Chicago art events report strong sales in tough economy

CHICAGO — With nearly 49,000 visitors, steady sales and strong programming, Art Chicago and “NEXT” (the invitational exhibition of emerging art) brought together curators, and both experienced and new collectors, from April 30 to May 4.

“Given the uncertain economy and the fact that we had two fewer fairs this year than last, we are incredibly pleased with the 2009 editions of Art Chicago and NEXT,” said Tony Karman, vice president of Art Chicago.

Art Chicago and “NEXT,” plus the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Fair, are part of Artropolis, Chicago’s celebration of everything art.

Art Chicago

Sales throughout the fair were steady with a wide range of transactions. Several six-figure sales were reported, with many others pending.

Carl Hammer Gallery of Chicago sold a work on paper by Martin Ramirez for $100,000 and had several five-figure sales, including works by the young textile artist Orly Cogan, as well as painters Cameron Gray and Leonard Koscianski, and Chicago-based Michael Hernandez de Luna’s edgy counterfeit stamp works.

Nick Woolff of London’s Woolff Gallery covered his costs in the first five minutes of the show’s opening preview, and by fair’s end had sold 17 pieces with prices in the four- and five-figure range. Leading the way was Russell West, whose three-dimensional oil paint flags on wire and board sold rapidly. Zac Freeman’s mixed-media pieces made of bottle tops and other found objects debuted successfully and sold in Chicago.

“I found Art Chicago was hugely international,” remarked Woolff. “Our invoices went to Germany, other nations and across the U.S. It was very much an international art fair. We’re very keen to come back again.”

Russell Bowman Art Advisory of Chicago reported a six-figure sale of a 1971 Jim Nutt painting to a private collector. Bowman had several other five-figure sales, including Ed Paschke and Roger Brown. Jerald Melberg Gallery, of Charlotte, N.C., disclosed a six-figure sale, among others. “It’s the best Art Chicago I’ve ever had,” remarked Melberg. “We sold 18 works of art. Given this economy, this is astonishing. I sold works by about seven different artists, including Wolf Kahn, Robert Motherwell, Brian Rutenberg and Raul Diaz.”

“It was not our best year, to be expected in this economy, but we met some new collectors,” said Josh Darby, director of Browse & Darby in London. “Doing a fair is always a risk, but we were very happy with our booth and its location. We have some very good Chicago-based clients that we’ve built up over the years; it’s very important for us to maintain contact there. Sales tended to be in the lower range, but we did sell one good Lucien Freud, We will definitely be back.” Among Browse & Darby’s sales was Andy Pankhurst’s Puglia, an oil on birch panel, at $25,000.

Martin Weinstein of Minneapolis’ Martin Weinstein Gallery reported having “a very good fair and sold to both existing and new clients, this despite a very, very difficult economic year, both generally and in the art world.” Weinstein sold works by contemporary sculptor Nicolas Africano and photographer Alec Soth, and vintage photography by artists including David Hockney and Robert Mapplethorpe. “The smaller number of dealers allowed the fair to have an open, spacious and more gracious feeling. People enjoyed that, and yet the crowds were still large.”

“It was so refreshing to be somewhere for a few days, extremely well attended, and everyone who was in attendance was there to see and talk about the art, instead of commiserating about the economy or ask about the health of the art business,” said Robert Fishko of New York’s Forum Gallery. “We sold art in the five-figure range, including works by Robert Cottingham, William Beckman, Robert Bauer, Sean Henry and Cybele Young. Perhaps the best thing about the experience is that we connected with collectors we had seen before and also sold works to two brand-new clients, whom we never would have met without Art Chicago.”

Fleisher/Ollman Gallery of Philadelphia did well with young artists including the Dufala Brothers and Anthony Campuzano. There were some sales of James Castle, a mixed-media self-taught artist who will be the subject of a retrospective at the Art Institute of Chicago in October. They also reported a six-figure sale of a Jim Nutt painting. “The interesting thing about the fair is that we sold to all new clients. And they were mostly young. That definitely was the upside of the fair for us,” said John Ollman. “I’m expecting many new follow-up sales; some have come together in the last few days.”

A veteran of Art Chicago, William Siegal Gallery of Santa Fe, N.M., sold major pre-Columbian objects and textiles as well as a significant number of contemporary works, ranging from $20,000 to $250,000.

Douglas Dawson Gallery of Chicago enjoyed vigorous sales. “Between sales at the fair and those at the gallery, we did well. Some of our best established clients came into town for Art Chicago.”

Chicago’s Carrie Secrist Gallery featured the 11-foot by 24-foot photo The Hadal Project, by Angelo Musco, which is showing in this year’s Venice Biennale, capturing the attention of several museums interested in the $115,000 piece. Multiple editions of the piece priced at $16,000 sold, one to the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City, with a $4,000 smaller version selling out all editions. “The best part,” said Secrist, “was that no one asked for a discount.”


Also an Art Chicago participant, Carrie Secrist Gallery of Chicago sold the entire Dietrich Wegner portion of the NEXT booth to a private American collector, including five tattooed baby photographs and one sculpture. The gallery known simply as Seventeen of London sold well, including Graham Dolphin scratched records, Abigail Reynolds collages, and Susan Collis sculpture.

DCKT Contemporary of New York sold 10 works in their solo presentation featuring painter and sculptor Cordy Ryman, also from New York. Prices ranged from $4,000 to $8,500. “We went in there with no expectations,” acknowledged dealer Ken Tyburski, “and we were really surprised. All the top collectors were there, and they were buying. Everybody who brought great work did very well.”

Kavi Gupta Gallery of Chicago nearly sold out their booth, which included works by German artist Ulf Puder, among them Mobilien, an oil on canvas for $8,500. Gupta sold out of works by Chicago’s newest star of the art scene, Leonore Annenberg Fellowship recipient Angel Otero, included five oil-on-canvas pieces ranging from $1,800 to $8,500. Another Chicago-based artist, Claire Sherman, saw the sale of her 102-inch by 84-inch oil on canvas landscape Arches, 2009 at $16,000.

Charest-Weinberg Gallery of Miami featured a solo presentation of Canadian artist Mark Seguin’s charcoal and oil-on-canvas works, and sold three pieces to two local collectors. “I was very excited about how the fair was run. Due to the success we had, I feel it’s worth coming back next year,” noted Eric Charest-Weinberg.

Kimberly Johansson of San Francisco’s Johansson Projects presented as the primary part of her booth a two-artist installation: Yvette Molina’s convex aluminum rounds with oil and graphite, and Katy Stone’s acrylic on Duralar works. “We virtually sold out of Yvette’s work while at NEXT, and Katy’s work sold both at the fair and with follow-up sales,” noted Johansson. “We had all new clients.”  The outer walls of the booth were hung with a number of artists that sold, including paper sculpture by Jen Stark, and works on paper by Jill Gallenstein and Tadashi Moriyama. “We did the best we’ve ever done in any art fair. We sold most of what we brought; that’s a pretty good thing,” Johansson said.

“It’s a tough time out there and everybody knows that,” remarked NEXT Co-curator Christian Viveros-Faune. “The big surprise at NEXT is that, despite the general economic climate, we managed to pull off a successful fair that brought together important collectors, art world luminaries and the city of Chicago in a dynamic way. I chalk that up to our exhibitors and also to the fact we understood early that embracing quality is the way forward in the art world, now more than ever.”

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