Evan Lurie would seem to have it all. He has an art gallery with his name on the front in a new, state-of-the-art building on Main Street in Carmel. The Evan Lurie Gallery is located at the heart of that town's Arts and Design District, a neighborhood Lurie helps to shape.
On the walls of Lurie's gallery are works by an international roster of artists. He has shows booked through the end of the year.
Art is not a weekend avocation for Evan Lurie. It's his business. And, like a lot of other businesses, Lurie's art dealership has been battered over the past year and a half. What looks like abundance to some can, at times, feel like a long stretch of dangerously exposed neck.
Lurie has invested almost two million dollars in creating an art space that he hopes will become the cornerstone of a thriving arts market in Carmel and Indianapolis. The potential he sees here is so great he can practically taste it. That's why he moved to this part of the country from Los Angeles, and why he's hoping the economy gets better sooner, rather than later.
"We can build Indianapolis, right now, as an art destination, easier than we could before," Lurie says. There's conviction in his voice. Some anxiety, too.
Lurie was born in New York City in 1966, the fourth of three boys. His mother and father divorced when he was a toddler, with his mother later marrying a British businessman who moved his new family to Europe for stints in Spain, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Wales. From the time he was five until he was 17, Lurie and his mom made a point of seeking out the cultural treasures wherever they were living. "Every city we went to, we went to the museums," says Lurie. "My life was filled with going and seeing art."
Lurie's birth father was an ex-Marine who Lurie describes as "a physical guy" who taught Lurie's brothers to box. Though he was an ocean away in Europe, Lurie took up martial arts and when he was old enough to think about going to college he returned to the States to reconnect with his dad, his brothers and possibly pursue a martial arts career.
He was immediately smitten by New York City. "It was the one place in America that, for me, had a feeling of old," he recalls. "I embraced that."
He was also able to land a gig as a martial arts coach and stunt man on a CBS TV series, The Equalizer.
In the meantime, he was hanging out with his brothers. One, in particular, Bruce, was in the art business and owned a gallery frequented by Keith Haring and Andy Warhol. Bruce Lurie gave Jean-Michel Basquiat his first show. "I got involved in that group a little bit, seeing art and all these people," says Lurie.
But he wanted to make movies. He went to Los Angeles to see if he could parlay his martial arts training into a career. He was interviewed by action star Jean Claude Van Damme, but when nothing came of it, Lurie took a job as a bouncer at what at that time was one of L.A.'s hottest clubs, the Roxbury. "Everybody was in there every night," says Lurie, "from Mickey Rourke to Stallone..."
One night, Lurie was called to throw a guy out for making unwanted advances to a movie producer's wife. But the offender waited until closing, and attacked the producer when the he left the club. Lurie rescued the producer, but was arrested for his trouble when it turned out the attacker was an off-duty cop.
Lurie spent the night handcuffed in the lock-up. "I didn't know anybody, didn't have an attorney."
This misadventure had a Hollywood ending. The next morning the movie producer sent a car and driver to the jail, bailed Lurie out and brought him home for breakfast. It turned out the producer was making Van Damme's next movie, slated to begin shooting in a matter of days in Hong Kong. There was a trans-Pacific phone call and three days later Lurie was on a flight to Hong Kong to work as Van Damme's assistant. His movie career as a fight choreographer and stunt man had begun.
The movies and martial arts enabled Lurie to travel the world. He often found himself on locations with days to kill between assignments. "There's so much down time when you're working on a movie. I used to always want to find out where the artists' studios were. Where were the cool people? I collected the names of artists I liked."
This turned out to be a useful pastime. Lurie was almost killed while working on a film called White Tiger 2. His injuries put him in the hospital for two and half months and led to 12 reconstructive surgeries. "While I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, the art thing came back around."
Lurie started calling artists. In 1997, he and his wife, Jennifer, an actress and model, opened a gallery in West Hollywood and, in the process, helped develop a new district, Avenues of Art and Design, that won a California Governor's Award for Best New Business District in 1999.
Soon Lurie was collaborating with his brother Bruce on a gallery in Miami, also connected with an art and design district.
In 2003, Lurie's Indiana in-laws began getting him interested in the Indianapolis metro area. Lurie was initially drawn to the scene on Massachusetts Avenue but, at that time, doubted that it had the population density to support his business.
"After being in L.A. and working with the district there, and in Miami, and their design district, the common denominator as to why they were successful was because they were heavily populated with residential. The residential brought in the restaurants and cafes and supportive retail."
Then Lurie was introduced to Carmel's old town neighborhood. "I said, 'Stop, what's this?'" says Lurie. "It was the old Main Street. There was nothing here. I thought it was perfect. There was all this building all around it, but this place was forgotten because it was cheaper to plow up a cornfield than deal with all the issues you face with a pre-existing area."
The more Lurie learned about Carmel, the better he liked it. "You saw the investment people were making in their homes. The type of homes going up were 3,000 to 10,000 square feet. There was a huge push for infrastructure. The visual appearance of the area was starting to take shape."
Lurie also noted Carmel's burgeoning healthcare industry – the construction of Clarian North Hospital and St. Vincent's Heart Center. "When you have hospitals, you have doctors," he says, referring to a potential customer base. "I knew Indianapolis was becoming a really medically oriented city. There was a good population of well-educated, high income, well-traveled and surprisingly international people."
When Lurie met Carmel's mayor, Jim Brainard, he knew he'd found a kindred spirit. Brainard believed that creating a vibrant arts scene was necessary if Carmel was to attract the young professionals necessary to help it sustain its economic prosperity. He was immediately drawn to Lurie's stories about the art and design district in L.A. and soon made a point of seeing it for himself.
"I explained to him how important it is for the art industry and the design industry to work together. The synergy between the two of them is critical," says Lurie. "Executives are coming into town and building these homes and designers are looking for art. It's part of the scope of the project. So it's important to have a center where the design industry can call home and piggyback on the art industry. I realized how important it was for the art and design to be together. And the mayor saw and understood that from the very beginning also."
Brainard hired Lurie as a consultant to help create Carmel's Arts and Design District. He also entered into what amounted to a public/private partnership with Lurie, in which the city invested money in the development of the building that would become Lurie's gallery. For his part, Lurie matched the city's investment with $1.7 million. "My wife and I put ten years' worth of money we made in the film business into this building," Lurie says.
Opening in 2007, the Lurie Gallery became the Art and Design District's anchor.
Elegant and spacious, featuring a suave selection of highly design-conscious, cosmopolitan art, the Evan Lurie Gallery staked a different kind of claim in these parts. Neither bohemian clubhouse, nor academic salon, it asserted that art was, among other things, part of a worldly lifestyle. As if to emphasize the point, Lurie had sculptures of naked men installed as handles on his gallery's front doors, provoking a brief and not unwelcome kerfuffle with some of his more retrograde neighbors. No less cheeky for being meticulously crafted, those door handles made a point: the Lurie Gallery was about grown-up pleasures.
It has also turned out to be an entrepreneurial high-wire act. A year after opening came the credit crunch and the meltdown of financial markets. The art market came to a grinding halt. "Timing is everything," Lurie says. "We got our place built and we got our place open. A year later we would never been able to borrow the money we needed to borrow or do the things we needed to do."
Making the pitch
"There's a certain look to the art," says Lurie of the two-and three-dimensional pieces he sells. "Whether it's abstract work or figurative work, there's a definite theme throughout. My wife and I aren't good bullshitters. I can't tell you something's going to look good in your house if I don't think it is. I can only sell what I would want to own."
Lurie says people are amazed when they visit his home and find it full of works by the artists he represents, at least 12 of whom have been with him for over a decade.
"There's a huge trust thing that happens in the art business. You become kind of like a family. You talk to these people all the time, you know what their family issues are. You become kind of like a therapist.
"And to get this kind of art, you have to be able to prove to [the artists] that you can sell it. That has been one of the biggest factors in moving to Indianapolis," Lurie gestures toward the works around him. "I happen to own a significant amount of this inventory right now, which I never would have done before. It's tough."
Ordinarily, art is sold on consignment. The artist provides work to the gallery owner with the expectation the work will be sold, at which point the gallery takes a commission and turns over the lion's share of the purchase price to the artist.
"What makes my gallery valuable is the exclusivity you get with these artists. If somebody wants to get a Ben Freeman piece, they're going to have to get it from me. In return, I have to guarantee I'll sell a certain number of Freeman pieces, because he's got a mortgage, he's got to support his kids. So I have to make a deal that if I don't sell a certain amount of work, I'll buy a certain amount of work.
"Having this gallery here and having the economy the way it is has backed me into a corner of having to buy a lot of art."
Lurie is on the hinge of two challenges. On the one hand, he has to convince his artists that Indianapolis has the kind of art market where their work has a fighting chance of being sold.
Then he has to convince his neighbors – not just in Carmel, but throughout the metropolitan area – that art is something worth owning. "I have an unbelievable roster of artists – here, now and coming – but I don't have a significant art market yet to sell them in."
For Lurie, building that market dovetails with making Carmel known, not as a suburban arts island in competition with the Downtown Indy, but as part of a larger metro arts scene. "Downtown will always have its creative side," he says. "But people have to realize there will be over two million people here eventually. There will be plenty to go around."
The arts, according to Lurie, create the social infrastructure that supports a greater economic vitality. "People who are coming here to work for corporations are used to a certain lifestyle in the cities they're coming from, whether that's New York or L.A., San Francisco or Seattle. A client of mine is a heart surgeon from Seattle. He and his wife saw an article about us and came in. They said, 'We used to do this all the time in Seattle. We went to art openings.' It's such an important social networking opportunity for people because there aren't enough things that get people out to interact. There's no better way to get people out and talking than the arts."
But, Lurie stresses, this isn't merely an academic exercise. "It's not just about once-a-month art walks. We can't survive on having people come in once a month to drink wine. This has to be a day-to-day, everyday activity."
So, too, is the potential Lurie continues to see here. The recession has been hard, he says, but it has also given him access to artists he could never show before and lowered the prices for some pieces of fine art by as much as 40 percent "This is the best possible time to invest in art. The opportunities to do things are huge. It's just getting everybody to see it. What would have taken us 20 years before, we can do in three or four years now."
Lurie tries to add a couple of artists to his roster each year. He looks for individuals who are committed to making art a fulltime job. "The economy is going to affect people – and it can dissuade people from looking at art as a profession. You have to push through it. There are creative people here who aren't going to let the economy affect their future," says Lurie when asked about the local scene.
"I'd like to see some of these artists get the hell out of Indianapolis and see what's going on in some other art markets. That's not to say leave here, but you have to have your finger on the pulse of what's going on outside Indianapolis. You have to grow as an artist and make a living. You need to know what people are buying. From day one I've had people sending me their work. And I tell them they're really talented, but why don't you show me something I can sell? There are artists who don't want to listen. Who are going to do what they want to do. That's fine. As long as you have a rich parent to support you."
Lurie stresses that to be professionally successful, artists have to know what sells and develop the kind of understanding of the market that can enable him to place their work in a million dollar home or corporate office.
"Corporations say they just want to buy local artists. I'm all about that. I have a few local artists. But, for the most part, they're not career artists in this town. There are probably a dozen making a living at it and it only. A corporation needs to have a certain level of work. If they want to elevate these local artists, if they want to give local artists any national recognition within their corporation, they need to surround them with some recognizable national and international artists. That's when you do them good.
"If you want to be successful, you have to know what's selling, you have to understand the market. If you want to be aggressive about doing something that's conceptual, and that's your life's dream project, know what you're getting into. You're probably not going to sell it. If several galleries tell you this is going to be tough, listen."
For Lurie, this advice isn't meant as a defense of selling out. It's a lesson about livelihood. "Make work that's going to make you a living first," he says. "Do your passion on the side. If you're a good enough artist, you should be able to manage both."
Being able to manage both – to make a living from one's passion is the challenge Evan Lurie has embraced. Lately, as he readily acknowledges, it's been a tough pull. But Lurie also understands that this is part of the deal. "Sustainability," he says, "is character."
There's a story he likes to tell about an encounter he had shortly after his gallery opened on Main Street. "Two women came in who were in their mid- to late-eighties, very elegantly dressed," he says. "They walked in and they were laughing and giggling. I thought it was because of my door handles at first. I said, 'Can you let me in on what's so funny?' They said, 'When we were little girls, we sat right about here...'" And Lurie points to a spot near the center of his gallery floor. "'...and watched silent movies projected on the building next door.' They said they'd waited 70 years to see this happen. So I said, 'What do you think?' And one woman said, 'I wish I was younger again to enjoy it.'
"When I heard that," says Lurie, "I thought, 'OK, we're doing something good here.'"
Here is a listing of upcoming shows at Evan Lurie Gallery
30 W. Main St.
Carmel, IN 46032
May 28, 2010: Contrasts and Collusions: A View into the Methodology of Black and White
Alex Guofeng Cao
July 17, 2010: Summer Photography Show 2010
September 18, 2010:
James McLaughlin Way
New Work by Ben Freeman.
New Works by Russian Master Eric Perukian
Evan Lurie Gallery Lecture Series with Ben Freeman
November 6, 2010:
Carlos Estevez (One Man Show, Cuban Master)
Evan Lurie Gallery Lecture Series with Carlos Estevez
December 11, 2010: The Holidays Affordable Art Show
Affordable Art Holiday Show - 10% of proceeds to local Salvation Army