There Goes Another Gallery

The badly buffeted River North gallery district suffered a disturbing setback late last month with the abrupt closing of the Goldman-Kraft Gallery in a high-visibility location at 300 W. Superior. The nine-year-old gallery, which showed an international range of artists, has declared Chapter Seven bankruptcy, and its remaining assets will be sold to begin paying off a long list of creditors. The messiness of the Goldman-Kraft affair has raised concerns among local dealers that the gallery scene could get a lot worse before it gets any better.

The Goldman-Kraft closing was particularly unsettling because it involved a lawsuit filed by German dealer Michael Werner, who owns a gallery in Cologne as well as a recently opened space in New York City. Goldman-Kraft owner Jeffrey Kraft would not discuss the suit, but sources familiar with the legal proceedings said that Werner sought to obtain full payment for two paintings Goldman-Kraft had sold on consignment from him, and that Goldman-Kraft was forced into bankruptcy when ordered to produce the money it owed, about $9,000. A spokesman for the Werner gallery in New York confirmed the existence of the lawsuit while expressing regret about the Goldman-Kraft closing: “It was never our intent to see the gallery closed.”

But late last week in a half-lit space with some paintings still hanging and others propped against the wall, a somber, nervous Kraft was going about the business of shutting down the gallery. Kraft prefers to see his misfortune as a part of the cost of doing business in difficult times. “In any business you have problems,” he said, “and obviously we have liabilities, but everything will be worked out.”

While the Werner lawsuit seems to have forced Kraft’s hand, he apparently was feeling the financial pinch much earlier. A spokesman for the Central Arts Building, Kraft’s landlord, said the gallery owed a lot in rent. Last summer Kraft dropped out of the Chicago Art Dealers Association, a dues-paying trade group, and quit buying space in Chicago Gallery News, an informational booklet published three times a year that includes paid listings from most of the major or River North galleries.

Some observers are worried about what Goldman-Kraft’s troubles indicate about the business pressures art dealers now face. Noted one dealer: “It’s not good whenever a gallery’s reputation is called into question, and I thought the Goldman-Kraft Gallery had an excellent reputation.” Other dealers say the local art market has not flourished since the season’s buoyant opening night in September, when crowds packed the streets and galleries of River North. “You can’t make it selling one painting every three months,” said one gloomy dealer. Another said people who are buying art are trying to force down prices, putting even more of a squeeze on strapped dealers.

Here Comes Radio Theater

Look for an announcement soon about a major radio theater project involving 14 local theater companies, Guest Quarters Suites Hotel, and WFMT radio. The theaters will tape plays of their choosing before a paying audience in the Guest Quarters ballroom at 198 E. Delaware, and each play will be aired on a local radio station, most likely WFMT, at a later date. Among the companies signed up for the project are Steppenwoff, Remains, and Victory Gardens. Most of the theaters are seeking to bring in high-visibility talent to appear in their productions; names mentioned so far include Julie Harris, John Mahoney, and Bill Petersen. If all goes according to plan, taping will begin midwinter.

Oprah Off-Broadway

Talk-show talent Oprah Winfrey has gone legit. She is one of five above-the-title producers presenting From the Mississippi Delta at New York’s Circle in the Square Theatre. The project, Winfrey’s first foray into legitimate theater, was brought to her attention by fellow Chicagoan Susan Wexler, another of the show’s producers; Winfrey also met with Delta’s Chicago based director, Jonathan Wilson, before deciding to invest. Though she did not see the earlier Chicago productions of From the Mississippi Delta–at the Goodman Theatre Studio last year and the Northlight two years ago–Winfrey has read Endesha Ida Mae Holland’s autobiographical script, which is about her early years as a prostitute and eventual involvement in the civil rights movement. According to Susan Quint Gallin, another “of Delta’s New York producers, the show is capitalized at $400,000 and would pay back its investment in 17 1/2 weeks at capacity in the 299-seat Circle in the Square. Gallin declined to reveal Winfrey’s specific financial investment; Winfrey’s business partner and attorney Jeffrey Jacobs said she has no plans at the moment to invest in other theatrical productions.

Movie Touch-Tone News

After years of delay, MovieFone, the latest in interactive telephone information services, has hit Chicago. Among other things the computerized service can guide callers to the nearest theaters showing a particular film and provide that day’s remaining show times. The cost is that of a simple local call. MovieFone was to have been put in service here before it was unveiled in several smaller markets, but executives with the New York-based company that operates MovieFone couldn’t wrest the phone number they wanted from a couple who had used it for many years. The company finally settled for a different number, 444-FILM. MovieFone service is growing in popularity in markets such as Los Angeles, its debut city, where 15,000 to 20,000 people call the service on a typical Sunday morning. But the company has yet to turn a profit, according to Andrew Jarecki, director of marketing. Its income comes from 10- or 15-second movie ads placed by the studios and played at the start of each call; these won’t start in Chicago until after three or four shakedown months. “We see the service as an alternative to a newspaper when one is not around,” says Jarecki. He says some newspapers have spurned MovieFone ads because they view the service as competition.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Steven D. Arazmus.