Saturday, April 29, 2006

Art Chicago Has Changed Hands

The Chicago Tribune reported today that the Merchandise Mart in Chicago has purchased future rights to the Art Chicago exposition. This news follows the last-minute change of venue for this year's fair after preparations of the original venue fell through just days before the opening.

Thomas Blackman, the show’s producer for the past 14 years, may be an adviser for future shows but otherwise appears to be out of the picture. Terms of the sale agreement preclude him from mounting a rival show in Chicago. He has not decided whether to produce future shows in other cities.

The change of ownership does not assure a good future for the fair. The Tribune’s interviews with exhibitors suggested that to continue a substantial fair in Chicago would require “completely different plans.” The paper notes that Art Chicago has declined over a decade from a truly international fair to one of local interest. The current installment “provides work of accomplishment that is nonetheless not likely to attract many of the contemporary art cognoscenti worldwide.”

Postscript: The relevance of this news for the Bay Area is that Thomas Blackman was the producer of the San Francisco International Art Exposition that had a promising start in (as I recall) 1999 but declined in quality thereafter. The 2006 edition of that event was ignominiously canceled about three weeks prior to it mid-January opening date. Although San Francisco is well-suited for hosting a large contemporary art fair, I'm not aware of anyone making plans for such an event, or of any interest among civic leaders in helping to engineer one. In an urban area with 6.7 million inhabitants, we are left with Photo SF and the San Francisco Fine Print Fair.

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