This weekend was the inaugural run for the newborn MDW Fair, an extension of the ongoing Version Fest, now in its 11th year. This week on ArtSlant, Steve Ruiz has the details on the genesis of the fair itself and its lineage, so I am going to put that information to one side to concentrate on the galleries, collectives and artwork that were all present at MDW.
Named after the airport letters of nearby Midway Airport, the MDW Fair, pronounced “midway,” indicates the divergent paths that an art fair has come to occupy and the shifting notions of a “successful” fair. There is the capitalist mandate of a fair, the way that art fairs began, gathering galleries together to sell artwork to the consumers there who must be there buying it. This is the business logic and reality that will underwrite next week’s Art Chicago fair. On the other hand there are the demands of the art world on an art fair, for broad representation, access without burdensome fees or arbitrary assessments of reputation, and platforms for innovative art practices.
It seemed that MDW combined both of these mandates to a degree, though when doesn’t a gallerist want to sell more work? Walking through the fair I saw red stickers, and on the second day I saw more at some booths. It wasn’t a huge number, but they were there. The pattern of sales seemed to follow a pattern from Art Chicago; the most interesting work sold while safe and decorative choices did not. I have no explanation for why the Warhol-cribbed Suicide Marilyn sold though.
DEFIBRILLATOR performance at MDW. 2011.
But for the most part, selling objects wasn’t the first order of business for participants. A notable aspect of MDW was that it hosted several performance collectives. The most notable of these was DEFIBRILLATOR, which put on multiple performances from multiple artists throughout the fair. On my first pass through on Saturday a man sitting cross-legged was getting his head wrapped in aluminum foil, on my last pass on Sunday some people were playing Jenga.
PEREGRINEPROGRAM at MDW. 2011.
Complementing the ephemeral nature of performance, a noticeable number of booths were giving art away. Edmund Chia’s PEREGRINEPROGRAM had two walls of postcard-sized works submitted by well over fifty artists. He was more than happy to walk you through the pieces and give you as many as you wanted, replacing the gaps with new works.
Philip von Zweck at MDW. 2011.
Philip von Zweck made giving the art away the conceptual basis of his project, presented under the aegis of Chicago Art Review, which is run by Steve Ruiz (who is a contributor to ArtSlant). Though the project was in planning for years, only recently did von Zweck finally get a portable copy machine that allowed him to realize a mobile art copy station. Thirty-one works-on-paper from notable artists contributed to the project with the full knowledge the work would be copied. Participants included John Neff who has an upcoming show at Golden Gallery in May (and whose copy piece wisely plugged the upcoming show on the back), curator and artist Ryan Travis Christian and Carrie Gundersdorf who has been reviewed on ArtSlant quite a bit. The visitor picks out a piece or two off of the wall and von Zweck would copy it, stamp it with the ironic edition number and then send it off with you, safe in a manila envelope.
No Coast at MDW. 2011.
A standout of the entire MDW Fair similarly followed the take-away model. The booth of No Coast presented a simple table constructed out of sawhorses and a board, with four stacks of paper on it. Behind the table was a grid of photos of a woman with a picket sign reading “Art workers will” and “Art workers won’t.” The paper stacks obviously recall the works of Félix González-Torres, an artist whose ghost has been haunting Chicago’s MFA shows for a couple of years now. The stacks themselves invert the intimacy and optimism of González-Torres, by presenting images of our dystopian present: maximum-security prison adorned with razor wire, riot police in front of the nation’s capitol, those assholes from Westboro Baptist protesting a soldier’s funeral, a familiar-looking politician who I just can’t place yet. Each of these images bore the words “IT GETS WORSE” inverting Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better” project to fight gay bullying. This was a necessary moment of doubtamidst an optimistic event and a highly successful act of inversion. It reminded the viewer that art participates within a high-stakes game of freedom, even if “art workers won’t” acknowledge it. Regrettably, No Coast had no label to identify the title of the artwork or its author, but that could be due to its identity as a collective. Still a label would be in order.
Jason Hanasik. Patrick (bed). 2007. Shown in Iceberg Projects at MDW.
Other MDW standouts were from galleries that already have a strong name; many booths were overcrowded or underwhelming. Iceberg Projects presented a very intimate series of photographs by Jason Hanasik of soldiers just recently returned from war, showing unexpected vulnerability and tenderness. 65GRAND showed David Leggett whose work I just can’t get enough of it seems, and Bob Jones’ elegantly wasted sculpture that redeems detritus into art. Similar to Bob Jones’ work, LVL3 exhibited Nicholas Gottlund’s photographs of run-down locations that expertly rode the razor-thin line between art and mere documentation. Western Exhibitions featured Ben Stone’s Blue Meanies sculpture on the first floor and work from Dutes Miller and Stan Shellabarger on the second. Miller and Shellabarger’s performances and the traces of those performances were also a definite highlight. Shown at Antena, works from Miguel Cortez explored racism on Google and the lifespan of ideas. Sebastian Alvarez's video investigated identity and the dominance of the English language.
Sebastian Alvarez. Moving Excerpts. Shown in Antena at MDW.
MDW Fair will be a test of whether an art fair model can successfully and sustainably occupy a position that may not have to be wholly dependent on the capitalistic buy/sell principle of trafficking art. If MDW continues to provide a platform for galleries that are more interested in aesthetics and moving art forward, and for art practices that are ephemeral and performative, it will be a very unique fair and one of real artistic value. These spaces and practices exist mostly outside the market, but paradoxically feed it consistently. Despite some uneven offerings, MDW brought together the far-flung and under-the-radar artistic community in Chicago and that has real value and importance.
-Abraham Ritchie, Senior Editor ArtSlant Chicago