Room to Grow

“There have never been enough places in the city for artists to show their work,” argues Arlene Rakoncay, executive director of the Chicago Artists’ Coalition. But local artists may soon have a place of their own: the CAC, a trade association for the visual arts community with a membership of nearly 2,400, is negotiating with the Department of Cultural Affairs to take over a space in the Renaissance Hotel at State and Wacker that was recently vacated by the Gallery 37 Store. If all goes according to plan, the CAC would be the gallery’s proprietor but the city would help underwrite operating costs until the business could generate enough revenue to sustain itself. The School of the Art Institute is also exploring the idea of helping staff the store with interns from its graduate program in arts administration. In addition to giving CAC members a sales outlet, Rakoncay hopes the gallery will nurture budding art collectors and provide some much-needed revenue for the coalition, which offers its members a monthly newspaper, job referrals, workshops, and group health insurance.

For counsel on the gallery project Rakoncay has turned to Marta Pappert, who ran a similar operation at the Art Institute during the 70s and 80s. The Art Rental and Sales Gallery, operated by the women’s board of the museum between 1954 and 1987, could accommodate about 500 pieces. “Nearly every artist of note in Chicago during that time had his or her work for sale at the gallery,” says Pappert. It was “an easy way for beginning collectors to start and very user-friendly.” The gallery not only offered its customers a broad range of local work but turned a nice profit as well; according to Pappert it usually netted between $40,000 and $50,000 a year for the women’s board. The Art Institute closed the gallery to use the space for other purposes.

The new gallery would be limited to members of the coalition, whose annual dues are $40 for individuals, and applicants would probably have to pass muster with a jury too. Pappert says no decisions have been made regarding jury selection, but at the older gallery she personally chose a triumvirate of two outside members and either a curator from the Art Institute or an instructor from its school. The CAC must also decide how the sale price would be divided between the artist and the gallery; according to Pappert, the older gallery was popular with artists because it kept only 25 percent of the sale price, instead of the 50 percent typically claimed by commercial galleries.

Everything in the store would be for sale, but customers would also have the option of renting a work and applying the rental fees toward the purchase price. Pappert doesn’t think the project poses much of a threat to the gallery districts; collectors who like an artist from the CAC gallery are liable to look for more of his work elsewhere.

Killer Joe Comes Home

After seven years on the road, can Killer Joe find a new audience in a town whose theater scene has largely moved away from downbeat drama? Tracey Letts’s black comedy about a no-account Texas family debuted in 1993 at the Next Theatre Company’s 40-seat studio theater in Evanston, and since then it’s been staged in more than 20 countries, including a 1995 production in Lon-don’s West End and a 1998 production off Broadway that starred Scott Glenn and Amanda Plummer. Margo Jefferson labeled it “a knockout” in the New York Times, and Jack Tinker, writing for the London Daily Mail, hailed it as “art of the highest order.” By all rights the homecoming production, which begins performances February 11 at the newly christened Theatre at 2851 N. Halsted, should be cause for celebration.

But in recent months many high-priced off-Loop productions have had trouble turning a profit: Love, Janis barely lasted 14 weeks at the Royal George Theatre Center, and Northlight Theatre’s Visiting Mr. Green played to disappointingly small audiences at the same venue. Aside from the off-Broadway production, this will be the first commercial staging of Killer Joe in North America, and the play’s violence, foul language, and graphic sexual content might make it unpalatable to older or more conservative theatergoers. New York producers Scott Morfee and Darren Lee Cole say they’ll have to fill about half the theater’s 204 seats every night to keep the show open, yet their $39.50 top ticket price might discourage the younger people who are the play’s target audience. Cole owns the North American rights to the play, and he says he wants to see how it fares here before deciding how to handle it in other markets.

Zum Deal

Last year the Golden Ox closed its doors after more than 80 years at North and Clybourn, and now Chicago has lost another temple of authentic German cuisine. Al Wirth, owner of Zum Deutschen Eck at Southport and Wolfram, was celebrating his birthday at the restaurant on Sunday, January 9, when he announced to his unsuspecting staff and more than 100 guests that it was the last day of business. Wirth, whose father opened the restaurant in 1956, faced increasingly stiff competition for the neighborhood’s dining dollars. Sources familiar with the establishment say that during the 1960s and ’70s Wirth’s parents bought a great deal of residential real estate near Zum Deutschen Eck. Wirth has reportedly closed a multimillion-dollar sale of ten plots to Gibbons Management and Builders, which plans to erect condos and town homes.

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