Art Chicago 2003
The Art Industrial Complex


Originally published Summer 2003

You could hear the buzz of a well-honed industrial machine from the second floor balcony of Festival Hall at Navy Pier. Below, the hum of deals, sales, shameless promotion and gossip drove the engine of the fair. The public and collectors came to see a sample of the secondary market and challenging contemporary art. Although there were enough Warhols, Lichtensteins and Stellas to shake a stick at, it was delightful to see these works again and be reminded of their skyrocketing prices. This year the organizers of the fair made the viewing of the booths more engaging by mixing invitational artists' projects and commercial booths. In past years the artists' projects were displayed in separate areas, diminishing the works by placing them on the margins of the fair.

The real gems at this year's fair were from Chicago galleries (especially the emerging galleries), the saucy west-coast American art from San Francisco and the contemplative, pro-minimalist South Korean galleries. After the demise of the New Art Examiner in 2002, it was a pleasant surprise to see the resurgence of art publishing in the Chicago area. The three superb new Chicago-based publications are Ten by Ten, Bridge, and local favourite mouthtomouth.

The Bodybuilder & Sportsman Gallery (Chicago) created one of the strongest booths at the fair. The combination of the romantically cheesy watercolours by Tracy Nakayama, saturated photos of flowers by Ken Fandell and gorgeous bands of hand-sewn sequins by D'nell Larson was truly striking.

Kehinde Wiley's Fool's Gold (Rhona Hoffman Gallery, Chicago) is a brilliant painting of a black man wearing a hoodie placed within highly decorative wallpaper patterns. Wiley eloquently questions the history of portraiture via issues of race and art history.

The moniquemeloche gallery (Chicago) exhibits some of the city's best contemporary artists. Alison Ruttan's porn stills, with vibrant pastel blobs to cover the pink bits, titillate by playfully elevating censorship to an artform. Alex Hortesky's mini-worlds embedded in clear plastic footstools mischievously challenge those who may take interior decoration a little too seriously.

Collages by South Korean artist Sup Ham (Galerie Bhak, Seoul) subtly unite handmade Korean papers in ethereal tones of beige, grey and black. Ham's Day Dreamer2083, 2003, exemplified the Korean galleries' emphasis on soothing minimalism and "soft" abstraction in painting and sculpture.

Oakland, California's Lucky Tackle Gallery promoted perhaps the sauciest and most ribald art from all of its artists, but most noticeably that of Keith Boadwee. Boadwee creates child-like construction paper collages, Chocolate Treat, 2003, in oranges, pinks and browns, of a cute gay scat scene-yes cute, a la South Park. They were laugh-out-loud funny and very pretty.

Finally, New York artist Tony Feher (D'Amelio Terras, New York) really saved the day by tossing dust bunnies into the well-oiled cogs of the art industrial complex of Art Chicago with his assemblages of street detritus, Super Happy Special Group, 2003. Feher challenges both the content and economic value of contemporary art through his series of lovingly fabricated works. Feher's material of lowly candy wrappers, plastic straws and staples also questions the status quo of "the big art engine" with plenty of cachet.

Andrew Harwood is a Toronto-based artist and the General Manager of C magazine.