ARTnewsletter Archive

Art Chicago Roars Back After Radical Facelift

Art Chicago staged an impressive comeback after the near-disaster of its 2006 edition, nearly doubling attendance and pleasing exhibitors, many of whom reported better-than-expected sales.

CHICAGO—Art Chicago staged an impressive comeback after the near-disaster of its 2006 edition, nearly doubling attendance and pleasing exhibitors, many of whom reported better-than-expected sales.

In its first year under the management of its new owner, Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Properties Inc. (MMPI), Art Chicago counted an official attendance of 41,500. Four other concurrent fairs ran under the umbrella title of Artropolis, from April 26-30, as well. The satellite fairs, all housed in the Mart complex on the Chicago River, included the Bridge Art Fair (featuring emerging galleries), the Intuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art, the Artist Project (a juried show of unsigned artists) and the International Antiques Fair.

Last year the Mart bought Art Chicago just days after it was almost canceled owing to financial and labor problems. At that time, Mart president Chris Kennedy had vowed to upgrade the exhibitor lineup, and the 2007 edition showed that he succeeded.

After an aggressive marketing and lobbying campaign by the Mart, several top gallerists who had abandoned the fair in recent years—including Montreal’s Robert Landau, New York’s Jack Shainman and Chicago’s Rhona Hoffman—all returned. (Recently the Mart purchased New York’s Armory Show and Basel’s Voltashow; see box below.)

Landau, who declines to name his prices but is known to have offered several modern paintings and drawings by Pablo Picasso, Henri Matisse, Amedeo Modigliani and others for up to eight figures, reported that he had sold 30 pieces to

collectors from the United States.

Says Paul Gray, director of the Richard Gray Gallery, Chicago: “We were pretty delighted by the huge shift in momentum for Art Chicago.” Gray reports selling contemporary works to both new and long-standing buyers from Los Angeles, Milwaukee, New York, Toronto and Madrid. Prices ranged from $10,000/300,000, he says, for pieces by Magdalena Abakanowicz, Jennifer Bartlett, Jim Dine, Sam Francis, David Klamen and Jaume Plensa, among others.

Gray recalls that he “had mixed feelings about anyone’s reviving the fair last year.” But when Kennedy and his team approached Gray in late February, he was impressed not only with the list of exhibitors but also with the Mart’s overall plan, which, he says, “showed broad expertise, deep pockets and even some considerable vision—all things that were missing from Art Chicago for a long time.”

Jonathan Novak, of Jonathan Novak Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, says he sold works by Dine, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler and Joseph Cornell. “I am working on quite a few deals as a result of the fair,” he told ARTnewsletter.

Seattle dealer Greg Kucera says he sold a small Robert Motherwell canvas for $50,000, a Jane Hammond piece All Souls (Kirov) for $20,000 and several works by northwest regional artists, the most expensive of which was a bronze sculpture by Mark Calderon for $12,000.

Robert Fishko, director of the Forum Gallery, New York, and chairman of Art Chicago’s gallery selection committee, reports finding buyers for seven works ranging in price from $5,600/ 255,000. Fishko’s sales included such works as Steven Assael’s Costume Party #1, Brian Rutenberg’s Palmetto Smooth and Raphael Soyer’s Self-Portrait with Glasses, 1942.

Roy Boyd, of the Roy Boyd Gallery, Chicago, says that during the fair he sold 16 pieces at his booth, including works by Markus Linnenbrink and Brigitte Riesebrodt, along with 13 pieces at his nearby gallery. Prices for artists at his booth ranged from $5,000 to $20,000, the asking price for Chicago painter Sarah Krepp’s diptych White Noise: Counterpoint, 2006.

Besides wooing galleries, the Mart put considerable effort into enticing top collectors—several of them once familiar faces at Art Chicago who had disappeared in recent years.

The Mart hired former Democratic party fundraiser David Rosen to head the VIP program, which offered such perks as free car service, tickets to theater and the Joffrey Ballet, and passes to the nearby East Bank Club.