Concentrated Formula

On March 26, two dozen maquettes for the 2002 Pier Walk sculpture show go on display at the Field Museum, previewing what’s being promoted as a radically transformed main event. The annual outdoor exhibit, which goes up on Navy Pier to coincide with the opening of Art Chicago and stays up all summer, has been sliced to a fraction of its former size and boasts the curatorial hand of a high-profile juror: red-hot University of Nevada professor Dave Hickey, fresh from his anointment as a MacArthur genius. At its zenith, the 800-pound gorilla of sculpture shows crammed 178 large-scale works onto Chicago’s little concrete tongue-in-the-lake. Joseph Tabet, who became the event’s leader by default when the second of its two founders walked away last year, says it was sinking under its own weight when he inherited it.

An investment counselor who also sells art on the Internet, Tabet got sucked in two years ago when sculptor Terrence Karpowicz asked him to build a Web site for the show and then put him on the board. Karpowicz and sculptor Michael Dunbar (head of Illinois’ Art in Architecture program) had cofounded Pier Walk in 1995, initially as a way to exhibit their own work. They created a nonprofit organization called 3-D Chicago to run it and decided to make it as inclusive as possible. The show mushroomed from 3 pieces the first year to 42 the next, then 125, and the record 178 before dropping back to 100 or less in the last few years. It established the pier as a venue for sculpture, but also became a monster to manage: “It started to eat up both our lives,” Karpowicz says. In 2000, feeling like he “had to get back to the studio,” he resigned. Dunbar soon followed.

Size had become Pier Walk’s claim to fame: it was one of the world’s biggest sculpture shows, with one of the world’s largest audiences (the eight million people who visit the pier every year). But Tabet says the emphasis on quantity was a mistake. The show was crowded and unwieldy and gave the impression that it wasn’t seriously juried. The critics regularly ignored it, and last year its two major corporate sponsors, Sears and American Airlines, jumped ship. To keep it afloat Tabet recruited a new, expanded board, including artist Ed Paschke. He also cut overhead, firing the paid staff (a full-time executive director and a part-time administrator) and moving the office from rented quarters into space donated by the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority. He proved adept at getting goods and services that had been major expenditures (like installation labor) donated. And then he scored the coup he’s proudest of: Hickey.

One hundred and fifty maquettes were submitted this year for consideration. Hickey chose 22, to be accompanied by another dozen or so pieces from artists he’s inviting to participate. All works are built at the artists’ expense and are available for sale. Artists who compete for entrance pay their own shipping charges; invited artists, assumed to raise the overall quality of the show, are reimbursed for shipping. The full list of exhibitors, planned for release in February, was not available at press time (Tabet said he was still working on transportation and insurance issues), but rumors in some quarters that no locals would be included were wrong. According to Tabet, John Adduci, Ted Garner, Michael Brown, Victoria Fuller, John Wenner, Aaron Baker, and Dunbar will be showing.

Meanwhile, money is scarce. Tabet says 3-D Chicago got a $19,000 grant from the Illinois Arts Council this year plus $3,000 from the city, $7,500 from LR Development, and $5,000 from the Driehaus Foundation. Its main supporter, the Pier Authority, will take care of the catalog and other public relations expenses, but no outside corporate sponsors have appeared to replace the ones that were lost. For a financial maven, Tabet is surprisingly vague about the budget–he thinks it’ll be in the neighborhood of $100,000. He says they have enough money to get the show up, and he’s apparently willing to operate on the come. The challenge will be to keep it running through November, he says. “We have some things in the fire. Once the show goes up, maybe other funds will become available.”

Guild Guide Steps Aside

The Guild Complex expects to hire a new executive director any day now. A search is under way for a replacement for Julie Parson-Nesbitt, who took over from founding executive director Michael Warr two and a half years ago. Parson-Nesbitt is stepping down to a temporary, part-time development position, a change she says was her idea. During her tenure the literary cultural center moved from its Arts Bridge incubator office to larger quarters near its performance space in Wicker Park’s Chopin Theatre. The organization’s budget rose from $289,000 in 1999 to $344,000 last year, and membership income more than tripled from 2000 to 2001 (from $1,810 to $6,875). Parson-Nesbitt says the goal now is to “diversify our income base–to be less dependent on grants and to develop more earned income.” Board president Vicki Capalbo says Parson-Nesbitt has “accomplished great things,” and the part-time gig is “her way of allowing us ample transition time.” Applications are still being accepted; the job pays $40,000 a year for what Parson-Nesbitt says is “oh, about 70 hours a week.”

Break Up to Make Up

Thought I was hearing a Victoria Lautman clone giving the lowdown on Italian artist Alighiero e Boetti on WBEZ the other day. It turned out to be La Lautman herself, in spite of the fact that she swore off the station six months ago when they cut back her airtime. Seems the powers that be at the station asked nicely, and Lautman caved.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photos/courtest 3-D Chicago.