Artists, Patrons Reminisce At Closing Party

Nathan Adkisson

By Nathan AdkissonThe Daily Northwestern

Only nine days remain in the life of Gallery Mornea.

The art gallery at 602 Davis St. will be closing soon because of financial concerns. The owner, Michael Monar, held a closing party on Friday to celebrate the history of the gallery.

“We’ve got some of our best artists here tonight,” Monar said as a crowd of those who have become close to the gallery over the years swarmed around him.

Artists and patrons wandered in and out of the gallery, and about 50 people at a time occupied the four showing rooms as they drank wine and discussed the works.

The party was a time to reminisce for many patrons and artists who have shown at the gallery since it opened in 2002. For others, it was a last opportunity to view the art before it is taken down at the end of the month.

Several artists who had shown at the gallery came to the party and displayed their works.

One piece includes a yellowed Des Moines newspaper from after President Kennedy was shot. Over it, Roland Oria had painted detailed portraits of Jacqueline Onassis and Marina Oswald in shades of black and gray.

One of Oria’s specialties is this technique of painting over old newspapers from historic dates.

“He’s done a better job of blending art and history than anyone I know,” said Richard Davis, who works in the gallery.

Oria, an alumnus of the Art Institute of Chicago, had good experiences with Gallery Mornea, he said.

“We had a show over here a little while ago and we made a killing,” he said.

Richard Davis said he remembers that show.

“I think we sold five the first night,” he said.

Oria has a studio in the Flatiron Arts Building downtown. Many people he knows there also have a history with Gallery Mornea.

“Strangely enough, a lot of the people who show at the Flatiron building have shown at Gallery Mornea,” he said. “Former teachers of mine from the Art Institute have shown here. For me, it was great to be showing at a place that had showed things by my professors.”

Two retired members of Northwestern’s faculty were at the party waiting for just one artist. Harriet Wadeson and Neena Schwartz, an NU professor emeritus of neurobiology and physiology, drifted into debate about whether Bert Menco was a better scientist or artist. Menco is also an NU professor of neurobiology and physiology.

“His work is very whimsical,” said Wadeson. “I think he has more passion as an artist than as a scientist.”

“Oh, come on,” said Schwartz.

“I like Bert, and I’ve always liked to support him,” said Harriet Wadeson.

Schwartz said she came to get her colleague to sign her book of his work.

Also at the closing party was 7-month-old Mitchell Fabri, who has been to the gallery three times, making him a regular, according to his mother, Jennifer Fabri.

“He likes it here,” Fabri said. “It’s very colorful. But he likes flirting with the ladies. He’s here to pick up chicks.”

In addition to contributing to early development, the gallery has put money toward helping rescue historic artifacts in Iraq.

The gallery made a generous contribution to the work of Clemens Reichel, an archaeologist at the University of Chicago who was at the party. The push to fund the project was led by Richard Davis and Bert Menco.

Reichel has been to Iraq three times to try and save some of the artifacts from the area before they are destroyed.

“It’s the cradle of civilization,” Reichel said. “A lot of things have been stolen since 2003. The gallery helped to underwrite the project with a $10,000 check. They have done a lot for us.”

Even as the gallery becomes a piece of history itself, the patrons and artists who got their start at Mornea carried out memories of the gallery for their own private collections.

“It’s bitter to see the gallery disappear,” Reichel said. “The sweet part for me is getting to be friends with all these people.”

Reach Nathan Adkisson at [email protected]