Chicago’s flourishing art scene has two main components: the dynamic artists who continuously challenge themselves in their art practice, and the behind-the-scenes curators, gallerists, institutions, collectors and cultural workers who provide the infrastructure to make sure that art gets seen. This year’s Art 50 shines a light on this group of power players, whose work making our city’s art scene thrive too often goes unacknowledged. We bring you our take on those who wield the most influence in the Chicago art world, from nonprofits with humble beginnings to philanthropists with some of the deepest pockets in Illinois. (Kerry Cardoza)
Art 50: Chicago’s Visual Vanguard 2019 was written by Kerry Cardoza with additional items from Caira Moreira-Brown, Alisa Swindell and Holly Warren.
All photos by Nathan Keay with photo assistance by Joe Crawford and JR Atkinson.
Shot on location at Comfort Station.
The Hall of Fame
These folks, or the roles they inhabit, are so well-established and foundational to the art world of Chicago that they are always near the top of the list.
Collector and Founder, Iceberg Projects
Daniel Berger’s contributions to the art and queer communities of Chicago are vast and wildly impressive. The founder of Northstar Medical Center, the Chicago HIV/AIDS research and treatment center, Berger is also an avid art collector, and in 2010 founded the domestic gallery Iceberg Projects. Berger published the book “Militant Eroticism—The Art+Positive Archives” in 2017 with John Neff, which is the first survey of the art and practice of Art+Positive, an affinity group of ACT UP New York. Iceberg Projects staged multiple noteworthy shows last year, including “David Wojnarowicz: Flesh of My Flesh,” a gorgeous mounting of the late artist’s work.
John Corbett and Jim Dempsey
Founders, Corbett vs. Dempsey
Corbett vs. Dempsey relocated to a new Near West Side location this year, christening the spot with an exhibition by Christopher Wool. Founders John Corbett and Jim Dempsey, both veterans of the Chicago arts community, were invited to be curators in the 2018 Carnegie International, where they installed “Dusty Groove II: Space is a Diamond.” The pair participated in last year’s epic Art Design Chicago, curating “3-D Doings: The Imagist Object in Chicago Art, 1964-1980.” Their Corbett vs. Dempsey record label is releasing seven new CDs this fall, and will exhibit the first Chicago show of artwork by Lee “Scratch” Perry, one of the inventors of Jamaican dub reggae.
Director, Block Museum
Leading the Block Museum since 2012, Lisa Corrin has transformed the vision and reach of the Northwestern University institution by staging interdisciplinary exhibitions from a wide range of artists, movements and eras. The Block’s “Caravans of Gold” exhibition broke previous attendance records and will travel on to the Aga Khan Museum in Toronto and the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. In anticipation of the museum’s fortieth anniversary, the Block is building its collection, with a focus on contemporary art. One of Corrin’s current goals is to expand beyond the Block, through collaborations with other arts organizations. “Such partnerships recognize Chicago as a hub of creative greatness,” she says, “and a landscape in which we can support and promote each other to the mutual benefit of our programs and our audiences.” Corrin is also contributing to the first in-depth study of the Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park, which she helped develop.
Executive Director, Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago
In a twenty-plus-year tenure at the Museum of Contemporary Photography, executive director Natasha Egan has experienced firsthand the evolution of the photograph from a physical object to an image that can be consumed and exchanged with electronic ease across the globe. Egan’s awareness of the effects of globalism on the display of photography was apparent in her recent exhibition “Stateless: Views of Global Migration,” which included compelling images by national and international artists, some of whom were not able to enter the United States for the exhibition. Under Egan’s leadership, MoCP has a solid record of engaging with significant and contemporary topics. “In Their Own Form” (2018) was a powerful showcase of current Afrofuturist work, and the current exhibition, “Go Down Moses,” examines themes of resiliency in historically oppressed cultures. Next year, the MoCP will host an exhibition focused on protest culture and art in Puerto Rico, yet another indication that Egan’s finger is firmly on the pulse.
Founder and Executive Director, Rebuild Foundation, Artist and Professor
The quantity of accomplishments and projects that Theaster Gates has a hand in is dizzying. He continues to lead Rebuild Foundation, which he founded in 2010, and regularly exhibits works as an artist, including the recent “Every Square Needs A Circle” at Gray Warehouse. In honor of what would have been Tamir Rice’s seventeenth birthday, Rebuild reconstructed on the Stony Island Arts Bank lawn the gazebo where Rice was killed. “Having a chance to honor Tamir Rice and participate in a moment of reflection with his mother, Samaria Rice, was truly amazing,” Gates says. “Activating the Stony Island Arts Bank in ways that really matter have been especially important to me.” In coming years, Gates says he will continue to make concrete his visions for creative space on the South Side, with projects like the Dorchester Art + Housing Collaborative, St. Laurence, Kenwood Gardens, the Arts Block on Garfield Boulevard as well as the Stony Island Arts Bank.
President and CEO, Terra Foundation for American Art
Elizabeth Glassman will be stepping down from her role once a successor is hired, but her almost twenty-year career at the Terra, not to mention her flawless execution of the 2018 Art Design Chicago initiative, warrant her spot on this list until she leaves. Art Design Chicago partnered with more than ninety-five organizations and served two-and-a-half million visitors through forty-six exhibitions and hundreds of programs, a heroic undertaking. “The stories our communities told throughout this initiative work together to champion Chicago’s role as a hub for imagination and impact,” Glassman says. Once her departure is complete, Glassman looks forward to helping other foundations, as well as collectors and philanthropists who hope to make a difference through giving.
Paul Gray and Valerie Carberry
Partners, Richard Gray Gallery
Richard Gray Gallery continues to wield significant influence in the Chicago art market, with representation of local greats like Theaster Gates and David Klamen, and European heavy hitters David Hockney and Magdalena Abakanowicz. The gallery opened Gray Warehouse in West Town two years ago, a 5,000-square-foot space nearly twenty feet high, with no columns to obstruct views; the opportunity for displaying work is nearly limitless. The gallery hired local curator Anastasia Karpova Tinari earlier this year, and Carberry recently became the first non-Gray family member to be named an equity partner. The partners are gearing up for a fall exhibition of pioneering abstract painter Leon Polk Smith, as well as a spring 2020 exhibition with McArthur Binion, a recent addition to their roster.
Director, Museum of Contemporary Art
After more than a decade as director of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Madeleine Grynsztejn remains committed to strong contemporary work that fosters social cohesion and builds community. With a vision of expanding art access, in 2017 the museum made entry free for everyone under eighteen, added more nighttime hours and opened a commons space on the first floor, with frequent free programming. Grynsztejn recently concluded her tenure as president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, where she helped establish an industrywide commitment to paid internships, as well as lobbying for a change in tax law to restore artists’ rights to donate their artworks to museums. Grynsztejn plans to oversee an undertaking of new initiatives into 2020 that will widen the canon beyond Euro-American art “to encompass a more relevant, and revelatory, contemporary art scene, consisting of diverse new histories and artists.”
Owner and Director, Kavi Gupta Gallery
The prestigious gallery continues to mount some of the most ambitious exhibitions in the city, including a solo show of Devan Shimoyama’s signature glittering portraits. The gallery has long represented several founding members of AfriCOBRA, who were recently recognized on an international scale with “AFRICOBRA: Nation Time,” an official collateral event for the 2019 Venice Biennale, which was curated by local Jeffreen M. Hayes. Earlier this year, Kavi Gupta Gallery joined the ranks of the Art Dealers Association of America. Gupta’s fall line-up coincides with EXPO Art Week, with exhibitions by Kennedy Yanko and Jeffrey Gibson opening September 21.
Gallerist and Owner, Rhona Hoffman Gallery
With more than forty years in the Chicago art world, Rhona Hoffman was a key sculptor of the city’s contemporary art scene. She opened her first gallery in 1976, showcasing conceptual and minimalist art while her counterparts focused on European work. Hoffman focuses on conceptual art to this day, and has taken an interest in sociopolitical art, creating a dynamic roster of diverse artists, including Deanne Lawson and Derrick Adams. While her influence extends beyond Chicago, she continues to support local artists, such as Julia Fish and Amanda Williams, and remains rooted in the city’s art scene. Now operating out of West Town, the veteran gallerist has proven that while trends change, work ethic is essential to the operation of a gallery. The secret to her craft is that she showcases art that inspires her, and her passion precedes the potential financial gains of the art world.
Mary Jane Jacob
Director, Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, School of the Art Institute of Chicago
Mary Jane Jacob’s legacy in the art world to date is wide-ranging, from her curation of work at the MCA to her opening of SAIC’s Sullivan Galleries. In her role as director of SAIC’s Institute for Curatorial Research and Practice, Jacob is helping shape the landscape of critical scholarship while educating a new generation of curators. Her book “Dewey for Artists” (2018), published by the University of Chicago Press, shows readers how John Dewey’s democratic thinking in regards to art-making and viewing lives on in today’s artists.
President and Director, EXPO Chicago
Over the course of eight years, Tony Karman has greatly increased the visibility and prominence of EXPO Chicago, the city’s preeminent international contemporary art fair. EXPO’s eighth edition aligns with the start of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, in addition to the exhibitions planned to run for EXPO Art Week, plunging the fall art season into full swing. EXPO makes good on its commitment to focus on curatorial initiatives this year, with the new Red Bull Arts Global Curatorial Initiative, an expansion of the Curatorial Exchange program, which will bring ten or more international curators to the fair.
President and Director, Art Institute of Chicago
With more than twenty years at the Art Institute of Chicago, James Rondeau’s commitment to expanding access to the museum, furthering art history scholarship and generating a lifelong appreciation of art for its visitors has been long proven. Public engagement is crucial to Rondeau’s vision, and the museum provides ample opportunity for Illinois residents to visit; more than thirty percent of all visitors attend for free. A new audio guide made by teens for teens and a revamped website equipped with more than 50,000 pieces from the permanent collection also make the institution readily accessible. Rondeau looks toward a star-studded exhibition calendar, including “Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again,” which opens in October, and an exhibition of El Greco in March.
Director, Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago
As director of Gallery 400 since 2000, Lorelei Stewart has made the space a site for artists, art-workers and community activists and organizations to collaborate on innovative exhibitions and programming that expands and challenges the canon. Under her leadership, the gallery is also a training ground for students who have gone on to prominent institutions such as the Block Museum, Studio Museum and ICA Philadelphia. Stewart also celebrates the tenth anniversary of the Propeller Fund, a granting agency that she co-founded, which has made some of the most exciting art projects in Chicago possible.
President, National Museum of Mexican Art
Carlos Tortolero founded the National Museum of Mexican Art more than thirty years ago. Throughout the years, he has ensured the museum remains committed to displaying art “sin fronteras” (without borders), a goal as important today as it was in the 1980s. To celebrate the museum’s thirtieth anniversary in 2017, it mounted “Memoria Presente: An Artistic Journey,” a lively group exhibition of works by artists from Chicago and neighboring locales.