Giving It Away for Free

It sure looked like another missile was lobbed last week in the city’s art-fairs war. Chicago Contem-porary & Classic, the new show at Navy Pier, announced that admission to the first day of its four-day exhibit will in effect be free. CC&C’s “cultural patrons program” will issue an “exclusive, complimentary invitation” to any member of any of the city’s cultural institutions with annual attendance of 5,000 or more–which should include anybody with a public library card. Organizations sign on to make their members eligible; a CC&C spokesman says the tickets will be requested and disbursed by e-mail. Regular admission for the fair is $15.

CC&C says this is all part of its effort to give back to the community, so maybe it has nothing to do with things dragging a bit in the exhibitor department: at press time, according to the CC&C Web site, 60 were lined up for Navy Pier (though a spokesman insisted there’ll be 100), while Thomas Blackman’s Art Chicago, which is running concurrently, listed about 70, many Chicago names among them. Art Chicago, displaced by CC&C, will set up in a tent in Butler Field, across from Millennium Park, a sweet location for a street fair. Blackman, who observed that galleries have been slow to commit this year, says that Art Chicago will eventually have more than 90 exhibitors, including about 10 galleries from the former Stray Show. He adds that he has no plans to match the CC&C ticket giveaway.

Meanwhile, there won’t be any rebirth of Vernissage, the Navy Pier show’s traditional preopening benefit for the MCA. Private preview parties Wednesday and Thursday night at the pier will be held without sponsors or beneficiaries, and the afterparty will take place at Bridge magazine’s NOVA Young Art Fair space in the West Loop (see next item). “We knew last year would be the end for Vernissage,” says an MCA spokesman. Blackman will invite the Art Chicago mailing list to his opening-night party, with a beneficiary not yet identified at press time.

And Pier Walk, the annual sculpture show, which opens April 27, is turning into the anti-Navy Pier show. New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl, back for a second season as curator, says that putting art on the carnival-like pier is like “throwing a kitten into a mosh pit. Last year I couldn’t decide which sculpture I disliked enough to put there.” Instead, Schjeldahl dropped most of it into Gateway Park, that glorified traffic circle at the pier’s entrance, which is where all or nearly all of it will wind up once more. This year’s submissions were disappointing, Schjeldahl says; as a result he had to extend invitations and is still finalizing the show, which he expects to include 12 to 20 artists, among them Franz West, Ruckriem Ulrich, and the Art Institute’s Kay Rosen.

Subscriptions Must Be Up

Bridge magazine, now a bimonthly claiming a “vast network of contributors reporting on developments . . . from across the planet,” says it plans to open a new Network of Visual Art Center at 840 W. Washington this fall. The NOVA Center will include two to four galleries, a 1,600-foot performance space, and artists’ studios that will rent for as little as $60 a month. If you’ve a mind to facilitate all this, you might pop for a $75 ticket to the first annual Bridge fund-raiser tonight, March 18, at the new Zhou Brothers Academy at 35th and Morgan. It includes the usual chance to eat, drink, and purchase donated work, plus the first ever Bridge magazine international art awards. Twice as much gets you a VIP reception and guided tour of the Zhous’ home and studio.

The Field Museum’s Drug Problem

Darn if those antidrug dollars don’t come with strings attached. The Field Museum, whose program to save Peru’s Cordillera Azul National Park is supported by $5 million in Andean Counterdrug Initiative money from the U.S. government, has been getting nasty notes from the United States Agency for International Development. Seems USAID wants the Field to stop giving money to communities that appear to be growing more coca leaves than they could be using for tea: according to a letter from USAID to Congressman Henry Hyde, who intervened on the Field’s behalf, USAID has noted more than 100,000 acres of coca under cultivation in one of the areas near the park and recently discovered 26 coca maceration pits. The museum referred questions to Washington lobbyist Anne Metcalf, who says the government is backing off from its original request that the Field stop working with any community that refuses to sign an agreement to eradicate the plant.

Time to Get Out of the House

Chicago’s Home Vision Entertainment, which built a business by recognizing that people would want to watch independent and foreign films at home, is moving in the other direction now, venturing cautiously into theatrical distribution. In a partnership with New York-based Avatar, Home Vision (which distributes the Criterion and Merchant-Ivory collections) will bring the German drama The Tunnel, directed by Roland Suso Richter, to U.S. art houses this spring and summer. Home Vision is producing all marketing materials for The Tunnel, while Avatar handles bookings. A Home Vision spokesman says the company is looking for more muscle in rights negotiations and “marketing synergies.”

Take This Job and Shove It

Rerun: Bob Hudgins, second in command to political appointee Brenda Sexton and the most experienced hand at the Illinois Film Office, resigned effective December 31 to take advantage of an early-buyout program from the state–and then was persuaded to stay on. Among the promises made by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity to keep him was what he terms a “small” raise. When that hadn’t materialized by mid-January, Hudgins says he had the feeling it never would but decided to give the state 90 days to “show fair performance.” Unfortunately, he says, at the end of that time “there was no performance.” So last week Hudgins resigned again, this time, he says, for good. The extra three months cost him his buyout bonus, but he says he’ll be glad to get back into freelance film production. FYI, he says, Sexton wasn’t the problem.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): illustrations/Laura Park.