Must-Visit Galleries in Chicago, Illinois, for Art Lovers

Vertical Gallery in Chicago specializes in showcasing the works of emerging urban-contemporary artists
Vertical Gallery in Chicago specializes in showcasing the works of emerging urban-contemporary artists | © Vertical Gallery

Wellness Editor

Chicago has a noteworthy art scene that dates back to the founding of the Chicago Academy of Design in 1866. If you’re looking for a more offbeat or intimate art experience, skip the large museums and visit one of these smaller galleries instead. You’ll find everything from street art to photography.

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Monique Meloche Gallery

The eponymous founder of the Monique Meloche Gallery worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, the Rhona Hoffman Gallery and the Kavi Gupta Gallery before hosting her first exhibition in her home, which she called Homewrecker. Since then, Meloche’s established space in West Town has featured work by hundreds of emerging artists from across the globe. The gallery focuses on conceptually challenging installations, with an emphasis on curatorial and institutional outreach.

Vertical Gallery

Vertical Gallery, billed as “Chicago’s premier urban-contemporary art gallery,” features monthly exhibits that spotlight work influenced by street art, graffiti, urban environments, graphic design, pop culture and illustration. Patrick Hull, a Bay Area marketing executive who dreamed of fostering a street-art scene in Chicago that rivaled those on the East and West Coasts, founded the art space. The gallery has helped launch the careers of many urban-contemporary artists who have gone on to exhibit at renowned museums and galleries across the globe.

Corbett vs Dempsey

The duo behind this Wicker Park gallery has quite a pedigree in the Chicago art scene. John Corbett has taught at the School of Art Institute of Chicago for more than 30 years, while Jim Dempsey was the house manager and occasional programmer at the Gene Siskel Film Center for more than 20 years. They founded Corbett vs Dempsey in 2004, and the gallery’s exhibitions and events reflect the pair’s multidisciplinary backgrounds, with film and music pieces showcased alongside a variety of contemporary art.

Engage Projects (formerly Aspect/Ratio Projects)

With a passion for video art that only grew when he moved to Chicago in the 2000s, Miami-born Jefferson Godard – a part-time professor of interior architecture at Columbia College Chicago – founded Aspect/Ratio Projects in 2012. Since then, this West Town gallery has become the number one destination for contemporary video art and performance art in the city, hosting a range of well-received exhibitions. It represents internationally recognized artists, including Sharon Louden, Casilda Sánchez and Guy Ben-Ner.

Zolla/Lieberman Gallery

The trendsetting Zolla/Lieberman Gallery was the first occupant of the River North Gallery District before the area became one of Chicago’s most saturated arts and culture destinations. The art space doesn’t restrict itself to a single period or style; instead, it searches for new artists and embraces multiple genres to curate collections based on impeccable taste.

Catherine Edelman Gallery

The artists exhibited at the Catherine Edelman Gallery push the boundaries of what can be done with a camera. The gallery focuses exclusively on the medium of photography – from landscape and fashion editorial to street shots and socially conscious work – with shows by established names, including Sebastião Salgado and Annie Leibovitz, as well as up-and-comers.

Gray

Established in 1963, Gray has become one of the most notable galleries in Chicago, showing the biggest names in 20th-century art, including Rothko, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Hockney. The gallery’s founder, Richard Gray, who passed away in 2018, had an eye for sculpture and a passion for Aboriginal Australian and African artists, as well as the European and American greats that comprise the bulk of the gallery’s exhibits.

Carl Hammer Gallery

After initially championing the Outsider art movement – work created by self-taught artists with no industry connections – the Carl Hammer Gallery gradually began to incorporate mainstream contemporary pieces into its collection. By engaging with visitors, the gallery staff aims to help them understand and experience art that grapples with issues of national and global identity and the human condition.

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

Founded as the Young Hoffman Gallery in the 1970s, Rhona Hoffman took full ownership of the space in the ’80s, showcasing a mix of emerging and established artists. Though the gallery continues to enrich Chicago’s arts community, its most notable contribution to the creative world is its advocacy of female artists. This West Town institution was one of the first to prioritize the exposure of new female artists, helping to launch the careers of Sylvia Plimack Mangold, Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. Rhona Hoffman Gallery is an all-media gallery featuring national and international pieces for every visiting art lover to enjoy.

Nick Dauk contributed additional reporting to this article.

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