Pier Pressure: Dollars vs. Dealers at Expo 84′

Popcorn, Dubuffet and an epidemic of auction type fever dominated the 1984 Chicago International Art Exposition (CIAE) at Navy Pier.

From a puny 70 exhibitors in 1980 (Expo I), this year’s extravaganza housed 157 dealers generating 1.3 million dollars in booth rentals, and was viewed over five days by 32.000 gawkers who paid eight dollars a head. Not only has the fair graduated from red to black ink. its reputation as a world class expo has unleashed a typhoon of foreign dealers. hankering on making a killing in the Midwest. Visiting museum directors—from San Francisco to Boston—chaperoning well-heeled enthusiasts through the corridored miles of oil and steel have become as common as pigeons cooing overhead on Navy Pier’s steel rafters.

How the fair fared this year depends on who you talk to. John Wilson. founder of the CIAE (and described in the Wall Street Journal as “part-time potter and full time print dealer”) said. “I could not have dreamed it could be any better.” Following her third year at the pier. Victoria Oscarsson of Oscarsson Hood Gallery. New York. commented, “For a younger dealer like myself I use the fair to gain a wider audience for the work I show. It reinforces the gallery’s image. One is there to promote the art. 1 didn’t expect to, but this year I made back all of my expenses. It has always generated interest six months after the fact. Collectors come in and see me in New York. I’m going back next year and will take a bigger booth.”


THOMAS SCHINDLER, “Die Ringer.” – Photo courtesy of Raab Gallery, Berlin

The globe-trotting Spanish artist. Zush (included in the current International Survey of Painting and Sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art) said, “The galleries gothrough thewhole season and bringthe leftovers to Chicago. It’s a kind of clearing house—what wasn’t sold to the big collectors in New York gets sold to collectors from Minnesota.” Zush was represented at CIAE by the Madrid dealer, Fernando Vijande, who sold one of Zush’s calligraphic pieces to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) in Chicago.

Ingrid Raab of Raab Gallon, Berlin, came to Chicago on the strength of recommendations of a Chicago collector couple who visited her gallery last year with Jan van der Marck, the MCA’s first director. “It’s very exciting for a European to come to Chicago for the first time,” observed Raab. “I’m not a dealer but a “gaiterist.” I didn’t expect to sell. I did it for the sake of the artists. You should expect to bring it [the work] all back. There’s a very high spirit of collecting here. The collectors work very hard and are open-minded in their choices. There is a metaphysical atmosphere here,” continued the enthralled gallerist, “The sunshine, the pier, the water—it’s beautiful and you feel calm.” Dealer Raab exhibited a, neighing stable of young Germans, some unknown to New York eyes, like Thomas Schindler. He exhibited for the first time in New York— after this year’s Expo—at the Deborah Sharpe Gallery in the East Village.

It was not uncommon for European dealers to spend $60,000 on the fair, almost double the cost of American galleries setting up similar installations along one of the lanky spines of Navy Pier or tucked away in one of the more obscure niches that couple in the freight-train scheme of the CIAE. Because of the tremendous demand from dealers for more booths (Waddington Graphics of London wanted 18!) and the organizer’s goal of attracting more European dealers, this year the Pier had a new wing of booths that enlarged the
exhibition space by 40 per cent.

John Wilson Photo courtesy of Chicago International Art Exposition,

John Wilson Photo courtesy of Chicago International Art

The new “north hall” wing because the problem child of CIAE V. Many dealers—including some of Europe’s best—bemoaned the second-class position of north hall, running parallel to—with a separate entrance—the more familiar and tramped upon “south hall.” Stuck prominently in the middle of one aisle in the new wing was a huge popcorn kiosk, queued with munching patrons guzzling containers of Budweiser on tap. The oddball placement of the popcorn stand caused episodes of apoplexy among Europe’s elite. (You can tell who’s who because they favor creamy yellow pullovers, unlike the kind Jimmy Carter or Dan Rather wear.) The goofy incursion of the stand reflects some rawnerved marketing on the part of Lakeside, the organization behind CIAE. It contributed to a circus-like atmosphere for fair-goers. It is unknown whether a stand selling caviar on Ritz crackers would have improved the following responses.

Rudolph Zwirner of Koln, West Germany (sharing a mega-booth with Gallery Sprovieri of Rome) epitomizes the suave, successful European dealer and has a whispered reputation for procuring scads of great art for the German chocolate baron, Peter Ludwig’s Koln museum. Zwirner lost his cool at the fair and in a fury of clipped sentences told this reporter, “Look, there is five million dollars worth of art in this booth” [including
a masterpiece Magritte and a sublime Stankiewicz]. I was promised a booth next to Karsten Greve or Galerie Gmurzynska [both of Koln] . They forgot everything. Popcorn on the floor all day. All they’re interested in
is money. They wanted my money before I got the invitation. It’s ridiculous. The insurance, the shipping, properly installing it, costs thousands. So they put me next to the pop. I’m furious. Can you imagine going to the Met and pop, pop all over the floor? If they [lakeside] could, they’d have put a popcorn stand right here
[gesturing to the center of his space] if they could get another $5,000. I’m not used to being treated this way, like shit.”

Zwirner threatened a walkout over the popcorn invasion but compromised with boycotting his scheduled appearance on the An in America-sponsored seminar at the pier, “A press interview with a German dealer,” moderated by Sun-Timesian, Franz Schulze. Zwirner’s last minute stand-in, Folker Skulima of Berlin, carried the ball smoothly but in no way represents the first wave of dealers (like Zwirner) who launched the German neoexpress, the gist of the panel. Skulima did manage one jawbreaker, “Italy was totally into minimalism in the 1970’s. When I met Sandro Chia in Rome in 1970, he did lines like everyone else.”

One savvy American dealer—an old hand in New York and Chicago—chuckled when he heard about the Zwirner boycott. “There’s a Yiddish word for that, “er halt zichgrois” which means swelled head. We all suffer from it in some degree.” Zwirner’s fury though, was not isolated. Many Europeans had difficulty adjusting to the American organizations, especially the species known as Teamsters. They threw the Europeans for a loop, forklifting art crates at a snail’s pace.

Karsten Greve (last year His Cy Twonbley exhibit thrilled this writer) shook his finger at the invisible aura of the Lakeside Group. “They promised me the same location as last year (the south hall) They lied In me They are not serious. It’s the short, quick money they’re after. There are lots of little problems. Compared to Basel, Chicago is like an undeveloped country, like cowboy times. We had problems getting our crates in. You have the best computers but you can’t handle the little things. Last year there were more museum people, more collectors from California, the Midwest and Florida. But sandwiched between the big sales in New York is crazy. It just wasn’t as exciting this year.”

Sotheby’s premier New York sale of modern masters conflicted with the tail end of CIAE V. Tuesday evening’s (May 15) standing room only crowd at Sotheby’s watched $39.3 million of art gavelled off, a record for a single session fine art sale (when you tote up the six days of New York auctions, $53.1 million of nineteenth and twentieth-century art was sold). The importance of the sale threw a weekend wrench in the gears of the Pier, with many collectors and visiting dealers running off to New York for crucial previews of the
work. Moira Kelly, holding the fort at Nicola Jacobs’ booth (an avant-garde London Gallery that quickly sold out a batch of the young expressionist Louise Blair’s work) raced through a litany of organizational errors, “Everybody last week was exhausted from the contemporary sales in New York” ($10.6 million changed hands, from a $24,000 Salle to a $440.000 Diebenkorn). “The main people only had one big day [Friday] here, and we were banking on Monday and Tuesday for the serious buying. Clearly, there’s nothing
left to do.”

CIAE’s John Wilson says he’s locked into the May 10-15 time slot since the goliath restaurant convention meets the following week, monopolizing all the hotel rooms in town. That hurt Wilson’s out-of-town attendance last year when the two trade fairs collided. Scheduling it later in the month, ruminated Wilson, would interfere with the timing of the Bawl art fair and worse, run into Memorial Day weekend. Earlier than that,
Wilson countered, “The weather would kill us. We coordinated with the auction houses in New York. The dates do not have to conflict. CIAE will definitely be at the pier in ’85.”

Richard L. Feigen, a private New York dealer and major mover-shaker of million-dollar masterpieces, took a small booth in the blue chip rotunda area this year, a modest endeavor to complement his Michigan Avenue salon that reopened in Chicago this past September after a period of 13 years. “We didn’t bring any million dollar pieces,” Feigen said. “I bought much more art than I sold. If I had known so many others dealers were bringing Dubuffets I would have left mine at home. The Dubuffet market has lagged and hasn’t moved much in the last 15 years. We bought four Dubuffets from another dealer. I bought quite a lot out there—a Max Ernst, a Max Beckmann. I have the feeling a lot of people couldn’t find us at the fair. I had trouble finding it myself. They’d be better off in McCormick Place [Chicago’s behemoth convention hall on the South Side]. It’s a strange kind of layout. I’d want to go back and chat wills a dealer and couldn’t find him again. Part of the map was transposed. But in a funny way that fair cost me a fortune. I had to leave in the middle of it for the New York auctions and my key sidekick, Frances Beatty, stayed behind. So I wound up buying a work at auction for much more and selling it for much less. It was a fluke, an accident, but once I knew about it, it was too late.”

Jeffrey Deitch, assistant vice-president in Citibank’s art advisory department (a • high altitude post, managing major art portfolios for the mega-rich), said it in a nutshell, “The Europeans have acknowledged the strength of the art market in America. The hot market is here so the dealers want to be here. There were some superb works of art at the fair but one would have thought, considering the number of important dealers and square footage, there would be more of it. It proves the buoyancy of the market and demonstrates how
tough it is to get great material. I don’t think American collectors are ready yet to pay $330,000 for a Liubov Popova [as seen at Galerie Gmurzynska] masterpiece. Still, for a New York chauvinist like myself, a day at the fair is nothing compared to what you can see in a day in the New York galleries. One has to put that into perspective. The major art auctions in New York are much more significant than the Chicago Art Exposition.”

For all the hypothetical chatter that Chicago has eclipsed Bawl (in its fifteenth year), or if the Pier can get any bigger or better, one can say with certainty that the art market is in fine fettle despite rising interest rates (that in the words of dealer Max Hutchinson, “affects the willingness of people to spend luxury money”). If John Wilson can hold his ship of art together and patch some leaks—or even recover the three Duchamp readymades that were stolen on the last day from Yves Arman’s booth—CIAE VI could lullaby the critics.

The Expo has yet to attract the likes of Mary Boone, Metro Pictures, Sperone Westwater or The Willard Gallery of New York; Michael Werner or Paul Maenz of Kohn, Bruno Bischofberger of Zurich; Anthony d’Offay of London; or Daniel Templon of Paris—the reigning super-powers of this hour’s contemporary art. Charles Cowles and Marianne Goodman Galleries did not return to the Pier this year. We will have to wait for the December deadline for booth reservations to gauge the 1985 dropout rate. (It is easy to spot the toothless veterans from earlier fairs. They wear the biggest smiles.) At this juncture, the participants of CIAE V are emerging from post-art marathon exhaustion. Tony (Godfather of gallery graffiti) Shafrazi gets the last word, “I get a thrill seeing all those people pass through my stand.”

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