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 experience, however, skip the art museums and visit one of these smaller galleries instead.
The eponymous founder of Monique Meloche worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rhona Hoffman Gallery and the Kavi Gupta Gallery before hosting her first exhibition in her own home, aptly titled Homewrecker. Since then, Meloche’s established space in West Town (formerly Wicker Park), has featured work by hundreds of emerging artists from across the globe, and focuses on conceptually challenging installations with an emphasis on curatorial and institutional outreach.
Billed as “Chicago’s premier urban-contemporary art gallery,” Vertical Gallery features monthly exhibits which spotlight work influenced by street art, graffiti, urban environments, graphic design, pop culture and illustration. It was founded by 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. Vertical has helped launch the careers of many urban-contemporary artists who have gone on to exhibit at renowned museums and galleries across the globe.
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 over 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 their own gallery in 2004, and its exhibitions and events reflect their multidisciplinary backgrounds, with film and music pieces showcased alongside a variety of contemporary arts.
With a passion for video art that only grew when he moved to Chicago in the ’00s, Miami-born Jefferson Godard – a part-time professor of interior architecture at Columbia College Chicago – founded Aspect / Ratio in 2012. Since then, this West Loop gallery has become the number one destination for contemporary video art and performance art in the city, hosting a range of well-received exhibitions as well as representing internationally recognized artists including Sabina Ott, Casilda Sanchez and Guy Ben-Ner.
The trendsetting Zolla / Lieberman Gallery was the first occupant of the River North Gallery District, before it became one of Chicago’s most saturated arts and culture destinations. Zolla / Lieberman doesn’t restrict itself to a single period or style – embracing multiple genres and talent-spotting new artists to curate collections based on impeccable taste.
Photographer and mixed-media artist Robin Monique Rios runs 4Art Inc, which supports artist communities by exposing their work to the public in a provocative way. This gallery is located on the fourth floor of cultural landmark Zhou B Art Center, which holds an evening reception every third Friday of the month – an opportunity for visitors to explore exhibits across all five levels of the space, including 4Art Inc.
The artists exhibited at 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.
Established in 1963, the Richard Gray Gallery went on to become one of the most notable galleries in Chicago, showing the 20th century’s biggest names, from Rothko and Warhol to 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.
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.