polis: a collective blog about cities worldwide

Art at the Mart

by Vivien Park

This coming Friday will mark the opening of the biggest art fair in the Midwest. As part of Artropolis, Art Chicago and NEXT will take up the 12th and 7th floor respectively at the historic Merchandise Mart in Chicago. Known for its high end showrooms targeted towards interior designers and decorators, Merchandise Mart has a well-established identity as an epicenter for high design and luxury goods. This year, hundreds of galleries, art dealers, project spaces will attempt an impressive showcase of their best work. It is the place to be if you're interested in witnessing the tension between art and commerce.

While viewing art at an art fair may not be ideal in terms of a full cultural experience, it is nonetheless a concentrated effort in introducing (and re-introducing) the public to artists and galleries, especially the lesser known ones. A handful of non-profit spaces, such as amFAR (the foundation for AIDS research) and Project Onward, are also on view. Their presence no doubt will strike some balance in this unabashedly commercially driven environment.

Elsewhere, on the 15th floor, two projects independent from the fair are organized by artist support and advocacy group, Chicago Artists' Coalition (CAC). Since last month, CAC has taken over two empty showrooms inside the Merchandise Mart for its Work on Paper Residency Space and Student Curator Gallery projects. Work on Paper Residency has selected 6 artists: Inara Cedrins, Lisa Goesling, Jaime Lynn Henderson, Alexandra Lee (ATYL), Mark Molesk, and Zachary Mory, to participate in a 6-month long residency program. All 6 artists have set up studios inside a former showroom, providing access to a community of art-buyers outside of the gallery system.

Student Curator Gallery is a rotating exhibition inside a former poster shop. The first 6-week installment, Again and Again, will open at the same time as Art Chicago and NEXT. The show's curator and current SAIC graduate student, Fang-Tze Hsu, has chosen 4 artists (all current MFA candidates or alumni), Jiwon Yoon, Angela Bryant, HUR, and Robin Dluzen, to show work that explore the ideas of patterns and repetition. The unique layout of this empty store will provide challenges and inspirations for work that ranges from paintings to installation. The main theme of the show is perhaps an unintentional acknowledgement of a few essential qualities in art-making: a sustained practice, an ongoing balance between personal and commercial goals, and persistence, to a point where it becomes a personal ritual.

Credits: Image of Merchandise Mart from Art Chicago: Projection For Chicago, 2008/Merchandise Mart © 2008 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Text (pictured): "The Joy of Writing" from View with a Grain of Sand, copyright © 1993 by Wisława Szymborska Photo: John Faier.