Thoughts on The Artist Project by William Dolan

The Artist Project

There’s a lot of discussion going on regarding The Artist Project wing of Artropolis. Most of it is negative. As a two-time participant, I have something to say about the show. I’ve broken my thoughts down into three areas: what I perceived The Artist Project to be, what it’s become and what it should be.

The first TAP was billed as an opportunity for artists that have yet to be discovered by the art world. I understood this to mean that it was for artists that were worthy of exhibiting in a major gallery or even museum, but for whatever reason have not reached that point yet. The impression I got, was that it was a chance to get work in front of collectors, curators, dealers and the general public. The entry fee was high enough to require a serious commitment from the artists, yet low enough so that it didn’t completely break the bank.

There was some work in that show that might be considered frame shop level. However, the show was small enough so that the good work stood out. It could have been better, though. It was isolated from the main action, so most of those collectors, curators and dealers that happened upon the show were probably passing through from the Wolf Point parking lot on the way to Art Chicago. Though I did notice some Bridge dealers checking out the wares.

For me the ’07 show was a success. I sold a piece that covered my cost and got a large commission. Since one weekend isn’t really enough exposure and I did OK, I decided I would try again, especially since it would move to the Mart from the lobby of the Apparel Center.

When I was excepted this year, I learned that there were going to be 300 of us. This concerned me, since I wondered how good The Artist Project really could be. They couldn’t have found 300 artists worthy of attention. Plus, with the price increase of 50%, it may attract the itinerant mall fair artists. Would the stigma of being in an art bazaar hurt me? Would it matter? In the end, I felt that it was still an opportunity to show my work and I felt strong enough about it that I didn’t care what may be in the next booth. I also felt that I had unfinished business from last year.

While walking through the show, I realized that the Merchandise Mart had made The Artist Project an “Old Town Art Fair.” I believe that they want something for everyone at Artropolis. Unfortunately, I don’t know how this helps to turn Chicago into an important player in the Art World. This middle market is pretty well covered here with the three major street fairs and the many mall shows. This is akin to having a wedding band showcase at SXSW or lounge singing at NOLA’s Jazz & Heritage Festival. With the antique show and Intuit, they have something for everyone’s taste.

How does this makes Artropolis and Chicago look to the rest of the Art World? Maybe it’s ignored by those that attend NEXT and Art Chicago and it doesn’t make a difference. I also don’t know how successful it is, as the street fair it’s become. It certainly didn’t get the attention that NEXT got (for that matter Art Chicago didn’t seem to get as much attention as NEXT). I must say the show was well attended, though mostly by folks going on an outing — something to do on a weekend before going out to dinner. The Artist Project is not about exposure for artists that need it. It’s an indoor street fair for itinerant artists selling art to go over couches.

In order to figure out what The Artist Project should be, I think that a couple of questions need to be addressed first. Who are these artists that have not been recognized by the Art World and why haven’t they been recognized? Are they young artists still trying to get out there? Are they older artists that have been hovering on the fringes trying to get inside? Does it matter? In any case, I would suspect that these artists have not put forth the effort to promote themselves and while they may focus on their work and produce stuff worthy of exposure, they aren’t in control of their careers. A side show in a larger art circus isn’t going to help.

If anything, The Artist Project should be part of NEXT — a few slots like the Solo projects maybe. In all reality, though, perhaps The Artist Project shouldn’t exist. The artists that were originally supposed to have been served by it should think bigger than pushing their work in a trade show booth. The internet does not revolutionize the art world like it did to the music industry. You can’t download art (mostly). It does, however, give artists an invaluable tool in researching opportunities and making contacts. It makes the seemingly impossible process of self promotion, possible. Perhaps that is what the independent artist should be doing if he or she wants to be a professional.