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Art Chicago 2006 - 14th Annual International Fine Art Exposition - By Michael MacInnis

Christo and Jean-Claude, the husband and wife environmental art duo whose gigantic outdoor sculptures have inspired millions around the world to appreciate the ephemeral nature of public art, would surely have been impressed with Thomas Blackman's unplanned foray into their genre this past weekend in Chicago. Visitors to this year's Art Chicago in the Park 2006, which Mr. Blackman produced, arrived at the site of a Christo-esque structure, a 125, 000 square-foot tent, actually two enormous tent structures, that stood empty. The entire art fair, which in better days drew some 30,000 art patrons and boasted sales of artwork upwards of 60 million dollars, was relocated on a moment's notice to the cityıs venerable Chicago Merchandise Mart. Despite the 11th hour upheaval, the fair opened as scheduled, even keeping to its opening night preview on Thursday, April 27. Except for the slightly lower ceilings of the indoor facility, visitors familiar with last year's Art Chicago in the Park would probably see little difference in terms of the artwork presented and the roster of dealers in attendance. Reasons for abandoning the original site are many though now mute; the bottom line is there was no bottom line.

Thomas Blackman

The new venue and new ownership may well prove to be the right the medicine, and just in time. Mr. Blackman sold the fair, including the "Art Chicago" namesake to Chicago's Merchandise Mart Properties Inc., which also owns the highly regarded Chicago Antiques Fair.

For all of its recent business woes and political turmoil, the generally decent quality of this fair still attracts the faithful. From New York: Nancy Hoffman; Forum Gallery; James Graham & Sons; Susan Teller; Cynthia Broan Gallery; Morgan Lehman; J. Caciola Gallery; June Kelly, and from London: Flowers; Adam Gallery; Browse & Darby, as well as Linda Durhan; Rudolf Projects Praxis International; the Korean Pavilion and prominent Chicago dealers including Stephen Daiter, whose gallery was accepted for the Art Basel fair this year, and Carl Hammer, who showed Timothy Greenfield-Sanders work at the fair. If these images seem familiar to New Yorkers, it is probably because Mary Boone showed work from the same series at her Chelsea gallery.
There is of course a certain irony that Art Chicago should find itself sharing the same roof with the Chicago Antiques Fair, given last year's short-lived "Contemporary & Classic Art Fair" a rival that was supposed to put Art Chicago out of business.

The new owners have already made it clear that they regard the pairing of the two fairs, which will share the same dates under the same roof, a classic win-win situation; and they are probably right. Let's hope, in any case, that next year the discussion will focus more on the art. Maybe even Christo and Jean-Claude will get the idea to famously "wrap" the historic Merchandise Mart Building. That would certainly put Art Chicago back on the art world map.

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