Whitehot Magazine

May 2008, Art Chicago and NEXT :: Invitational Exhibition of Emerging Art

 Nicholas Robinson with Happy Head No. 9, by Damien Hirst, Pop-corn stand at Next Fair, Merchandise Mart Hallway.
 all photos in this article by: Pablo Gaviria

Art Chicago and NEXT Fair

It seems an ironic coincidence that below the giant Chicago art fairs teeming with collectors, gallerists and hopeful, young artists, is a shopping mall of the same size and nearly the same intensity. Furthermore, to get to the fairs one must traverse this shopping mall at least as far as the elevators. On the event's opening evening, a DJ stage and champagne stands were set up in the halls of the first floor of the building outside of Starbucks, sandwich shops, and home furnishing stores displaying kitchen designs by Porsche. Upstairs was not much different; beer and whiskey bars, pop-corn stands and art dealers replacing the more middle-class establishments in the mall below. Everyone knows how much the art world is reminiscent of a capitalist economy, so there is no need to make those sort of claims. Rather, what interested me was that the layout of the art fairs were exactly the same as the layout of the mall. Structured in a makeshift grid system, the only navigational queues were maps with corresponding gallery numbers and the occasional information desk. Upon entering the space it became very hard to determine the direction to go. Even the myriad of elevators to choose from became a direct translation of the shopping mall's own layout. Already accustomed to the shopping mall's own aesthetic cannon, more often than not I found myself getting off of the elevator and gravitating to the works that seemed to advertise themselves. This usually turned out to be large works, shiny works, bright colored works, or, on occasion, famous works. Works such as Jonathan Schipper's piece, The Slow Inevitable Death of American Mussle, at Pierogi, H. C. Berg's work at Gallerie Forsblom, Papperrad, at the Kim Light Gallery, or Damien Hirst's, Happy Head No. 9, at the Nicholas Robinson Gallery. My attraction to all of these works seemed to be due to placement. Product placement one could say. The question in my mind was then, how could any artwork maintain its own in a place where the shopping mall aesthetic was the metaphorical, as well as the actual foundation of the institution?

 The Mall 

 Installation view, Jonathan Schipper,
 The Slow Inevitable Death of American Mussle,
 at Pierogi, Papperrad, at Kim Light Gallery, H. C. Berg, at Gallerie Forsblom.

 Monique Meloche Gallery Booth

The Booths (Art Chicago and NEXT Fair)

After a quick survey, I decided that I may as well embrace the situation. So I started looking out for stores instead of individual works. I mean that I was in the market to find an interesting booth. After all, the store is the one that does all of the advertising. I happened upon very few interesting booths, actually. This surprised me because of the recent trend of independent curators and the moving away from the “white cube” style displays (I must say I have great hope for this and do not wish to put it down in any way). Most booths seemed to be decorated with stereotypical black chairs, silver tables and the obligatory sliver, Apple laptop. After a while, I was able to find a few interesting booths. The first that I happened across was for the Chicago based, Monique Meloche Gallery. The booth was small, but the display was as immersive as possible for the space given. Small, chromed crates with camouflage padding on top, designed by Kendell Carter replaced the tables and chairs. These were along side his hanging lamps made from Kangol bucket hats and a coat rack sporting a Rocawear hoodie. The entire atmosphere had a glam meets hip-hop meets fine art feel to it, which seemed appropriate for the commercial surroundings.

The second booth worth mentioning that I happened across was that of the Alan Koppel Gallery. For the most part it was very tame and normal, conforming to all of the stereotypes of the other booths in the fair. One side however had a small gem. He had placed a Jeff Koons' terrier, flower pot (1998) on top of an Yves Klein, YKB, table (1961). Behind it hung a painting by Peter Halley (2007) that was bright enough to rival the Klein table. This sort of curatorial remix is something that I would expect from a large art fair, but did not see enough of in Chicago.

I found the last interesting booth at Next Fair. It was the Berlin based Alexander Duve Gallery. The display was very toned down in relation to the booths by Monique Meloche and the Alan Koppel. Alexander seemed to have gone for a more subtle method, which augmented the art work he had on display. He had wrapped his entire table and sitting area in black electrical tape, the edges peeling and ratty. This created a wonderful opposition to the incredibly clean and well-crafted watercolor works of Evan Gruis that hung behind him. Despite the abundance of Apple laptops, somehow the one at the Duve booth felt alright. Being black, it produced some sort of strange rhyme with the small, twin screens of Sara Oppenheimer's work displaying a catalog of different ways to fold newspapers.

Julian Opie (Art Chicago)

Installation view, Julian Opie, Left to right: Sara Dancing Topless, and Shahnoza Dancing Naked

After my somewhat limited success in the quest for interesting booths, I decided that maybe it was time to find some individual artworks that could shed some light on the situation. Talking to people and wondering around from booth to booth in an arbitrary fashion, I happened across two Julian Opie pieces on display outside of the London based Alan Cristea Gallery. This was no surprise to me really, because from what I had seen, Opie seemed to have more works in the building than any other artist (with the possible exception of Botero, or Warhol). Sara Dancing Topless, and Shahnoza Dancing Naked, both Lenticular prints on acrylic, both in thin aluminum frames and both from 2007. What was strange is that I had passed by these several times before realizing their importance. The presentation was incredibly bare. The frames were no more than a few centimeters in depth and they were presented in the hallway outside of the gallery. This being the first time I had seen any lenticular prints by Opie, I was fascinated by the movement of the images and how it coincided with my own. I had not noticed them because they were from a different cannon than the works that the mall had accustomed me for. This again is strange because the subjects of each piece is a nude woman dancing. They should have grabbed my attention, because as we all know: “sex sells.” These works by Julian Opie were somehow able to comment the situation that they had been put in, but at the same time remain departed from it. Instead of advertising though any commercially derived method, the works advertised themselves by means of form and subject. Dancing girls, activated by the the viewer's gaze in motion. They used their own built-in language to advertise their existence. They were to a certain extent self-advertising and yet there was no giant crowd surrounding them. They did not press the viewer to form a crowd because once the viewer became stationary the different frames of the animation were spread out in a single instant. The viewer was forced to keep walking in order to experience the animation's entirety. There was no disruption of motion or blatant subversion of desires within the viewer. They only presented an experience in passing for the viewer to take away. The artworks became a product of the viewers attention, because of this they did not rely directly on their situation but could still make use of it.

Magdalena Fernandez (NEXT Fair)

 Ara araraura, by Magdalena Fernandez, Installation view,
 courtesy of Douz and Mille Gallery, Washington D.C.

The work, Ara araraura, by Magdalena Fernandez, part of a series of “Mobile Paintings”, displayed as a medium sized projection in a small room at the Douz and Mille booth, caught my attention by the audio alone. The squawking of a Blue-and-gold Macaw could be heard outside of the booth from several meters away. My curiosity piqued, along with my recent thoughts about the possibility for a self-advertising artwork, I decided to take a look. What I was confronted by seemed, at first glance, to be a remake of a Piet Mondrian but, as soon as the animation, and audio began, Mondrian left my mind. The style of movement was coherent, and the animation had fluid characteristics like the ones I have come to appreciate more in the last few years. It is hard to find an animation in the sphere of the art world that does not have the animated-gif-disco-strobe aesthetics. When the squawking of the Macaw hit its peak, the image would twist organically as if it were the insides of the bird contracting in an effort to make the sound. The sharpness of the lines at this peak seemed to suggest the sharpness of a bird's beak in the real world. The result was not so far off from a visualization in audio software, yet, the image did not feel as if it were a mere result. Instead, it seemed as if it were a stand-alone being that could make choices of its own, like a non-player character in a video game. An entity of decoration controlled by a computer. If the Macaw is a natural decoration in the jungles of South America, Fernandez, through export, makes an accurate translation allowing for the same effect to take place at an art fair thousands of miles away.

In both works, by Julian Opie, and Magdalena Fernandez, it seems that they have gone into the world to become their own beings, the only remaining tie to the artist is their prior formal repertoire. These works maintain continuity in regards to their respective mediums, as well as to the space in which they are presented. The random injection of the artwork into a mall-like environment which does not regard a work's form or content as an important issue allows us to see that they maintain a certain semi-independence from the situation that they exist in. They may adapt and translate themselves into a variety of different spaces because they mean to exist on their own, and through their own inherent qualities. The works advertise themselves as if they were another person walking by in the fair. They do not demand confrontation, but subtly solicit their presence by conforming to expectations of co-habitation in a largely incoherent environment.

Nate Hitchcock

Nate Hitchcock was born in Tempe, Arizona, in 1985. He received his BFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in 2008. He lives and works in Chicago. His current studies involve the intersection of contemporary art and radical ludology.

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