I’m guessing Rick Owen, owner of the Geolofts building at 3636 South Iron Street, gave the not-for-profits threewalls, Roots & Culture and Public Media Institute a very attractive deal for the initial offering of their MDW Fair, self described as “a gathering of independent art initiatives, spaces, galleries and artist groups from the Chicago metropolitan area.” Certainly hosting it there brought people to that pocket of the city who, like me, didn’t even know it was there.
Geolofts is located in an industrial plot between Bridgeport and McKinley Park that [according to Rick Owen] was designated the city’s Central Manufacturing District around 1915, when Geolofts was built [as the Victor Gasket company]. Today a lot of the building stock in the area has been demolished, and most of the multi-level buildings left are obsolete for manufacturing purposes. Because it’s zoned commercial only, Owen is trying to transform it into artist studios.
If you’re a regular at Art Basel Miami, the New York Armory Show &c, you might not have been impressed with what you saw at MDW, but I encountered enough interesting art to have made it an excellent place to spend Easter Sunday.
I liked the fresh, interactive, cerebral nature of so much of the work. I thoroughly enjoyed a project by Philip von Zweck [whose work I don’t know but was edified to discover from his bio that from 2005-2008 he ran “the best art gallery in the world, VONZWECK, in his living room.”] He asked several dozen artists to create a piece of work that could be photocopied on a standard sheet. The collector chooses the piece s/he wants from those displayed,
and gets a photocopy of it. Regrettably, the one I liked most, by Rebecca Rothfus,
didn’t copy well at all — the copy process pretty much completely dilutes the precision of the line drawing and the delicacy of its colors.
Which may, in fact, be part of the point of the whole exercise.
I saw a couple of really compelling installations. Milwaukee’s Green Gallery presented a piece that was a collaboration between Portland-based artist Brenna Murphy and the American Fantasy Classics fabrication studio which transformed the animated configurations Murphy posts on her website from two dimensions into three.
[Intriguingly, you can actually buy portions of the room-sized installation for $400 per square foot.]
The inventive graphics designer Jason Pickleman is venturing ever further into the world of fine art. He mounted an installation based on his “Suicide Marilyn,” series of ink-jet prints in the style of Andy Warhol’s silkscreened portraits, although his subject is not a Warhol-esque celebrity; it’s a female suicide bomber.
Pickleman has published hundreds of these variations in book form, but they’re spectacularly arresting hung together, as they were at MDW, and reflect the depth of the whole idea.
Pickleman is making a comment about appropriation — he, like many artists, have appropriated Warhol’s technique, but he’s doing a lot more. It’s not simply that he’s chosen as his image the newspaper photo of a terrorist rather than a celebrity. He’s also referencing the Warhol universe that elevates fame — at any cost — above everything else. But the endless color combinations of the images speak more than anything to Pickleman’s investigation of the power and endless scope of visual communication.
A few individual pieces totally also did it for me. “Bachelor,” an acrylic/gouache on panel by Chicago artist Ann Toebbe, was one of my favorites.
I like the way she paints — the way she flattens out interior spaces to a single dimension, and also the way she thinks: this is really a portrait of a person as represented by a vignette in his apartment. Clearly somebody to watch: she will have a 12x12 at the MCA in the fall.
I also really liked this paper and cardboard bird piece exhibited at the Chicago Urban Art Society’s booth,
but because there were no wall labels or a price list, and no one was manning the booth when I came by, I have no idea who did it.
Paul Klein’s latest Art Letter says that while it’s “still likable,” this week’s Art Chicago “isn’t what it once was.” It’s unclear whether he’s talking about what Art Expo used to be like in the glory days on Navy Pier in the 1980s, or just what the show, re-invented at the Mart, was even a few years ago. Whichever way you interpret it, he’s right. MDW, however, has no such historical baggage. Chicagoans can complain all they want about the second-tier nature of the art scene here, but MDW is a strong indicator that there is still a lot going on.