What Is the Proper Way to Protect a Student Art Exhibition?

The censorship issue doesn’t seem to want to go away at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. More than 30 members of the graduating senior class withdrew their works from the Bachelor of Fine Arts Exhibition, which closed last Saturday, and with support from local art dealers and SAIC graduates set up their own show to protest president Tony Jones’s decision to remove from the student exhibit Scott Tyler’s now legendary work What Is the Proper Way to Display the U.S. Flag? Tyler’s piece is the same one that caused all the controversy last year because it put a venerable American symbol on the floor. The graduating students also were protesting the fact that a piece by senior Doug Philips was not displayed because Philips had failed (through oversight, he says) to sign a mandatory waiver giving the school ultimate control over works in the exhibit.

Both sides claim they had compelling reasons for their actions. Though Jones says he is opposed to censorship in principle, his decision not to display the Tyler work fell under the doctrine of “enough already.” “I was concerned,” says Jones, “that putting it in the show would put students in peril.” He says he did not act out of any fear the school would suffer further drops in funding, though he concedes it has been tough securing money in the wake of the Tyler brouhaha last year.

Artist Doug Philips believes the students who pulled out of the exhibit in sympathy with Tyler and himself were responding to tenets that transcend safety and fund-raising concerns. “I hope the students were doing the work because it’s what they had to do as artists,” says Philips. On the matter of safety, he said, “If one or more of the works posed a threat, they [the school] could hire more security.” Philips added he was surprised at how quickly the students banded together to organize an alternative exhibit. “Normally,” he says, “this is a school where everyone does his own thing.”

Tyler, Philips, and the rest of the graduating class soon will depart the School of the Art Institute. But the question of censorship and how to handle it in a school setting isn’t likely to go away so quickly. There very well may be one or more Scott Tylers ready and willing to test the limits of free expression in graduating classes of the future. And the School of the Art Institute is going to have to deal with each of them. “I can assure you,” says Jones, “this will be the subject of a lengthy debate here.”

Contemporizing Arnie’s: Hard Times on Rush Street

Arnie Morton, a legend in the city’s restaurant business, is trying to put a new face on his signature restaurant, Arnie’s. “A restaurant reaches a certain point,” he says, “when it’s time to start contemporizing things.” Morton has brought in a new team of young culinary wizards–Michael Kornick and Joel Wesley–to create a menu of lighter and less expensive dishes that he hopes will appeal to the younger crowds that flock to trendy spots such as Scoozi! and the Elbo Room. New dishes include a sauteed paillard of salmon with asparagus tips and whole grilled boneless chicken with mushrooms and pearl onions. But fearful he might lose loyal old-timers and convention crowds, Morton has retained many of Arnie’s standby dishes, such as a New York strip steak and filet mignon. The restaurant also is adding more entertainment to pull in another segment of the market. Morton admits that part of the problem he is wrestling with is the unmistakable decline of Rush Street as a dining destination. “It’s a disaster,” he says, pointing to a rise in vagrancy in the area and a decline in occupancy in nearby hotels that feed customers into the Rush Street eateries.

Mrs. Meyer’s Meat Loaf Fouls Out at Phoenix

Former coach Ray Meyer may have been a whiz on the basketball court, but he doesn’t quite have the same touch in the restaurant biz. Ray Meyer’s Restaurant, carved out of a space in the Phoenix nightclub, has been rethought and renamed Ray Meyer’s Ultimate Sports Bar & Grill. Sources indicate that restaurant sales weren’t what they should have been with the menu Meyer helped create. “The meat loaf just wasn’t selling,” said one source close to the situation. “Maybe it was a hit in Mrs. Meyer’s kitchen, but not at the Phoenix.” Now the meat loaf is gone, and Phoenix owner Perry Orr says the rechristened restaurant, newly decorated with items from the nowdefunct Ultimate Sports Bar & Grill at Lincoln and Armitage, will emphasize items such as ribs, fried chicken, and shrimp. Meanwhile Orr is preparing the early June launch of his first family steak house, Howie’s Backyard Barbecue, on the site of the former Hunt Club.

No-Bid Contract: Music Box Gets AIDS Movie

Most of the time when feature films are released, the distributor puts the film up for bid, and the exhibitor with the best offer gets the picture. Such was not the case, however, with the local booking of Longtime Companion, a widely praised film about coping with the AIDS crisis by screenwriter Craig Lucas and director Norman Rene. In this instance, the Samuel Goldwyn Company decided to forgo bidding and give the Chicago engagement exclusively to the Music Box Theatre, where the film will open May 25. Music Box coowner Bob Chaney believes the choice is both savvy and sensitive. Explains Chaney, “Our theater is known to the gay community,” which is expected to be the film’s primary audience. But Chaney thinks the film should draw widely from the mainstream moviegoing audience as well, because of the public’s strong interest in AIDS and the considerable preopening publicity the film has generated. Though Longtime Companion has won raves from many critics, it received a no-holds-barred pan from the New York Times last week when it premiered in New York.

Exit Byron Schaffer Jr.

The Theatre Building staff is in a state of shock following the sudden and unexpected death (from a heart attack) last weekend of founder Byron Schaffer Jr. In 1976 Schaffer and wife Ruth carved the three-theater space at 1225 W. Belmont out of a former warehouse. Since then the Theatre Building has proved a vital resource on the off-Loop theater scene. And in the best show-biz tradition, the show is expected to go on well into the future. “There’s probably going to be a major upheaval internally,” predicts Theatre Building director Joan Mazzonelli, “but we’ll go on.” In addition to overseeing the many daily details of running the Theatre Building, Schaffer made most of the decisions about what groups would go into its three theaters. He and Higgins had recently returned from New York, where they saw the Broadway premiere of A Change in the Heir, a musical developed in their New Tuners Theatre workshop. Panned by the majority of critics, the Broadway production (which Higgins says did not do justice to the original concept) closed on the day after Schaffer’s death.

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