Avast! It’s Artboat!

The going rate for a 10-by-12-foot booth at Art Chicago is $4,500. That’s a big bite for a young gallery, and as a result not many are represented at the annual expo, lust as they may for the buyers who attend it. For a while now the scruffy upstarts have staged their own events the same weekend as the big show, competing with each other to lure a few of the deep pockets from Navy Pier into other parts of the city to look at their wares. David Roman, who runs the three-year-old gallery Standard out of his apartment, says it wasn’t an optimal situation: “There were too many events; people couldn’t get to them all.” About 18 months ago Roman and Michael Workman, who publishes Bridge magazine from his own art space-cum-apartment, were brooding about the situation when inspiration struck. What’s the best way to ride the coattails of an event on a pier? On the water, stupid. Artboat was born.

They couldn’t get it together in time for last year’s expo, but this year Workman and Roman have rented the Anita Dee II for a three-hour cruise Saturday, May 10, smack in the middle of Art Chicago weekend. The plan is to embark from Navy Pier at 2 PM, with representatives and art from 30 unconventional galleries, a bounty of artists, and about 300 guests; the ship carries a maximum of 450 people. Galleries will be charged $150 each to participate and allowed two staff members and three pieces of work aboard. They’ll be asked to submit proposals–preferably for site-specific installations–which a committee will review. Those showing traditional two-dimensional work (you know, paintings and drawings) will face a special challenge, since the boat doesn’t have much in the way of walls. Except for a couple of hallways, “the walls they do have are all windows,” Workman says. The gallerists were scheduled to walk through Anita Dee this week to get the lay of the land; on May 10 it’ll be a “guerrilla setup,” Workman says: they’ll have only two hours to install the work before they sail.

Workman and Roman will film the floating show and are planning to make a postevent DVD catalog available, though they’re still looking for an underwriter. Artboat tickets, bargain priced at $20, include hors d’oeuvres and drinks and a probable gallery party afterward; they’re on sale at www.artboat.org. “We’re just trying to cover costs,” Workman says. “It’s a draw. We want people to come out and have fun and see art they’re not gonna see on the circuit as it exists.” Twenty-nine galleries had signed on at press time.

Critics Left Ashore

If you hear some grumbling belowdecks, it might be the Chicago Art Critics Association, a little unhappy about the Artboat schedule. “It conflicts with our event,” says association member and Reader contributor Fred Camper. The May 10 Art Chicago panel discussion “Chicago Critics on Chicago Art,” scheduled to start at 4 PM, features art writers talking about artists they like, usually with the artist present. “We’ve done it on Saturday at that time for the last five years,” Camper says. “[The Artboat planners] apparently don’t care about the conflict. They don’t think enough of our event to consider it a problem.” This year’s panel will present painters, textile artists, and a photographer, all from Illinois.

Smart Move

Right after we heard about Artboat another surprise sailed into view: for the first time, Art Chicago producer Thomas Blackman Associates has decided to remount its Stray Show–which showcases small, off-the-beaten-track galleries–the weekend of the pier show. The spring Stray Show will be held May 9-12 in the same warehouse space at 1418 N. Kingsbury that housed it when it was last up, in December. Art Chicago associate director Heather Hubbs says they made the decision in response to requests they’d received from the galleries. Hubbs says Blackman Associates is expecting 50 galleries to participate, and there’s likely to be some overlap with those on the boat, but it’s not an issue. She thinks the boat is a “cool” idea; Blackman will help publicize it. Hubbs declined to say how much galleries will be charged to participate in the Stray Show, but word on the street is that a price increase is in store.

Hubbs has been swamped since Art Chicago director Jacqueline Henderson quit the travel-heavy post in January, after three years on the job, to spend more time with a new baby. “We won’t start looking for a new director till after the show,” Hubbs says–everyone’s too busy. Part of the challenge might have been finding exhibitors in the face of competition from fairs in other cities and the rough economic seas. By Hubbs’s count, Art Chicago is down from 210 galleries last year to 200 this year.

In Other News . . .

Pier Walk, the annual outdoor sculpture show that opens on Navy Pier during Art Chicago weekend, has announced that freelance Los Angeles Times art critic David Pagel will be the juror for this year’s exhibit, and there’s a new wrinkle: some work will be placed indoors. “We’re hoping to have 40 pieces,” says Pier Walk president Joseph Tabet, who’s still looking for additional sponsors but says the show will go on no matter what. An exhibit of models for the large pieces opens April 14 at Gallery 37….Columbia College will pay tribute to the late William Russo with a memorial concert of his compositions at 1:30 PM on April 16 in the school’s Getz Theater. The Chicago Jazz Ensemble, founded by Russo, and the Columbia College Jazz Ensemble will be among the performers.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Robert Drea.