Artists on Loan

In an effort to break down some of the longstanding turf barriers in River North, Michael Lyons Wier is opening a massive exhibition of 176 works on paper called “Deluge” in his Lyons Wier Gallery next Friday. Aside from sheer size, what makes Wier’s show unusual is the participation of a significant number of other River North galleries and the artists those galleries usually represent exclusively. Of the 44 artists in the show, who will each display four small works, about half are represented by Wier, and the other half by 12 other local galleries, including Rhona Hoffman, Space, Gwenda Jay, Sazama, Zolla-Lieberman, Phyllis Kind, and Deson-Saunders. Most of the artists in Wier’s show are young (28 to 32), and their work is affordable, with a median price of $400 and a high of around $3,000. The roster includes well-known artists such as Dan Gustin and Paul Sierra as well as emerging talents.

Wier, whose gallery opened just last summer, says he mounted the show to foster cooperation and a sense of community among art dealers battered over the past couple of years by a difficult economy and a collapsing art market. “People in the art business are pulling together more now,” notes Wier. “I am trying to get behind artists and push them in ways” they haven’t been pushed before. Dealers who loaned Wier their artists say they decided to participate because it made good business sense. According to Ken Saunders of Deson-Saunders Gallery: “The recession has changed the art business dramatically, and it’s now all about exposure for the artist.” Indeed, if nothing else, Wier’s show will provide a number of artists from other galleries one more opportunity to display their work in a commercial setting. Adds Tim Lowly, an artist represented by Gwenda Jay Gallery whose work will be on display: “I wish this kind of show would happen more often, but there seem to be a lot of notions of loyalty and allegiance in the art business here.” Local dealers working with Wier claim they’re not worried. “If one show is enough to take an artist away from another dealer, then the relationship probably wasn’t very solid to begin with,” notes Gwenda Jay.

Some dealers speculate that Wier’s show was primarily designed to attract attention to his new gallery; they point to New York, where new galleries frequently mount exhibits like Wier’s. Says Paul Klein of Klein Art Works: “There are more galleries in New York, and consequently it’s more difficult for new galleries to establish an identity and pick up clients.” Klein suggests that shows like this are so scarce in Chicago because dealers here are comfortable “with how they’ve been running their businesses.” Coincidentally, Klein is opening a group show this weekend called “Abstract: Chicago” in which he too is exhibiting works by artists represented by other galleries. Though he succeeded in getting most of the pieces he wanted from the dealers he contacted, Klein says it required considerable effort. “I was surprised by the laid-back attitude some dealers had about getting their artists included in the exhibit.”

Remains Moves

Remains Theatre has found a new temporary home at the Theatre Building, where the displaced company will open the first play of its 1993-’94 season, Caryl Churchill’s Mad Forest, on January 9. The move ends weeks of jockeying for a new space after the company learned it would have to leave its old facility at 1800 N. Clybourn by year’s end. Remains tried to grab the Organic Theater Company’s mainstage space when it suddenly went dark several weeks ago, but Organic executives refused to budge from a rental fee that Remains found too high, according to Remains artistic director Neel Keller. Michael Leavitt of Fox Theatricals apparently stepped forward to offer the Apollo Theater when Wisdom Bridge’s Tour de Farce failed to catch on there. Leavitt’s offer, according to Keller, was about $1,000 less a week than the Organic’s, but Remains finally said “no” to Leavitt too. Explains Keller: “I was afraid we wouldn’t be able to fill that many seats, and I would rather use the money we’re saving to hire one more Equity actor.” The Theatre Building lease runs out after the one show, but Keller says his company has the right of first refusal should another group express interest in renting the space. Keller, who became the company’s artistic director last spring, was keen on doing Mad Forest even though it was produced here two years ago at the much smaller, non-Equity Stage Left Theatre, and even though that production “didn’t have a wide appeal,” according to Stage Left ensemble member Michael Troccoli. Keller hopes his take on the material will make a difference. “It’s going to be wonderfully theatrical,” he says.

Drooling at the New Yorker

What happens when a theater company by the name of Steppenwolf snares a first play called Picasso at the Lapin Agile penned by a Hollywood celebrity named Steve Martin? You wind up with national publicity of a particularly repellent kind, like that found in the November 29 issue of the New Yorker. Adam Gopnik’s sycophantic take on Martin’s attempt to transform himself from a comic actor into a serious author begins by describing a reading of Picasso at the Lapin Agile last spring at Martin’s Beverly Hills mansion with Tom Hanks, Martin Mull, and Remains ensemble member William Petersen. Gopnik goes on to describe the first day of rehearsals at Steppenwolf this way: “The cast members said hello to each other, and tried not to look too excited at the presence of the famous comedian.” Any attempt at objectivity was completely abandoned when Gopnik blithely summarized the reviews as “mostly excellent.” In so doing he chose to completely ignore the assessments of Tribune critic Richard Christiansen, who called the work more of a conceit than a play, and Reader critic Albert Williams, who said the play was a “TV sketch for the stage.”

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