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Bullish Brits in a Bearish Market/Trip of the Spider Woman

London Calling: Charles Belloc Lowndes and Algernon Williams take a chance in an era of slumping gallery fortunes.



Bullish Brits in a Bearish Market

While big names like Betsy Rosenfield and Bill Struve are closing down their River North galleries this spring, newcomers with big ambitions are just arriving on the scene. Belloc Lowndes Fine Art, which quietly opened in March at 300 W. Superior, is owned and operated by Charles Belloc Lowndes and his partner Algernon Williams, Britishers who recently left the London art world. Though some veteran River North dealers think the art business in Chicago will remain in a slump for a long time to come, such concerns don't appear to faze Williams and Belloc Lowndes. "I work best under pressure," says Belloc Lowndes.

Belloc Lowndes Fine Arts, which will feature the work of contemporary British artists such as Howard Hodgkin and John Carter, is only the second gallery with British roots to open in Chicago in recent memory. The other, Hildt Galleries, which recently moved from 6 W. Hubbard to larger quarters at the corner of State and Oak, features 19th-century and early 20th-century British, European, and American paintings. Though his gallery has done well, Jeremy Hildt says, "Chicago is not an easy city for the visual arts."

Before opening his own gallery, Belloc Lowndes worked for seven years at London's Browse & Darby gallery, where he was hired immediately after graduating from a one-year program run by Christie's. He began his career in 1987, when the art market was at its peak. When the market crashed in the early 1990s, Belloc Lowndes says, he wasn't terribly upset. "It brought the business back to a very genuine foundation," he says.

However, at that time Belloc Lowndes began to think about establishing a gallery in the U.S. He'd been visiting Chicago for several years as a member of the Browse & Darby team at the annual Chicago International Art Exposition and found himself increasingly taken with the city. "There's a wonderful feeling here with the city located on the lake, and a great artistic awareness within the community." Since he figured he could open a gallery here and still cater to New York collectors, he says he never seriously considered New York as a base of operations. "We would have gotten completely lost in New York, and besides, it would have cost a fortune to open up there." Furthermore, he'd noticed British art dealers always seemed to do well at the Art Expo.

Though Belloc Lowndes toyed with establishing a branch of Browse & Darby, he wanted a gallery of his own to represent the contemporary British painters he had come to appreciate during his years in the art business in London. Last winter he dispatched his partner Williams to Chicago to explore possible locations for the gallery, and the two finally settled on the space that formerly housed the short-lived Mindy Oh Gallery.

In the short time Belloc Lowndes Fine Art has been open, the business practices of its owners have impressed others in the local art world. Chicago Art Dealers Association executive director Natalie van Straaten praised their professionalism, though Belloc Lowndes Fine Art will not be eligible for CADA membership until it has been open for at least two years. Belloc Lowndes says ethics preclude his "poaching" any of the local clients he cultivated while employed at Browse & Darby. "If they wish to visit my gallery, they can," he says. In the meantime, he won't be applying any hard-sell tactics.

Trip of the Spider Woman

What happens when a big Broadway touring production unexpectedly loses its star? The producer moves quickly to find an interim replacement with enough star power to keep potentially disappointed ticket holders from demanding their money back. At last Thursday's preview of Kiss of the Spider Woman--The Musical the show's 62-year-old star, Chita Rivera, seriously injured a knee as she left the stage. When Rivera returned to New York the next day to see her doctor, understudy Janine LaManna took over, opening the show last Friday night and drawing favorable notices for her efforts. But while Rivera was en route to New York, producer Garth Drabinsky was on the phone to actress Carol Lawrence, inquiring about her availability to step into the show on short notice.

Lawrence, who played Maria in the original Broadway production of West Side Story, had previously played the Spider Woman role on Broadway when Rivera was on vacation. After saying yes to Drabinsky, Lawrence went last Friday to a performance of the Broadway production of Kiss, now in its third year, and refreshed her memory of the show. On Monday she was in Chicago rehearsing the several big production numbers that are the heart of her role. She's expected to replace LaManna before this weekend.

A spokesperson for the show's national touring company said Rivera might return by the final week of the show's four-week run at the Chicago Theatre. Until last week Rivera had missed only two performances since the tour began last November.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Photo/Chip Williams.

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