Artist Goes Gallery Hopping

Artists jump from one gallery to another with some frequency, but the transition isn’t usually as smooth as it was for Steven LaRose. Last winter, LaRose formally cut his ties with Space Gallery, where he’d been represented by Fitz Gerald, and moved to Klein Art Works. But aware that LaRose’s departure would be a blow to Space, Klein Art Works owner Paul Klein offered Fitz Gerald 10 percent of the price of every LaRose painting he sold for a one-year period.

“I didn’t think it was right to just steal Steve, because I knew Fitz didn’t want to lose him,” Klein says, adding that he wanted to help Fitz Gerald out because he admired his taste in art and the way he’d managed Space Gallery during the six years of its existence. According to Klein, while relatively young galleries such as Space serve a valuable purpose by helping emerging artists get noticed by collectors and others who can boost their careers, his own gallery cannot afford to traffic in the inexpensive work of emerging artists. Fitz Gerald says the loss of LaRose has affected his gallery’s momentum, but he understands why it happened. “I’m a one-man show and still pretty rough around the edges, while Klein is one of the city’s established dealers.”

LaRose, who moved to Chicago from Los Angeles in late 1992, was a quick hit for Space. “We sold ten of Steve’s works in his first show in our gallery,” says Fitz Gerald. Prices ranged from $500 for small works to around $20,000 for the largest. Two artists Space represented originally brought LaRose’s work to Fitz Gerald’s attention and he immediately liked what he saw. “Steve’s work is very visceral and romantic, in addition to being highly intelligent.” Fitz Gerald not only agreed to represent LaRose but also helped him obtain a teaching job to supplement his income. LaRose says he quickly felt at home at Space. “Fitz was a peer, and we used to talk a lot about how things were going at the gallery.” Still, LaRose says, when he learned of Klein’s interest in his work, he took note. “I made a mental list of what I had going for me at Space and what I might gain, and I kind of knew it would be good for me to make the move to Klein.”

Since making the switch, LaRose says he has noticed significant differences between the two galleries. “There’s a different audience here [at Klein]; the people who went to Space were younger Wicker Park types who created a scene,” he says, adding that Klein is well connected in the corporate art world, where Fitz Gerald isn’t. LaRose also says he’s noticed a distinct difference in attitude between the two dealers. “Fitz is young and still excited about art, while Paul is almost a little tired of it, and I find myself more seduced now by people like Paul.”

At last month’s Art 1995 Chicago fair at Navy Pier, Klein Art Works devoted a whole booth to LaRose’s paintings–something Fitz Gerald readily admits he could not offer the painter–and sold eight of them, which of course was good for both Klein and Fitz Gerald.

Singapore in a Sling

Beginning this weekend producer Karen Leahy and her business partners, including Jam Productions, will cut back performances of the audience-participation show Song of Singapore from eight to four a week. The reduction will sharply lower the show’s weekly operating costs and presumably buy time for word of mouth to take effect. “Single-ticket sales are going up,” says Leahy, though clearly not in the numbers needed to sustain eight performances a week.

For Song of Singapore to last, it will have to overcome what few shows can these days: a groundswell of negative reviews. Both the Trib and the Sun-Times published highly critical reviews, as did this newspaper and New City. WBBM-AM drama critic Sherman Kaplan liked aspects of the show, as did Daily Southtown reviewer Betty Mohr. Working with these positive nuggets and lifting parts of other, more critical notices, Leahy and her marketing mavens managed to piece together quotes that gave the impression Song of Singapore was an acclaimed evening of theater. Though the Trib review made reference to “sizzling songs” in its generally negative review, only the word “sizzling” appears in ads. Leahy defends the tactic: “The word ‘sizzling’ was used.”

But Leahy and her cohorts aren’t relying only on ads to drum up business in the wake of harsh critical reaction. They also tried offering two-for-one admissions for every performance. Other shows have used this ploy to increase ticket sales, but rarely for popular Friday and Saturday performances. After Leahy noted that the show was attracting a large contingent of families, the producers dropped that tactic and began offering two-for-one tickets to kids under 14. “The children seem to be having the most fun,” says Leahy, adding that the struggle to fill seats at Song of Singapore is typical of the situation at many other north-side theaters and not just a result of the show’s negative reviews. “I did a spot check, and sales are slow at a lot of theaters,” she says.

To mount Song of Singapore, the producers raised $400,000, and the owners of Piper’s Alley, where the show is playing, kicked in an additional $700,000 to build the 320-seat space where audiences eat dinner and watch the musical mystery set in a fictitious Singapore cabaret. Though the producers deny it, the decision to invest so heavily no doubt was prompted in part by the huge success of Tony ‘n’ Tina’s Wedding, which has been playing for two years to packed houses in another environmental theater on the same floor at Piper’s Alley.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Jim Alexander Newberry.