Historically a city of architecture, music and art, Chicago continues to be a place for intersections. One does not have to look farther than the vivacious gallery scene to see the way that the local community pushes for inclusivity and a broader definition of the arts. When visiting the Windy City for the architecture biennial or Expo Chicago, these are the brick-and-mortar spots not to miss.
Kavi Gupta || 835 W Washington Blvd and 219 N Elizabeth Street
Kavi Gupta is a cornerstone of the Chicago art scene. An incubator for artists and dealers alike, the gravity of Kavi Gupta can be felt on an international level. Monique Meloche cut her teeth at the gallery, as did Patron gallery founders Emanuel Aguilar and Julia Fischbach.
Opened in 2000, Kavi Gupta is now the largest commercial gallery in the city. With a focus on international emerging and mid-career artists, Gupta and his team work to introduce new names into the contemporary art canon. This September, the gallery will present three exhibitions at its two locations: Glenn Kaino’s “Sign,” Jose Lerma’s “Nunquam Prandium Liberum” and Gerald Williams’s self-titled show.
While Gupta cultivates talents from abroad, the dealer’s strength is in part his ability to also see the richness of the community around him. “Chicago has always had an incredible pool of talented artists, but the city’s self-confidence and visibility has grown on a global scale over the past few years,” Gupta says. “As part of the its growing prominence on the global stage, our gallery is trying to both represent Chicago to the world and bring in people from around the world to Chicago.”
Monique Meloche || 2154 W Division
Monique Meloche’s first show “Homewrecker” (2000) took over every floor of her Ukrainian Village townhouse. The domestic exhibition’s popularity prompted Meloche to invest in a more permanent venue. When she opened, the Canadian transplant backed young artists like Rashid Johnson and Ebony G. Patterson, and rather than rest on her laurels, the dealer continues to invest in every new generation. The program is a mix of emerging and established voices.
In addition to her traditional gallery program, Meloche reaches out to the larger community through initiatives like Gallery Weekend Chicago, an initiative she founded in 2011 to forge new connections between local spaces.
This September, Meloche will stage a second solo show with artist Nate Young, while simultaneously staging a cross-city project with artist Amanda Williams. “These non-traditional exhibition programs allow me to engage and connect with the surrounding community,” the dealer says when talking about her role in the greater Chicago scene. This inclusive, hands-on attitude has kept her current for just shy of two decades.
Patron Gallery || 673 N Milwaukee Ave
When Emanuel Aguilar and Julia Fischbach opened their own space, they wanted to reimagine the gallery model. They found inspiration in traditional conceptions of patronage. Seeing themselves as a resource for artist production and development, they named their storefront space Patron and set up a program dedicated to hands-on consulting.
Patron sets itself apart from the other galleries in its investment in young local talent. “We looked at spaces in Los Angeles and New York, but we decided to stay,” Aguilar explains. “Chicago has a lot of schools with really great MFA programs, but the students tend to leave the city once they graduate. A lot of it has to do with a lack of opportunities. Part of us staying here was our desire to fill that void and provide a platform and support structure for those artists.”
When Patron opened in 2015, they focused on solely on artists based in the city, they’ve since branched out into other cities and other artists. Take for example, their September exhibition with Brooklyn-based artist Nick van Woert.
Produce Model || 1007 W 19Th St Ste 1F
“We opened Produce Model as a response to a need for exhibition spaces that are artist-centered” says Maggie Crowley, one of two directors behind Chicago’s Produce Model Gallery. Opened last summer by Crowley and her partner, Javier Bosques, the jewel-box sized storefront has already developed a following thanks to its focus on underrepresented artists and communities.
Each exhibition spans several months giving the work a longer shelf life in the public sphere. This slowdown of production allows Crowley and Bosques to develop more thoughtful programming. “It is important that while we are not exclusively a commercial gallery,” Crowley says. “We are a serious enterprise that values both producing high caliber exhibitions and taking curatorial risks.”
For fall, the plan is a two-person show titled, “Quiet Storm,” with works by conceptual artist Ayanah Moor and poet-artist Krista Franklin. The show comes at a critical moment for Chicago as the President threatens to bring federal force into the city to curb gang violence.