River North Dealers Attack a “Tacky” Gallery

Marikay Vance has introduced a new attitude in the River North gallery district, and some dealers there are aghast. “I’m dealing with things that are mass-marketable,” says Vance, who two months ago opened MK Galleries at 300 W. Superior. Her 6,000-square-foot space is filled with the creations of unabashedly commercial artists such as Colleen Ross, who paints glamorous women in glamorous settings, and British painter Harold Hitchcock, known for his landscapes. Another artist on the MK roster is Peter Max. “This is happy art that people can relate to,” explains gallery director Mitch Vance, Marikay’s brother. MK Galleries’ prices range from $700 to $40,000.

Vance’s taste in art and the way she has chosen to market it have bothered some gallery owners. AK Galleries is very different aesthetically from the majority of galleries in the River North district,” says Susan Sazama of the Sazama Gallery, adding, “We’re quiet and low-key.” Another dealer said simply, “It’s tacky; I don’t think Vance is upholding the standards that the rest of us uphold in River North.” Vance’s neighbors speak disdainfully of the gold lame swags that have decoratively framed the gallery’s front windows for weeks, and of the bows sighted on some paintings for one opening. “I can’t wait to see what she’s going to do for Valentine’s Day,” snapped one gallery owner.

Some dealers claim the art in MK would be more appropriate along Michigan Avenue, where galleries like Merrill Chase and Circle cater to a less knowledgeable clientele. Ken Saunders of Deson-Saunders goes even farther: “She should be in a mall,” he says.

But Vance wanted to be in River North, whether or not the rest of the district’s dealers think she belongs there: “I chose this location because it draws the true art collector.” Vance began collecting about five years ago in South Bend, Indiana, where she still resides, and opened a small gallery there in a bed and breakfast she ran. She decided to open a gallery in Chicago in part because she had grown frustrated with the way she claims some art dealers here handle their customers and wanted to introduce a new approach. “I find there is an attitude that the dealers want to sell to you and then forget about you.” Vance says she intends to build her business by developing long-term relationships with her clients.

She doesn’t hide her dislike for some of the art her fellow gallery owners display. “There is a lot of offensive art in the world, and I see some of that in River North.” Vance says that God has given talented artists a gift and that “I don’t think he intends them to misuse it.” Some contend Vance is just being narrow-minded. Says Sazama: “The majority of galleries in River North are presenting art that deals with social and political issues; if that’s offensive, that’s her problem.”

Phoning It Out: Musical’s Marketers Turn to Voice Mail

The theater industry needs all the new marketing techniques it can get, and the producers of Just One World, a musical slated to begin previews January 21 at the Organic Theater, have come up with a new one: an Ameritech voice-messaging system that informs callers about their production. The system allows people to listen to recorded information about the musical’s story line, excerpts from the score, or instructions for ordering tickets. The story information is being changed every couple of weeks, while the musical excerpts change weekly. “It’s too early to say how effective the system will be,” said coproducer and composer Ira Antelis, “but it’s an interesting experiment.” Antelis’s musical may not be the easiest project to sell over the phone or anywhere else given the unusual subject matter: he describes it as a musical myth about a group of animals on an island threatened with destruction. “If the island perishes,” explains Antelis, “all of life will collapse.” He and his investors have put about $350,000 into the production. The last musical to play the Organic was Sylvia’s Real Good Advice, which closed early and lost money despite strong reviews.

The Case of the Blackmailed Critics

Not unexpectedly, Scott McPherson’s play Marvin’s Room won raves from most New York critics, including the New York Times’s Frank Rich, who hailed McPherson as a promising new voice. But last Sunday New York Newsday critic (and former Chicago Tribune critic) Linda Winer raised a sticky point about the play’s presentation. Winer bluntly accused McPherson of using “emotional blackmail” on the audience and the critics by revealing a number of painful personal details in a program note. In it McPherson wrote about his lover who has AIDS and about his father who died when McPherson was only three. He also talked about watching The Ed Sullivan Show at the foot of his dying grandmother’s bed with the morphine injections coming at the same regular intervals as the commercials. Winer conceded that currying sympathy is a common tendency in showbiz circles, but said “original voices…are cheapened when they make us hurt for the wrong reasons.”

A Steamier Nancy Drew Book

Cartoonist and painter Nancy Drew has turned to writing. After coming out recently with the self-published Not Everything That Quacks Is a Duck, a squeaky-clean novella about a child’s summer on an island, Drew is finishing up The Benson Journal, a longer, steamier work about two couples in a southern town who commit adultery. “It’s about things that happen between people that shouldn’t,” said Drew, who oversees six stores across the country that sell clothing, furniture, and objects that she’s decorated with painted figures. Drew is currently trying to interest New York publishers in The Benson Journal.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Paul L. Meredith.