Feeling the Pinch

It was the last Friday in June, opening day for “[Green],” the catch-it-while-you-can art exhibit going up in the basement of a gutted warehouse on Fulton for two nights only. Produced by M5, the seven-year-old artists’ collective run by Peter Gogarty and Christophe Gauspohl, the show included 13 installations focused “on the environment and the ways in which we use or abuse our surroundings.” It had backing from Smirnoff and work by the likes of Shawn Decker and Laurie Palmer. After months of planning and two weeks of 18-hour days on-site, everything was in place: 115 tires were stacked around a path of tree stumps, a 375-foot carpet of sod was growing on the basement floor, and the elevator shaft had been filled with three feet of water. The fake frogs were croaking on their fake oil slick, and 25,000 feet of fiber-optic cable was sparkling inside a forest of plastic tubing. The only thing yet to come was the huge block of ice whose melt would symbolize ozone-layer depletion. Then the city inspectors showed up at the door.

To the artists’ horror, Gogarty says, 11 inspectors arrived over the next two hours, every one hunting for evidence of abuse of the surroundings. Noting that the building had numerous code violations and that the owner lacked an occupancy license, they slammed a couple of bright yellow “Business Closed” notices on the door and shut the place down. At 7:30, when the opening should have been getting under way, Gauspohl stationed himself at the entrance to explain to anyone who showed up that the event had been canceled. As he stood there, Gogarty says, a half dozen sheriff’s officers appeared, armed with a cease-and-desist order. Several citations were issued, including one for accumulating more than 100 tires indoors. “We have no DJ, no dance floor, no music, and weren’t charging admission,” says Gogarty, “but they were expecting to bust a rave.” Bea Reyna-Hickey, director of the city’s Department of Revenue, says “cases of liquor were delivered but there was no liquor license,” and the building, “completely under construction, was dangerous and hazardous for occupancy.”

This scenario, nearly as common as art exhibits with green themes, took Gogarty and his partner by surprise; M5 had held two previous events in the same space without any hassle. This time, Gogarty says, “we believe M5 was caught in the crossfire of an ongoing battle between the area’s neighborhood business association and incoming developers.” The building, formerly home to five meat distributors, is being developed as a restaurant and nightclub by Marche owner Jerry Kleiner, who made it available for the exhibits. “I don’t know who called” the city, says Roger Romanelli, executive director of the Randolph-Fulton Merchants Association, “but we support the fact that the city came in to enforce safety and business compliance.” As for new businesses coming to the neighborhood, “we hope they understand that it’s an industrial area.” Gogarty is looking for another space and hopes to have the exhibit up again within a month.

She’s Outta There

Carol Ehlers is throwing a lights-out party at the end of the month in the photography gallery she’s run for 12 years at 750 N. Orleans, the last gallery in the building. Ehlers says she realized it was time for a change after she got a call sounding her out about the curator’s job at LaSalle Bank, which opened up after Sarah Anne McNear jumped to the Museum of Contemporary Photography. Ehler’s been an art dealer in Chicago since 1975, starting fresh out of college at Allan Frumkin Gallery, where she began to specialize. “When I arrived at Frumkin, they had a Walker Evans show,” Ehlers recalls, “and my first job there was to catalog the work of Man Ray. The field was new, and I just watched it grow.” She left Frumkin in 1980 to become a private dealer; in ’89, with partner Shashi Caudill, she opened Ehlers Caudill Gallery; and when Caudill left in ’98, the space became the Carol Ehlers Gallery. The LaSalle Bank photography collection, which she takes over full-time in September, consists of more than 4,000 photographs spanning the history of the medium. Ehlers says the fact that we might be coming into a recession was one factor in her thinking, but not the major one. “I’ve always been more curatorial than entrepreneurial,” she says. “It’s a great job, and they made the offer on my 49th birthday.”

Victory Gardens’ Landmark Decision

Victory Gardens will decide by October 22 whether or not to purchase the infamous Biograph Theater, but won’t say yet what the price might be. Robert Alpaugh, VG’s director of institutional advancement, says the company plans to spend no more than $15,000 to find out if renovation would be feasible; a lot of exploratory work has been donated, he says, including mechanical and environmental studies. Thomas Hickey, who worked on the company’s current space two blocks south of the Biograph, is slated to be the architect. If it’s workable, “we’ll retain the basic three-theater plan,” Alpaugh says, “taking a 600-seat movie theater and making it into a 299-seat live theater,” and reducing the two smaller theaters upstairs to 150-seat and 60-seat spaces. “We’re dealing with the Landmarks Preservation Council,” Alpaugh adds. “We know we have to preserve the facade.” It can’t hurt that in his regular job new VG board president James P. Grusecki heads up Northern Builders.

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