A dystopian theme has been cropping up lately in work at Evan Lurie Gallery. Such work, straddling the borderlands between realism and surrealism, hints that all is not quite right behind the doors of the houses lining Main Street.
The trend continues with new work from the Tarpon Springs, Fla.-based Kevin Grass opening Sept. 14 at the gallery. Lurie first came across Grass's work at Miami's Art Basel in 2012, when he was struck by one painting called "Inheritance." It shows what looks like a a four-level bunk bed - or mausoleum slots - with three slots taken by grandfather, father and son. They're stacked one on top of another, passing bottles of beer, and the scourge of alcoholism, from one generation to another. On the top tier, you see a skeleton with a beer bottle in hand.
Other pieces by Grass at Art Basel didn't appeal as much to Lurie. "There has to be an intrinsic element there that surpasses the subject of what you're looking at and takes you to a different realm of thought," Lurie says. "So he understood that. And I said to him: "Look at some neorealist artists' work, and I gave him a list of all the ones I'm very attracted to. And he went, and he looked at that, and he came back, and he said, 'I have some ideas. Let me do some drawings.'"
Grass then turned a few of the drawings into paintings for this month's show, taking into account pointers from Lurie.
"There was one in particular, a drawing of these kids playing with a toy lawn mower and a doll and these kids playing by a tree," Lurie says. "And he asked, 'Well what do you think?' I said, 'What I like is the concept of it. I'm going to tell you where I would go in terms of my mind: take the kids out and put adults in them in those situations acting as kids.' So then the narrative becomes that of people trying to recapture their lost childhood, and it becomes a narrative of the times."
The end result of this collaborative process, "Suburbia," is one of seven of Grass's paintings in the show. Some might be surprised at the extent of this artistic collaboration, but Lurie considers it par for the course.
"It always is," Lurie says. "It needs to be. And that's not always the case once you've built an understanding of each others style and tastes. But initially it happens quite often because every gallery has their own kind of theory on work, where they're going with work."
Another standout artist displayed during the past year was British artist Nick Veasey, whose X-ray photograph of a hoodie made an appearance on the July 29 edition of Time for the cover story "After Trayvon" . That particular work wasn't part of the Lurie show, but other equally impressive ones were, including an X-ray photo of an airplane fuselage complete with pilots in the cockpit.
Lurie continues to work with local artists, as well. Over the summer, the gallery displayed (and sold) abstract paintings by locally-based artist Susan Brewer.
But because Lurie's selection of high-priced art by internationally-renowned artists is a hard sell in Carmel, the gallery also seeks markets elsewhere.
"We do international art fairs and the international art fairs are current, current, current," says Lurie. "They are what's going on in the art world today. So I show the art that we have and I also develop relationships with other galleries and artists that I don't have that create opportunities to bring some of that work here through doing those other shows. So for me doing those shows is a two part thing. It's one, the survival of our business. And two, it's the mission of the gallery."
These art fairs are costly affairs, and a gamble: there's never any guarantee that the gallery will even cover expenditures, let alone make a profit. According to Lurie, they cost anywhere between $30,000 to $40,000 a pop. Nevertheless this is an essential part of the business model for his gallery that, he believes, has an important role to play in educating people in the Indianapolis area about contemporary art.
"I think that's a responsibility that the gallery has in addition to just trying to sell things," he says. "Where else are you going to see X-ray art? And some of the sculpture that we sell?"
Past, present and future
Lurie came to Carmel through a circuitous route. A former stuntman and actor, he first opened a gallery with his wife Jennifer in West Hollywood, Calif. in 1997. In the process he helped launch a new business district, The Avenues of Art & Design. After his in-laws got him interested in the greater Indianapolis area, he met up with Mayor Jim Brainard in 2003. Brainard, it turned out, was trying to develop an arts scene in Carmel. The two men clicked, to make a long story short, and Lurie decided to move his family to Carmel and open a gallery.
The building that housed his gallery, which opened in 2007, was the result of a public/private partnership that Lurie sunk 1.7 million of his own money into, matching the city's investment.
Lurie is upbeat when talking about the future of his gallery, despite the fallout from his February 22 arrest in Indianapolis for soliciting an undercover IMPD officer posing as a prostitute. In the immediate aftermath, the city of Carmel distanced itself from Lurie, whose vision of creating synergy between artists and designers helped to launch the city's Arts & Design District. Negotiations for a $60,000-per-year consulting contract for Lurie (his old contract expired in Spring 2012) were terminated by the city.
Lurie, whose name is engraved on the building that houses the flagship gallery in the Carmel Arts & Design District (and who owns the first two floors of the building), insists that nothing has really changed as far as the gallery is concerned.
"What's changed if anything is my motivation to do more for the community," says Lurie. "Sometimes it takes something to happen to motivate you to do other things. And it was a terrible decision. I made some bad choices which have in turn been good learning experiences. And it would have been nice to figure this out another way, but it took that to get to refocus and in some way positive and good things will come from it."