The art world is a strange place these days. On June 20 a new Chicago-based enterprise called Merrill Chase Galleries opened a branch in Georgetown with what it announced was a month-long retrospective of work by Felix de Weldon, 83, sculptor of the Iwo Jima Memorial. It included memorabilia as well as models and bronze busts, all assembled to introduce three new bronzes by de Weldon, the first works he's produced for sale to the public. They were published by the Merrill Chase's affiliated venture, Sculpture Group Ltd., in "limited editions" of 250 each.

Titled "Felix de Weldon: Legends and Myths," the show itself was nearly a myth. By Thursday night, it seemed to have vanished from the walls of this flashy, storefront gallery, replaced by the paintings of Mexican artist Byron Galvez.

"We're an art gallery," said a salesperson responding to a phone inquiry Friday morning. "We couldn't have the whole gallery full of the memorabilia of de Weldon for a month. We have to sell art."

Gallery director Jim O'Brien confirmed that the works -- all but the three that are for sale -- had been packed up for shipment, in part to the home office in Chicago for another show, in part to the Army & Navy Club downtown, which had lent five bronzes and "needed them back for a party."

"I didn't have anything to do with arranging things," said O'Brien. "I'm just the director of the gallery."

He did say that the three "limited editions" were still being featured in a display in what an official from corporate headquarters called "the place of honor" at the rear of the gallery.

"It is tradition at Merrill Chase in Chicago that our artists think the back of the gallery is always the favorite space," said Madeline Kisting, vice president of national gallery operations. "In Chicago, this is acceptable, this is what we do."

By the end of the day Friday, however, Kisting said the de Weldons had returned to where most others would consider the top spot.

"We have changed it," Kisting said. "De Weldon is up in front."

Merrill Chase, which has five outlets in Chicago, is principally owned by the Pritzker family, sponsor of the Pritzker Prize in architecture.

In Memory of Kate Jones

Friends gathered Thursday night at the Jones Troyer Fitzpatrick Gallery to say a few words about Kate Jones, the local photographer and art collector who died in May at 46 after a long struggle with cancer. They weren't somber, because they were surrounded by art -- pieces of art that Jones loved, paintings made for the occasion by her close friends, and some of Jones's own photographs. They knew she would be pleased with the exhibition that had been organized in her memory.

"She had a very rare appreciation of art," said Ed McGowin, a New York artist who came to the gallery with his wife, Claudia DeMonte, also an artist. "Her motives were very pure. For her it was purely about the way art reflects the human spirit. She wasn't interested in it for decorative purposes or financial purposes."

Jones founded the gallery with Sally Troyer in 1984 after the two attended the Corcoran School of Art together. She was honored as the top student in her class and amazed many in 1982 when she turned the camera on herself to photograph the effects breast cancer had on her body, photos that she displayed in a student show. "It was a very daring thing," said Troyer. "The work she did then was very spiritual. It wasn't just a document of {her illness}. It was symbolic of a woman's body and what it means to lose a part of it."

"Most people buy art as social clout," said DeMonte. "She owned work for her own pleasure. It was out of love for the work."

The exhibition will be on display until July 28.

Indian Museum a Step Closer

In the last step required to establish the National Museum of the American Indian here, the Supreme Court of New York last week granted approval to transfer the collection currently housed in New York City's Museum of the American Indian, Heye Foundation, to the Smithsonian Institution.

On May 8, 1989, the two institutions had agreed to the transfer, but under the Heye Foundation trust, final approval for the collection to be moved out of state had to be obtained from the court. The legislation for the museum, to open on the Mall in 1998, was signed by President Bush on Nov. 28, 1989. With last week's approval, approximately 45 employees of the Heye Foundation are now on the Smithsonian's payroll.

More than 1 million artifacts will be housed in the museum, to be built on the grounds next to the National Air and Space Museum. A storage facility in Suitland is being constructed to house the objects until the museum opens.