For this year’s list, we kept our overall ranking numbers but organized everything by category.
Art 50 2022: Chicago’s Visual Vanguard (Introduction)
Art 50 2022: Organizers and Arts Workers
Art 50 2022: Collectors and Philanthropists
Art 50 2022: Directors and Administrators
Plus: Art Leader of the Moment: A Conversation with Monique Brinkman-Hill, Executive Director of South Side Community Art Center
Here are Chicago’s Curators and Dealers.
Director, Exhibitions and External Relations, Arts of Life and Founder, LVL3
Creating sustainable support and building community drives Vincent Uribe in his role as director of exhibitions and external relations at Arts of Life. Under his leadership, the organization, which serves artists with developmental or intellectual disabilities, has seen tremendous growth since he joined nine years ago. Uribe’s belief in the talent of its studio artists inspired him to launch a strong exhibition program in 2017 and present at EXPO Chicago and the Outsider Art Fair in New York this year. Fostering connections, experimentation and professional development also motivates him as a founding member of the Equity Arts executive board and as director and founder of the artist-run space LVL3. As an extension of LVL3, Uribe established Ingress Gallery, an off-site exhibition space at Soho House Chicago, this year.
Founder, Haynes Court and Deputy Director, Renaissance Society
In 2020, Jessica Cochran founded Haynes Court, a project space in Bridgeport that shows local and international contemporary artists. The ambitious exhibition program has included Zarouhie Abdalian and Mary Simpson, though for the next year Haynes will focus on group exhibitions, with more local artists. Cochran also organized a 2019 survey of Deborah Boardman’s work at the Hyde Park Art Center, curatorial work that she says “feels the most rewarding.” Cochran also teaches in the department of arts administration and policy at SAIC and is deputy director of the Renaissance Society.
Ciera Alyse McKissick
Founder, AMFM and Independent Curator
Ciera McKissick’s work ethic could put Beyoncé to shame. She balances an independent curating practice—you could have seen her striking 2022 exhibition “Relic” at Arts+Public Life, or 2021’s “Just Above My Wall, (To The Right)” at the South Side Community Art Center, with AMFM, her cultural brand and arts platform, which supports artists and holds cultural events, such as FEAST, a West Side food and music festival, and a day job managing public programs at the Hyde Park Art Center, where she helped spearhead its first-ever Pride event. AMFM will be part of the Satélite art fair, running through October at the Franklin. McKissick is also curating for Bronzeville Winery, in addition to planning an artist conversation series at HPAC.
Executive Director, Roots & Culture
In addition to being an artist, parent and chef to the art world, Eric May has helmed the Noble Square gallery Roots & Culture since its founding in 2006. The small but mighty workhorse of a gallery has two visual arts programs: Double Exposure, two-person shows for emerging artists, and CONNECT, a curatorial program for “cis and trans women, femme spectrum, and nonbinary people of color.” May sees one of the gallery’s main roles as contributing to a more sustainable art economy, and thanks to funding from the Logan Foundation, R&C have been able to increase stipends for artists to $1,000 and for the CONNECT program to $5,000. A Builders Initiative grant also supported the hire of Bobby Luck as program director this year, who will work on community outreach and accessibility initiatives.
Francine Almeda and Alma Wieser
Manager, Heaven and Director, Heaven/President, Equity Arts
Together and independently, Francine Almeda, manager, and Alma Wieser, director of Heaven Gallery (which celebrates its twenty-second anniversary this month) are working tirelessly to sustain an equitable community for the arts in Wicker Park and Chicago. Whether at Heaven itself, or Jude Gallery, where Almeda is director, or Equity Arts, where Wieser is president and founder, the duo are at the forefront of advocacy and representation of marginalized artists, exhibiting work and coordinating exciting events such as their annual benefit “Back to Life,” happening in September, a “silent art auction of over forty pieces of art by Chicago artists and a nineties dance party!”
Director/Senior Specialist, Post War and Contemporary Art, Hindman
Zack Wirsum’s most important responsibility at Hindman is putting together the Post War and Contemporary Art auctions. During his near-decade in the position, he’s had “the extraordinary privilege and opportunity to promote the art historical importance of home-grown artists many of whom I know, grew up around, studied under and one that I am related to, setting numerous auction records along the way.” In February 2022, he curated “Somewhere Out There,” which featured the far-out visions of surreal, outsider, street, Imagist, funk and other iconoclastic artists. Wirsum is also a painter, “feverishly finishing” work for his solo exhibition “Going Hard in the Paint (Water-Based),” opening September 9 at Jean Albano Gallery. The paintings in this show are “a series of stylized portraits of basketball rims, hoops, nets and backboards [he] has observed in the wild.”
Natalie Popovic Schuh and Mike Schuh
“The artist comes first at our gallery, meaning that we fully support an artist’s vision without making any commercial compromises,” write Natalie Popovic Schuh and Mike Schuh, founders of Regards. That mission was tested during the pandemic, when Regards’ exhibition schedule was upended. So the Schuhs came up with a unique workaround: “Single’s,” a 2020 series that paired two artists in low-pressure two-week exhibitions, allowing space for experimentation. The gallerists are proud of the recent accomplishments of Judith Geichman, whose work they sold out of at their 2022 Frieze New York booth. This September, Regards will participate in the Armory Show for the first time, showing work by Los Angeles artist Lauren Spencer King.
Goldfinch, founded by Claudine Ise in 2016 as a modest project space, is now a bustling commercial gallery in East Garfield Park, featuring thoughtful, inclusive programming and a newly expanded exhibition space. Recent exhibitions by Carris Adams and Azadeh Gholizadeh, a 2022 Artadia awardee and winner of the Hopper prize, were particularly striking. “I could not have done any of this without our curatorial director Elizabeth Lalley, who’s been with Goldfinch from the beginning,” Ise says. She looks forward to the gallery’s scheduled exhibition programming, and hopes to slowly bring back in-person artist conversations and public talks.
Gallerist/Principal, Western Exhibitions
Known for his keen curatorial eye, Western Exhibitions founder Scott Speh is just as notable for his industriousness. The West Town gallery stages around ten exhibitions per year, recently expanding its curation of work by neurodivergent artists and progressive art studios, such as Kareem Davis’ 2021 solo show of architectural renderings and the 2020 group exhibition “Visionaries + Voices.” In 2021, the gallery staged its first drawing biennial, what Speh calls a “historically underappreciated medium”; the second iteration will take place in January 2023. Speh is slated to open a second space in Skokie in the coming months, and is collaborating with New Discretions and Sean Horton Presents on an exhibition space in Berlin.
Julia Fischbach and Emanuel Aguilar
Founders/Directors, Patron Gallery
Since opening in 2015, Patron Gallery has been on a steady upward trajectory. Founders Julia Fischbach and Emanuel Aguilar moved into an expanded, 5,000-square-foot space in 2021, joining the burgeoning West Town gallery scene. Kristin Korolowicz and Briana Lynn Pickens joined the team as directors, and in 2021 the gallery was inducted into the Art Dealers Association of America. Since 2019, Patron has added eight names to their roster, including Chicago-based artists Nyeema Morgan and Caroline Kent, who opens her first solo exhibition with the gallery in September. The gallery’s artists have had an incredible few years, including solo shows for Jennie C. Jones at the Guggenheim and Harold Mendez at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami.
Aron Gent and Sibylle Friche
Gallerist/Owner and Partner, Document
Aron Gent, the owner of Document, has worked with Sibylle Friche for several years, but recently celebrated Friche’s contributions by making her partner of the gallery that has been cultivating its identity in the community for the past ten years. A space that packs thoughtful curation and tremendously high production value into minimal square footage, Gent and Friche are building an enterprise that connects Chicago to the global community. Charmingly, though, with their paramount networking skills, they are most proud of the depth and care they put into aiding in the production of artworks alongside the artists’ they represent—being as integral to the making as the finished objects they exhibit.
Karen Irvine and Asha Iman Veal
Chief Curator/Deputy Director and Associate Curator, Museum of Contemporary Photography
Curators Karen Irvine and Asha Iman Veal have staged vital, justice-oriented exhibition programming at MoCP during the previous two years. Irvine recently presented the timely “Reproductive: Health, Fertility, Agency,” with Kristin Taylor, on “topics surrounding reproductive health that are still very much taboo,” and is at work on a project with Dawit L. Petros, on Italian fascism’s influence on visual culture. Veal, who joined the staff in 2020, organized 2022’s “Beautiful Diaspora / You Are Not the Lesser Part,” among other exhibitions. “Exhibitions are very ephemeral, but the ties of community that we create do not end,” she says. Veal sits on the advisory boards at Heaven Gallery and Experimental Sound Studio, and is part of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs’ Emerging Leaders cohort of 2023.
Gallerist and Founder, Mariane Ibrahim
Dealer Mariane Ibrahim’s career trajectory has been described as a “meteoric rise,” and with good reason. In just ten years, she has made a name for herself and the artists she represents on the international art scene. In 2022, Amoako Boafo opened his first solo museum show at the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston; Zohra Opoku will participate in the 2023 Sharjah Biennial. Ibrahim established her headquarters in Chicago in 2019, opening a second space in Paris in 2021. In the coming year, Ibrahim will further develop the gallery’s European program. “My goal has always been to focus on our artists’ best interest, and that is what continues to drive my passion and vision… and our future as a gallery,” she says.
Gallerist and Owner, Monique Meloche Gallery
Through savvy decisions and a prompt pivot to digital content, Monique Meloche not only avoided downsizing in the last three years, but actually built up her business. In May of 2020, the gallery began producing exhibition video walkthroughs, narrated by the artists—now a component of each show—and soon after opened up the space by appointment. In September, the gallery will present octogenarian artist Arvie Smith’s first commercial solo show and will participate in New York’s Armory Show. In 2023, Ebony Patterson takes over the New York Botanical Garden.
René Morales, Tara Aisha Willis and Jamillah James
James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator, Curator, Performance and Public Practice and Manilow Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Despite a tumultuous few years, when much curatorial programming had to be organized virtually, the MCA navigated the challenge gracefully. As art institutions continue to ramp up in-person programs, the MCA has many exciting events on the horizon. René Morales, who joined the museum in January from Pérez Art Museum Miami, is at work on a comprehensive retrospective of Gary Simmons. Performance curator Tara Aisha Willis helped develop the Chicago Performs series, “a new annual festival which will bring together three artists across genres and geographies in the city.” Jamillah James is about to open her first exhibition with the museum, a collection show called “Enter the Mirror,” and a show she organized with painter Rebecca Morris will come to the MCA in 2023.
Janet Dees and Kathleen Bickford Berzock
Curators, Block Museum, Northwestern University
Together, Block Museum curators Janet Dees (Steven and Lisa Munster Tananbaum Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art) and Kathleen Bickford Berzock (Associate Director of Curatorial Affairs) stage some of the most vital local exhibitions. Berzock curated the record-breaking “Caravans of Gold, Fragments in Time: Art, Culture and Exchange across Medieval Saharan Africa,” which traveled to the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art in 2021. She’s at work on a collaborative exhibition project, set to open in 2025, that looks at Indigenous art in greater Chicago. Dees curated the recent “A Site of Struggle: American Art against Anti-Black Violence,” seven years in the making, which centered visitor care in its design. A book related to her 2017 exhibition, “If You Remember, I’ll Remember,” will be published in September.
Robyn Farrell and Grace Deveney
Associate Curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and David C. and Sarajean Ruttenberg Associate Curator of Photography and Media, Art Institute of Chicago
“The last three years have been incredibly productive and rewarding, albeit challenging given the pandemic, lockdown, and a constellation of issues as a result of world events,” says Art Institute curator Robyn Farrell. Her accomplishments in that period include producing 2021’s acclaimed Barbara Kruger exhibition and 2019’s expansive Gregg Bordowitz solo show. This summer she opened exhibitions by David Hockney and Rodney McMillian. Grace Deveney, who joined the museum in 2021, was co-curator of the collaborative Floating Museum exhibition. She previously curated at the MCA, where she organized powerful presentations of artists such as Amanda Williams and Christina Quarles.
Curator and Exhibition Designer, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, City of Chicago
With more than thirty years of experience in the city’s cultural affairs department, Greg Lunceford’s impact on the Chicago art world is irrefutable. Recent projects such as the Sonic Pavilion Festival, a sound installation in Jay Pritzker Pavilion made in collaboration with Experimental Sound Studio; 2020’s “Requiem: A White Wanderer,” a climate change-inspired art and sound project by Luftwerk; and Buddy, the Public Media Institute shop of Chicago artist wares that’s housed in the Cultural Center, show the breadth of his work. This fall, the Chicago Cultural Center will open “Exact Dutch Yellow,” an immersive exhibition by Luftwerk that uses the history of color to explore “how we perceive the natural world today.”
Hall of Fame: Curators and Dealers
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.
* new this year
John Corbett and Jim Dempsey
Founders, Corbett v. Dempsey
Paul Gray and Valerie Carberry
Partners, Richard Gray Gallery
Owner/Director, Kavi Gupta Gallery
Owner/Gallerist, Rhona Hoffman Gallery
Chief Curator/Director, Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago
*Tricia Van Eck
Founder/Artistic Director, 6018 | North