooftop terrace of Navy Pier, but the strong Chicago winds made it almost impossible for the art gentry to preserve their tidy hairdos, so some of us decided to crash Tyson Reeder’s birthday bash at the Paramount Lounge. There I ran into visiting artists like Siebren Versteeg and Matt Nichols, as well as a bunch of rising stars from the local scene, including Chris Bradley, Paul Germanos, Josue Pellot, and one of my favorites, Heidi Norton, who currently has an impressive show of large-scale herbariums at the MCA. The mood was festive given Reeder’s accomplishment of reaching “midcareer” age, and the vibe was all about raging against attempts to resuscitate the fair. “They should spend that money building a biennial!” I heard more than once that night.

Left: Jenna Feldman, codirector of Aspect/Ratio gallery. Right: Charlie Kitchings of Ambach & Rice and Tim Fleming, director of Art Los Angeles Contemporary.

On Friday I ventured to another party, this one in the penthouse of the W Hotel. But neither the spectacular views of the lake nor the free mojitos could get this bunch in the mood. Some young dealers I won’t name were stressed out, uttering that bromide again: “Maybe tomorrow things will pick up. Let’s wait.” Still, according to some, this fair is just like any other—what makes the difference is the city itself. “Chicago has a higher intellectual level than many other cities I’ve visited, and the panel discussions and tours are impressive,” said Omar Lopez-Chahoud, artistic director of the upcoming UNTITLED fair in Miami, who was awed by the city’s architecture.

But Expo Chicago wasn’t the only player in town. There was also the second edition of Gallery Weekend Chicago, a three-day gallery and restaurant tour founded by Monique Meloche. There I ran into Ohad Jehassi, a collector based in New York who told me that he loves “how exclusive GWC feels.” But what about the fair? “I’ll go the fair later if I have the time, but it’s not a priority.” On Saturday, during the late night party at the Wright auction house in the industrial zone of Hubbard, others confirmed Jehassi’s assessment. Liam McAlpine and Sam Gulino, two collectors from Philadelphia, said they were in town to buy works by Geoffrey Todd Smith from Western Exhibitions. Debra and Barry Campbell from Toronto expressed wonderment about discovering local art star Theaster Gates in Documenta, and noted that they would be touring his studio in Chicago’s South Side the next morning. Had they bought anything at the fair? “Not yet,” they said. “Maybe tomorrow.”

Left: Closing party for Expo Chicago at Hideout. Right: MCA Chicago trustee Sandra Guthman with photographer Dawoud Bey and collector Jack Guthman. (Photo: Dan Rest)

By the end of the fair’s final day, 1301PE’s Isha Welsh expressed his utmost appreciation for Karman’s mammoth effort, but also dared ask: “Do you guys really need an art fair?” I relayed that question later that night, before the fair’s hard-core closing party started at the Hideout, to respected hometown dealer John Corbett. The soft-spoken Corbett explained that the fair was successful in projecting Chicago in a different light, as a professional town that wants to be a player again in the international market, and that sales were, at least to him, secondary. But does Welsh still have a point? Ah well. Ask me tomorrow.

Pedro Vélez

Left: John Corbett, codirector of Corbett vs. Dempsey gallery. Right: Artists Chris Bradley and Matt Nichols.