Chicago is undoubtedly a haven for art lovers, dating all the way back to the founding of the Chicago Academy of Design in 1866. However, if you’re looking for a more offbeat or intimate experience or want to see some of the country’s top emerging artists, there are dozens of independent galleries, centers, and studios to visit. Here is just a handful of the best.
Corbett vs. Dempsey | Courtesy of Corbett vs. Dempsey
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 the Art Institute of Chicago for nearly 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 multidiscipline backgrounds, with film and music alongside a variety of contemporary arts.
Founder and owner Monique Meloche had spells at the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Rhona Hoffman Gallery, and the Kavi Gupta Gallery before starting her own gallery in the year 2000 with an exhibition titled Homewrecker, held in her home. Her established space in Wicker Park has featured work by hundreds of emerging artists from across the globe, including Chicago native Rashid Johnson, focusing on conceptually challenging installations with an emphasis on curatorial and institutional outreach.
Describing itself as “Chicago’s premier urban-contemporary art gallery,” Vertical Gallery’s monthly exhibits spotlight work influenced by street art, urban environments, graffiti, pop culture, graphic design, and illustration. Patrick Hull, a Bay Area marketing executive who wanted to foster a street art scene in Chicago to match those on the East and West Coast, founded the gallery in 2013. Pieces from current and past exhibitions are available for purchase from the gallery or online.
Founded in 1988, the Mars Gallery is run by pop artist Peter Mars and has been a pioneering fixture in West Loop ever since. The three-story, 19th-century all-brick timber loft is packed with modern pop art, abstract, and figurative art. Parapsychologists also claim the gallery sits on top of one of Earth’s “energy vortex circles,” a center for creative energy, and the museum encourages visitors to embrace the power of the “Fulton Street Vortex.” Be sure to look out for feline assistant manager Sammy, an attraction in his own right.
More than just a gallery, Intuit is a not-for-profit organization with a mission to celebrate the power of outsider art. Located on N Milwaukee in West Town, the 12,000-square-foot (1,115-square-meter) headquarters houses two galleries, a performance space, study area, and the permanent Henry Darger Room Collection, which contains the contents of the living and working space of one of the most celebrate outsider artists. Alongside revolving exhibitions, both world-class programs and resources are available to students, scholars, and enthusiasts.
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. Since opening in 2012, this West Loop gallery has become the number one destination for contemporary video art and performance art in Chicago, hosting a range of well-received exhibitions as well as representing internationally recognized artists including Sabina Ott, Casilda Sanchez, and Guy Ben-Ner.
Opened in 1998 by a former investment banker, the Kavi Gupta Gallery also lies in the West Loop hub of galleries. The success of its programs, exhibitions, and fairs has seen it open two satellite locations in Chicago, as well as a gallery in Berlin. With a focus on international emerging and mid-career artists across all media, their current roster of artists includes Angel Otero and Roxy Paine. You can also find the excellent Carrie Secrist Gallery in the same building.
Don’t be fooled by the name, the 100 years of history or even the ivy-covered building that houses it, the University of Chicago’s Renaissance Society is all about contemporary art and was one of the first-ever museums to focus on modern art. It has no permanent collection; instead, it hosts a rotating series of temporary exhibitions, artist talks, lectures, concerts, and readings in an ultra modern, minimalist space. The gallery has featured more than 3,400 artists to date, and it has a history of showing big names first.