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Lawrence Gipe
Station, 1935, 2010
Courtesy Hespe Gallery,
San Francisco

Art Chicago 2010
April 30 - May 3, 2010

The Merchandise Mart
222 Merchandise Mart Plaza
Chicago IL 60654
tel.: 312.527.3701
hours: Friday, April 30, 11 am - 7 pm
Saturday, May 1, 11 am - 7 pm
Sunday, May 2, 11 am - 6 pm
Monday, May 3, 11 am - 3 pm

Renewal is here! In the leafing of green, the bright vault of the blue sky, the shedding of winter wear for lighter coats, the blooming of trees and tulips gaily displayed, everything raises its spirits toward springtime and a new summer. So it is appropriate that Art Chicago, the city's international art event, is in the spring. As it has for many years, Art Chicago embraces Chicago's own galleries, reinforces their status as standing shoulder to shoulder with their counterparts around the world. Coming in the season it does, it's also a chance to look anew at art and the world around you. In 2010, as in previous years, this grandly-sized, art-full, international event is well worth seeing.

Like so many things, particularly established events such as this thirty-year fair, it seems to be simply part and parcel of the annual range of events. But unlike spring's blooming, events like Art Chicago aren't a given. The galleries are making a commitment -- time, effort, vision, money -- to bring you artists they find worthy. They fill an entire floor of the Merchandise Mart with art, a memorable afternoon of strolling, crossing back and forth among the booths, seeing everything from formalist abstract painting to crisp-edged photography. Photography enthusiasts note, there's a generous photo component to Art Chicago, from 20th-century classics to modern masters.

The tone of each Art Chicago is different from the one before, and in 2010 the fair has a smooth and steady feel that gives a chance for everything to have a voice. There's an orderliness to it that lets the depth of many of the quieter pieces reveal itself. Things compete less, satisfy more. Art Chicago 2010 is the fair where things show their real subtleties.

Last year, we recommended specific galleries that were concentrations of note. This year, quite seriously, every gallery has something in which to discover and delight. Figurative work is stronger this year than ever before and is noticeably prominent throughout the show. Modern masters, and especially living artists, seem particularly well represented. Many of the works on view are from 2010. It's a thoroughly enjoyable mix of long-time favorites with much that is new.

Over 100 participating galleries makes for an enjoyable several hours perusing everything. There's simply so much to see and it's all good. One participant reported walking the entire show twice, and even then was ready to go back for more to catch all pieces and details they'd missed.

Here are some offerings worth seeking out:

Enrique Santana at Ann Nathan Gallery (Chicago). Santana's magnificent large-scale paintings capture Chicago architecture and the light that plays across it. Santana's paintings are just one of the many delights to be found at the Ann Nathan booth, which encompasses everything from the monumental charcoal portraits of Mary Borgman to small precise works of curious vision by George Klauba.

Judy Pfaff at David Weinberg Gallery (Chicago). These organic, ebullient, aggressive constructions literally tumble out toward the viewer with Pfaff's use of three-dimensional materials, melding origami and silk flowers into expressive large-scale pieces taut with energies of growth or decay. See our review of Pfaff's solo show at David Weinberg Gallery, currently running, and several works are also featured here at Art Chicago.

Station, 1935 (2010) by Lawrence Gipe at Hespe Gallery (253). . There's a timeless feel to this work, in which shafts of light capture the effects of luminosity in a large space. Figures, silhouetted as they move to and fro, suggest an eternity of transition.

Thomas Lamb, Snow Covered Field II Study (ink, acylic, charcoal on paper, 2010). Lamb begins with acrylic as an opaque undercoating, building on it with charcoal to create the alternate dark/light massing of the dark, snowy sky and snow-covered field. A single figure stands, witnessing it all. This is a large, contemplative work that melds the energy of the driven snow with the secluded sense of a private world. At Browse & Darby (London).

Classrooms and Hallways by Joseph Lingeman, four photographic prints. Lingeman's work is among that of five graduate students from the University of Illinois chosen to exhibit at Art Chicago 2010. These four photos hold their own in an art fair with international representation. Evocative photographs of empty classrooms and items stowed or standing in school hallways yield a between-term essence that speaks of the decades of students past, and the students yet to come. This is strong, straightforward work.

More photography from fun to formal at Holden Luntz Gallery (Palm Beach). For the fun, see the large black-and-white print of Harry Benson's Beatles Pillow Fight, Paris (1964) as well as a contact sheet of the other photos from the session, all showing the Beatles in a semi-suspended romp of springy jumping, pajamas, laughter, and an impossible flurry of plump feather pillows. For the formal, Frank Horvat's Givenchy Hat B (1958) is an arresting image of ultraconservative fancy dress, contrasting the high fashion of the swathed model with the tuxedo and high-hat aesthetic of her male counterparts.

Several works by outsider artist Michel Nedjar (b. 1947) are featured at Judy Saslow Gallery (Chicago). Nedjar's art brut aesthetic speaks of primitive roots as understood by a modern mind.

Dreaming of an Impossible Fungus (1977) by John Wilde at Tory Folliard Gallery (Milwaukee). A small work by Wilde, delicate, magical, whimsical and curiously compelling.

The large wall-hung constructions of Seung Wook Sim at Carl Hammer Gallery (Chicago) are lacy, organic forms, light as an insect wing and yet, with a gravity of their own anchored by the ultimate blackness of the medium.

Art meets technology, fractals and science in the cone-shaped Morpho Tower (2006) by Sachiko Kodama at ZDX Design Studio. Suspended iron particles in a 'magneto-rheological fluid' are actually there to illustrate the suspension dampers of the Acura ZDX automobile, which is also on display in this sponsor booth for Honda. But this is also a fascinating sculptural exercise as the oily black fluid forms and re-forms itself into spires, cones and spikes, reflective of fractal geometries, falls back into the pool of its source, then rises to re-form again.

Three wooden constructions by Emilio Adan Martinez at ArtRouge Gallery (Miami) bind together organic forms, suggestions of the feminine, hints of the smooth bilateral symmetry of seeds and nuts. Wonderful constructions that have that certain something that captures the eye.

Al Held, Straits of Malaca II (etching, 1989). Bewitches with its geometric constructions and possibly impossible volumes.

A bit of Q&A following Friday's keynote speech by designer Thomas O'Brien, itself a part of the Antiques Fair which also runs this weekend, raised a key question that applies well to Art Chicago and its offerings. From the audience came the inquiry as to how O'Brien helps his clients begin to envision things when working on a new commission. How do they imagine what they can't see? The answer involved dialogue. A shared understanding between the designer and his client. There's no working in a vacuum. It has to be about something.

That's true here as well. The best art is about something. An event like Art Chicago is too. In part, it's about the importance of imagining and the richness it brings to an understanding of one's inner and outer life. Artists reflect the world in ways that reveal its unseen workings, from realism to abstraction, from the simplest clear-cut lines of beauty to wholly unexpected ways of perceiving.

Gallery owners believe in this. That's why they do the footwork and undergo the expense to bring these artists to where you can see them. They know it's something real. They know there's something more out there. They believe in it. You should too. It's serious. It's also huge fun. Go.

Art Chicago 2010 runs through Monday, May 3, 2010 at the Merchandise Mart. The ticket also gives admission to the NEXT Emerging Art Fair and the Merchandise Mart International Antiques Show.

-- Katherine R. Lieber

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