Return of the World Tattoo

Artist/entrepreneur/radio personality Tony Fitzpatrick is reopening the World Tattoo Gallery with a show and a way of doing business that are likely to create a stir in the local art world. Fitzpatrick plans to resurrect the gallery, which has been shuttered since February 6, on October 21 with a showing of work by three artists: himself, Wesley Kimler, and Ed Paschke, considered by some to be the city’s preeminent living visual artist. Unlike most galleries, which traditionally keep as much as 50 percent of the sale price of every work, World Tattoo won’t keep any money from sales by its exhibiting artists. In Paschke’s case a commission of approximately 10 percent will go to the Phyllis Kind Gallery, which has represented the artist in Chicago since 1977. And the Struve Gallery, which has represented Kimler locally for almost ten years, is expected to get about the same amount from his sales. Meanwhile World Tattoo, according to Fitzpatrick, will support itself primarily with money from Fitzpatrick’s printmaking shop, which is located in the same building as the gallery, at 1255 S. Wabash. But exhibiting artists will be free to make voluntary contributions, says Fitzpatrick. And eventually, perhaps in a matter of weeks, he plans to turn the space over to a collective of 100 or so artists who would pay around $25 a month to lease and operate the gallery themselves. “Artists are going to have to learn how to take control of their careers,” says Fitzpatrick. The gallery’s landlord is donating the space through the end of 1994.

The idea for this artist-driven show apparently originated with Kimler. “It’s a little slow in the Chicago art world at the moment, and it needs to be reinvigorated,” he says. He approached Paschke, who liked the idea of artists taking full control over an exhibition and in turn broached the matter to Fitzpatrick. “I think that pioneering spirit appealed to all of us, and we thought it would be kind of fun to take things into our own hands,” explains Paschke, who says for the moment he is viewing the show as a “one-shot” experiment. “But I always want to keep my options open.” Kimler says that if the show works he’d be interested in doing more like it in the hopes that other talented but overlooked local artists would participate. “A lot of good artists have been ignored in this city,” he says.

The show isn’t necessarily great news for Struve or Phyllis Kind. “Ed is in a position now where he can take on extracurricular activities,” explains Bill Bengtson, director of the Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago, where paintings by Paschke currently range in price from $15,000 to $65,000. Bengtson downplayed any suggestion that Paschke is dissatisfied with Phyllis Kind. “I think every artist would like to sell more paintings,” he says.

But timing has not been on Paschke’s side. Immediately after a major exhibit of his work at the Art Institute in the fall of 1990, the bottom fell out of the art market. And that decline has heightened tension between dealers and artists. Notes Paschke: “You hear grumbling; the last few years have been difficult for a lot of people.” Fitzpatrick’s view is much more cynical: “[The dealers] want nice, obedient cattle.” Fitzpatrick, who’s been represented for eight years by the Janet Fleisher Gallery in Philadelphia, doesn’t have a local rep, though he’s exhibited twice with the Carl Hammer Gallery.

But Bengtson argues that artists benefit from gallery representation whether they realize it or not. “One of the reasons artists have galleries is so that they don’t have to deal with the unpleasantries of trying to sell art.” He looks at the World Tattoo show as an experiment and a way for artists to “learn about the process of selling art.” But he’s skeptical about the gallery’s off-the-beaten-track location. “I think they’ll have a large opening crowd, but in terms of traffic, what they will have there will not be what we have on a day-to-day basis.”

World Tattoo’s no-commission policy certainly doesn’t do much to insure its long-term survival. Fitzpatrick admits that the reason the gallery closed (after a four-year run) was his lack of management expertise, coupled with unexpected calamities such as the gulf war and the art-market collapse. “I never had any idea how much it cost to operate a gallery.” The gallery’s location was certainly a factor in its failure, and Fitzpatrick hasn’t ruled out moving elsewhere–maybe to Ukrainian Village– at some point. He’ll continue to act as an adviser to whatever artists come on board, and he’d like to see the place put up four shows a year and spotlight young, emerging artists and women artists, as well as whatever high-profile artists want to participate.

Sound Decisions

Don’t look for much from Jam Productions at Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage next season. Though it was expected to be a major player at the new 1,500-seat theater this summer, Jam wound up producing only three shows there: Buddy Guy, Peter Frampton, and Sarah McLachlan. A fourth act, Widespread Panic, was initially scheduled for the venue but was moved to the Vic when Pier officials nixed the show because of noise concerns. Widespread Panic apparently wanted to use a sound system other than that already installed in the theater, which is designed to carefully control the direction of the sound. Explains Suzanne Brown of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority: “It wasn’t a censorship issue, but we do have some legal restrictions.” The sound issue and the venue’s somewhat smallish size apparently limited the kinds of acts Jam could book there. Jam’s Jerry Mickelson maintains that the kind of shows suitable for the Skyline Stage are being bid on by a number of other venues in the area, including Ravinia, Merrillville’s Star Plaza Theatre, Pheasant Run, and the Paramount Arts Centre in Aurora, and he says he doesn’t know yet whether Jam will end up using the stage next year or not. Brown says she’ll start lining up Skyline Stage programming for next season over the next couple of months. Whether or not Jam is a participant, she doesn’t foresee any problems coming up with a full season of attractions. Programming this summer included theater, dance, film, and both vocal and symphonic concerts.

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