Bloodied by the Cutting Edge

Last summer Paul Klein took a good long look around the west-side building that’s housed Klein Art Works for the last 14 years and decided it was time to sell. Klein, who’s been a dealer in Chicago since 1981 and had a gallery in the San Francisco area before that, had built the airy 4,500-square-foot showroom from a trashed recycling plant after losing his previous space in the 1989 Huron Street fire. He sent out a notice that he’d be moving to quarters more suitable to the electronic and video art he favors these days. But as the year drew to a close he took a gander at his books and made an even harder decision. “I was shocked at the money I’d lost in the last 12 months,” he says. This spring he’ll close down his gallery business permanently. Ethnic art and antiquities dealer Douglas Dawson is buying the freestanding brick building at 400 N. Morgan, and Klein is looking for a job.

Klein, who’s 57, doesn’t want to be anything but positive about this: he doesn’t blame his customers or his artists. He says the closing was set in motion two years ago, when he had a “heart incident” and acquired a stent. His doctor told him to eliminate stress from his life, and “this business is hand-to-mouth,” he says. “You never know if next month you’re going to have a surplus of money in your pocket or you’re going to be trying to figure out how to keep the doors open.” At the same time he began fiddling with the gallery’s focus. Artists he admires–like sculptor Lincoln Schatz and painter Marlena Novak–were going from metal and canvas to computer. He wanted to go with them and thought he could bring his customers along, “get them to transition from static objects like painting and sculpture to moving objects–video, digital art, more expansive ideas,” he says. Now he thinks he got “too far ahead of the curve” for his collectors: “I can’t sell what I don’t like, but I was having trouble selling what I do like.” His last show will open in March; the gallery will close in mid-May. After that, Klein says, he’d like to run an aggressive little museum for a Chicago college–if it will pay him a salary for doing it.

Has Anybody Seen the Athenaeum?

“Wrong,” says Chicago Athenaeum president Christian Narkiewicz-Laine about reports that the design and architecture museum has abandoned its Schaumburg facility, which has been locked since December: “We’re reformatting the permanent exhibits and reopening April 3.” Narkiewicz-Laine was locked up himself for three months last fall after copping a plea in a case that charged him with defrauding the country of Denmark. That indictment stemmed from an Athenaeum exhibit back in the 90s, when the museum was actually in Chicago. Now he was speaking from the site of his newest venture, the Chicago Athenaeum gallery in downtown Galena. (He says he’s also working with museums and art centers in towns like Dubuque, Freeport, and Davenport.) Narkiewicz-Laine insists he expects to rehire staff in Schaumburg and continue summer programs there for kids from the northwest suburbs. “We’re not a Schaumburg museum,” he says. “Our audience is much larger than that. We’re a museum that happens to be in Schaumburg.”

But Schaumburg mayor Al Larson says the museum was to be a linchpin in the town center’s redevelopment. Village officials renewed its $1 annual lease for one year last August, then watched as its hours of operation dwindled. “The question now is whether the Athenaeum is viable enough to maintain a facility here and keep it open reasonable hours,” Larson says. The last time village employees checked the museum out, he adds, there were cobwebs in the office.

Joel Leib Goes to the Dogs

Joel Leib thought he was taking Ten in One to the next level when he moved it to New York nearly five years ago, but when his lease there ran out earlier this month the 14-year-old gallery closed. “It wasn’t as much fun as it used to be,” Leib says. “If I ever did it again, I’d get a partner. New York is so competitive. You have to be out and about in the evenings, and I just wanted to come home and be with my daughter.” The last of the local gallery upstarts known collectively as Uncomfortable Spaces (they included Beret International, Tough, and MWMWM), Ten in One provided New York exposure for Chicago artists including John Spear, Tom Denlinger, and Carol Jackson. But Leib says he got burned when other artists used him as a stepping-stone to bigger dealers. “I think you need a lot of money to stay in the game here,” he says, “but even more money wouldn’t assure that you could hang on to talent once they develop a buzz.” Next up for him: a business where the customers, at least, are likely to be loyal. While Ten in One was going down the drain, Leib’s wife, Laura Bilyeu, launched the Four Paws Club, hailed by New York magazine in ’02 as the city’s hottest pet accessory shop. Maybe he should have tried those vintage pooch coats and kosher doggy bones in the gallery.

Fifty Years of Camp

“I’m the last one standing,” show business veteran Sulie Harand says of the founders of the Harand Camp of the Theatre Arts. Harand, a singer, her sister Pearl, a writer-actor, and their husbands started the camp in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, in 1955. Over the years the sisters and their staff of theater professionals and educators gave thousands of Chicago-area kids a healthy dose of confidence and a uniquely egalitarian background in musical theater. In their legendary camp shows, the lead players changed with every scene, and every camper was both a soloist and a cog in the chorus. The original grounds in Elkhart Lake were sold in 1989, and Pearl and both husbands have passed on, but the camp continues, with new generations of Harands pitching in. Alumni include the likes of Slate editor Jacob Weisberg (whose mother, Chicago culture chief Lois Weisberg, was a Harand teacher), filmmaker Andrew Davis, movie producer Bruce Block, actors Jeremy Piven and Billy Zane, Lyric Opera lighting designer Duane Schuler, and award-winning theater critics Todd London and the Reader’s Albert Williams. Alumni, staff, and friends will celebrate the camp’s 50th season with a reunion dinner and show at the Chicago Cultural Center on March 13; call 847-864-1500 for more information.

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