After Four-Year Run, Local Gallery To Close Amid Failing Finances

Nathan Adkisson

By Nathan AdkissonThe Daily Northwestern

Evanston’s Gallery Mornea, known for displaying the work of Chicago artists, will close at the end of the month for financial reasons. The gallery, 602 Davis St., opened in 2002.

Gallery Mornea staff said they had a successful run of more than four years, but their story echoes the plight of art galleries everywhere.

“I would say that about three-quarters of art galleries don’t break even,” Mornea owner Michael Monar Sr. said. “Most galleries in Chicago operate on a consignment basis, with the gallery and the owner splitting the money about 50-50. That sounds like a lot, but there are many operation fees.”

The gallery opened on the second floor of an office building and occupied two small rooms, and in February 2004 it moved to its current 2,000-square-foot space. Monar said he will not renew his lease at the end of the month.

The art from the gallery is contemporary – the oldest piece ever shown was from 1911. Most of the pieces in the gallery were owned by Michael Greany, who has about 4,500 pieces in his collection, Monar said.

Throughout its history, the Gallery Mornea has offered a range of art, from the expensive to the affordable. Some pieces went for $1,000, and the most expensive cost about $25,000, Monar said.

“It has been our mission to offer high-quality, contemporary art rooted in a strong aesthetic foundation, created by a wide variety of local artists,” Monar said in a letter announcing the closing.

Elizabeth Ockwell, an Evanston artist and resident, said she had good memories of Gallery Mornea.

“We had a really good rapport,” she said. “I was happy to see a very serious gallery in Evanston. I was glad to see someone taking risks.”

Ockwell said she was proud to support a gallery from her hometown.

“I’ve been really fond of them,” Ockwell said. “They worked really hard for me.”

Monar said he was proud of the exposure his gallery was able to provide for Ockwell.

“We presented her well over the time,” he said. “We got her into some high-level national publications.”

The irony of the closing of the gallery is that they have received more publicity and sold more pieces after news of the closing spread.

“Evanston is not a destination like the Loop and the River North Area,” said Richard Davis, who has worked for Gallery Mornea since its conception. “The Daily Northwestern has been our greatest source of publicity. There were a few free publications, but they all went out of business in about a year.”

“Evanston is kind of a paradox,” Davis said. “You would think that Evanston would be a viable art market. It’s got the faculty from the university, and the North Shore is home to a remarkable number of incredibly talented artists.”

But the art market is so unpredictable that success is far from guaranteed, he said.

“Someone said art is like going to the racetrack,” Davis said.

The high cost of renting in Evanston as compared to other parts of Cook County doesn’t help galleries’ chances.

The gallery will host several events during the month of January to finish its more than four-year run. The final exhibit, called “CHICAGOLAND: People and Places,” will run through the end of the month. The exhibit includes pieces from more than 25 artists whose work features fixtures of Chicago from the last 100 years.

Gallery Mornea began showing the work of six students from the Evanston Art Center Jan. 5.

Monar said he will stay active in the Chicago art scene and will continue to work for his business, Mornea Consulting, which operates out of the space above the gallery.

“Chicago is a pretty rich place for art,” he said. “We didn’t have any trouble getting artists, so we may continue to sell some prints.”

A closing party will be held Jan. 19 at the gallery. Several of the artists who were the “heart and soul” of the gallery will be present.

“I don’t like things that sputter and die,” Michael Monar said. “I’d like to have a good finish.”

Reach Nathan Adkisson at [email protected]