Sales down from last year

Merchandise Mart continues to invest in ancillary events despite downturn

CHICAGO. “It’s an exquisite show, better planned than last year,” said local dealer Ann Nathan, summing up the views of many dealers at this year’s Art Chicago modern and contemporary fair (25-28 April). But despite such plaudits, sales were described by dealer Richard Gray as “OK, probably a bit less than last year”. He blamed the worsening economic environment, which, he added, “you can’t control”.

Attendance at the main fair this year was 50,000, up from 42,000 in 2007, according to its owners Merchandise Mart Properties Inc (MMPI). A sales estimate was much harder to come by: Paul Morris from MMPI said that, in 2007, only 25% of dealers provided that information, “and those who did may well have lowballed us [underestimated]”. He said he thought sales had probably totalled $80m in 2007. Most dealers concurred, suggesting a lower final figure for 2008.

However there were some notable sales. Peter Fernfert of Frankfurt’s Die Galerie said the gallery sold André Masson’s La Chambre, 1926, to a Chicago collector for $540,000 and Max Ernst’s mixed-media sculpture, La Règle du Jeu, 1957, to “a museum” for $650,000.

“I’ve never had a fair like this,” said William Lieberman of Chicago’s Zolla Lieberman Gallery. He sold an 2008 untitled copper horse by Deborah Butterfield for $110,000 to “a Chicago collector” and 20 other pieces at lower prices, including five sculptures by Josh Garber.

Art Chicago is part of “Artropolis”, a mass of art events thrown together under one MMPI roof. As well as the main fair’s 181 established dealers, mostly from the US, there was the Next satellite fair of around 180 emerging dealers; the Inuit Show of Folk and Outsider Art with 20 dealers; the Antiques Fair with 125 dealers; the Artist Project for artists without gallery representation (see below); and a series of lectures. It was simply overwhelming, more than anyone could absorb and, as a consequence, MMPI has decided to move the particularly unwieldy Artist Project to early December from this year.

Victor Cassidy

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