Breakout Artists is our annual showcase of Chicago artists we think you should know. This is our twelfth edition.
Lists like these always risk reduction, betray biases and can say more about the limits of their host publication’s scope than about the worthiness of artists—those mentioned or not. They persist as conversation starters: their value isn’t solely in what is printed here, but in the excited discussions and debates that proceed from them. Our circulation spikes around these featured lists, and so does the mail we receive. Understanding those contexts is an important part of appreciating what a list like our annual Breakout Artists can and can’t do.
But while many lists of this sort are ranked or correspond to particular forms of prestige, our Breakout Artists have always been determined by a more mysterious (and certainly subjective) calculus. I had to begin by wondering out of what these artists were meant to be breaking. This year, we are celebrating and advocating for ten artists’ practices who have seen breakthroughs in their work and are breaking out into higher stakes, wider visibility, a broader range of media, or expansions of what art can accomplish. Their practices subvert racial and gender stereotypes, crisscross into adjacent fields like illustration and design, enmesh studio work with curating and other socially engaged creative moves, run amuck in traditional mediums like painting and sculpture, while also finding ways to work in new places outside galleries or on the web.
The artists we’ve selected are at different stages of their careers; this is not an emerging artist list, although a couple have recently completed BFAs. If there is a common feature, it is one that shows the continued gravitational pull of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago on the arts cultivated in this town. Despite being one of the most expensive college educations in the country (for art or anything else) and in the face of perpetual wondering about the relevance of higher education, each of this year’s Breakout Artists have brushed through SAIC—whether studying there or, like me, teaching there. These artists’ work happens not only in sanctioned art world temples, but in apartment spaces far out on the Green Line, in the neighborhoods surrounding Cook County Jail, from Rogers Park to Washington Park, and sometimes in Canada. Whether in major arts institutions or in the dispersed expanded field of where creative exploration can happen, these are artists worth knowing about and watching out for the great things they are doing. (Matt Morris)