Art Sales Fall in River North

The triple whammy of recession, war, and plummeting art values has cast a pall over the River North gallery district. When the season began last September, most dealers sounded a note of guarded optimism, but few expected to be confronted with the barrage of difficulties they now face. “Things are very, very scary,” says dealer Alan Kass, “and nobody is interested in anything but developments in the gulf.” Kass said he did 70 percent less business at the recent Los Angeles Art Expo than he did there two years ago, though he noted that the picture was somewhat brighter at the new Art Miami fair.

The Dart Gallery has taken strong measures to try and weather the tough times. Dart director Andree Stone says she has cut her staff in half. “We’ll see what the next 90 days will bring,” she says. The River North market has been hurt by a sharp falloff in corporate collecting, she claims. “They only want to know that what they are buying is going to appreciate in value”–hard to promise when the media are busy focusing on how inflated art values are. Stories in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, to name two, may have contributed to the problems some dealers are facing. “It scares people when they read that things don’t hold value,” notes Stone.

But not all gallery operators are so gloomy. “We’re doing just fine,” says Roberta Lieberman of the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery, though she admits art collectors may be wondering whether the prices of some of the art on sale in the district are justified. And Paul Mein of Mein Art Works says his business is stronger right now than it has been anytime during the past year. “A lot of people want to treat themselves to something nice at a time like this,” he says. But even Mein concedes that many of the works he is selling are on the lower end of the price scale, and, at some customers’ requests he has offered more generous payment plans than usual.

Henry Hanson Wants an Arts Center

Chicago senior editor Henry Hanson’s unabashed drumbeating on behalf of a new performing arts center in the magazine’s February issue is a good example of how the local media often fail miserably in their attempts to further an intelligent discussion of cultural matters. Hanson, whose writing has been confined primarily to the comings and goings of a handful of pampered socialites, trots out the standard lines from Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Lyric Opera executives about their desperate need for more space. He also regales us with his love for New York’s Lincoln Center, including descriptions of meals and walks he has enjoyed in the vicinity of the center. Nowhere in his article does he explore the financial implications of building a performing arts center or the money problems similar venues have faced elsewhere. Only at the end of his treatise does Hanson touch on the devastating impact a new performing arts center could have on existing structures such as the Chicago Theatre and the Auditorium. But nothing, it seems, could prevent him from concluding that Chicago does indeed need a new performing arts center. Why? “The glories presented by the Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony deserve a setting with enough room for everyone,” he writes. Perhaps it never occurred to him that “everyone” might not wish to revel in the glories of the Lyric Opera or the Chicago Symphony.

Meanwhile, Sara Lee chairman John Bryan’s blue-ribbon panel of executives, formed to explore the feasibility of a new performing arts center, meets next week to hear a report on what kind of funding support exists for such a facility. With that report’s before them, the committee will decide whether to explore further.

They’ll Take Chicago

With Hollywood currently boycotting New York locations in protest of high overtime labor costs, Chicago is getting some unexpected attention. Touchstone Pictures’ Significant Other, starring Debra Winger and Tom Hanks, will be shot this spring in Chicago rather than New York. A Columbia Pictures film tentatively called Gladiators, starring Brian Dennehy and originally scheduled for New York, started production here last week. Also, executives associated with the Twentieth Century Fox adaptation of the play Prelude to a Kiss, starring Alec Baldwin, Alec Guinness, and Meg Ryan, were in town last week scouting possible shooting sites. But an Illinois Film Office source said the Prelude team still would prefer to shoot in New York if the film’s producer can reach an agreement with the New York unions. The studios are pushing for a new contract in the Big Apple that significantly reduces overtime costs. Chicago film unions ratified such a contract a couple of years ago.

Disaster Movies

Christmas was not kind to Havana, Universal Pictures’ major holiday release. Director Sydney Pollack’s film about political upheaval and heavy romance in the Cuban capital was one of the most expensive box-office disasters among all the films released last December, according to a local exhibitor. Havana is already playing area second-run houses. Surprisingly, The Godfather Part III isn’t holding up as well as exhibitors had hoped either. But Paramount Pictures is said to be leaning on exhibitors to hold on to the picture anyway.

Blueprint Theatre Takes a Bow

The Blueprint Theatre Group’s superb production of Steven Berkoff’s play Kvetch, now in an open-ended run at the Firehouse, will be the last show produced under the Blueprint banner. Two factions within the company have agreed–amicably, they contend–to go their separate ways. Former Blueprint members Ralph Flores and Tom Carroll say they parted ways with the rest of the company because they were interested in more “cutting edge” material; they plan to call their new company Theater by Design. Blueprint artistic director Keith G. Miller, who directed Kvetch, says he and former member Karen Pratt plan to present an ethnic playwrights’ festival spotlighting local works under the name Phoenix Productions.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.