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Psst! Our Contacts Can Get You Michael Jordan or Claude Monet

November 17, 1995

Who says art doesn’t sell?

Ticket scalpers are becoming a common sight outside the Art Institute of Chicago, where a market has grown up around the Claude Monet exhibit.

``It’s the hottest ticket in Chicago,″ says Vickie Godfrey, chief concierge at the Chicago Sheraton Hotel and Towers. Some licensed ticket-broker services have been asking as much as $125 for the chance to peek at Monet’s ``Water Lilies,″ she says.

On a recent Sunday outside the museum, one scalper was trying to sell a ticket at the face value of $12.50, while across the street, another offered a ticket for $40. Some museum goers report prices of well over $100.

More than 850,000 people have seen the exhibit of 159 works by the famous French Impressionist painter since it opened July 22, making it the museum’s most popular exhibition with an admission charge. With advance tickets sold out for the exhibit, which closes Nov. 26, people have to line up for the varying number of tickets _ usually at least 80 _ that the museum sells everyday.

Visitors get in line at 7:30 a.m. _ three hours before the museum opens. About five to seven regular scalpers have been working the crowds, reports a panhandler who says he is considering getting into the business. He has seen some well-dressed art buffs nearly come to blows over the tickets.

Where are the scalpers getting tickets? From the same place sports scalpers do: people who bought more tickets than they needed and season-ticket holders _ in this case, Art Institute members, who get free tickets to the exhibit and can buy more any time. The Art Institute’s membership has grown by nearly 55,000, or more than 50 percent, since June.

On a recent morning at 8:15, Julie Parr is No. 24 in line. The high school art teacher from Jasper, Ind., flew into Chicago on a midnight flight from Louisville, Ky. (She had called the museum on 10 consecutive days to try to get tickets but had failed.)

``I heard if you were in line by 8:15 a.m., you’d have a good chance to get in,″ says Ms. Parr. But fearing her wait will be fruitless, she’s ready to haggle. Why go to all this effort for a French landscape painter? She looks surprised that one would ask. ``It’s Monet,″ she says.