In Chicago, the number of contemporary art curators seems to rival the number of contemporary artists. The saturated scene means that young curators must dig deep into their special areas of art smarts in order to produce the innovative, provocative, and timely exhibitions that artists deserve. And like the artists themselves, the standout talent soon begins to emerge.
Of the nearly 100 contemporary art curators operating independently in the city today, here are 6 that should be on your radar.
Who: Bryant has three curatorial guises around Chicago. She curates group exhibitions at Design Cloud Gallery in the West Loop, at Dominican University’s O’Connor Art Gallery in River Forest, and at Abryant Gallery, a nomadic art gallery that touches down at different venues in the city. She is also an artist.
Curating style: Mostly interested in painting, especially “geometry, minimalism and color,” says Bryant.
Artist recommendation: Benjamin A Gardner. “Because he does abstraction right,” she says.
Up next: Bryant curates “Embody,” opening June 14 at Design Cloud Gallery. The show includes performance art by Joseph Ravens, Claire Ashley, and others.
Who: Orendorff is an itinerant curator whose exhibitions have received funding from the Andy Warhol Foundation. He advocates for DIY and craft art objects with feminist, queer, and anti-racist themes.
Curating style: “I approach my work with artists first and foremost as a curious admirer, and then often as a friend,” says Orendorff. “From there, I view my role as a steward of an artist’s ideas and objects, rather than as an authoritative gate-keeper.”
Artist recommendation: Tanya Aguiñiga, who makes activist art with low-income, indigenous, and homeless populations. Her artwork makes clear “how craft can empower and participate in cultural practices of survival,” says Orendorff.
Up next: He curates “We’ll Make Out Better Than Okay,” a group show that takes its title from the Roseanne theme song. It’s about “recession-era humor regarding unemployment, debt, and working class labor conditions,” says Orendorff.
Update: Orendorff will be the 2013-14 curator in residence at the Charlotte Street Foundation in Kansas City.
Who: He keeps a friendly viewing atmosphere at LVL3, one of the last artist-run spaces in Wicker Park.
Curating style: Two- or three-person exhibitions are the norm at LVL3. Says Uribe, “The best way to get on my radar is first by having an updated website.” Like many curators, he prefers a personable encounter to a cold call: “No need to have someone I don’t know ask for a show or tell me to look at their work—it’s redundant and a bit of a turn off.”
Artist recommendation: Paul Kenneth, who “is making some really rad painting,” says Uribe.
Up next: 16 artists pair up at the third-floor loft gallery on June 29 to make collaborative artwork. “The process of collaboration is something I am personally very interested in,” says Uribe. In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery debuts a mural that faces the Damen Blue Line stop.
Who: She is curator at the Center for Book and Paper Arts (at Columbia College Chicago) and curator-in-residence at the Chicago Artists’ Coalition.
Curating style: “I love to organize ‘generative’ exhibitions, or those that facilitate the production of brand new works around a specific idea,” Cochran says. For example, she once curated an exhibition around the identity of a semi-random, brief acquaintance from her past.
Artist recommendation: Clifton Meador. “His artist’s books are like falling into a durational photo-textual story,” says Cochran. “Works on paper are particularly important to artists of our generation,” she says.
Up next: She co-curates “Social Paper,” an exhibit about handmade paper as a socially engaged art practice—“a very under-researched subject,” says Cochran.
Steven L. Bridges
Who: Curatorial assistant at the Museum of Contemporary Art. He also contributes research-based texts to art education periodicals.
Curating style: Chance, failure, improvisation, and risk are keywords for Bridges’ curatorial endeavors.
Artist recommendation: Tomorrow’s Thoughts Today, from London. Their artwork is “deeply engaging, imaginative, and, at times, perverse,” says Bridges.
Up next: Bridges co-curated the Rapid Pulse International Performance Festival, which runs from June 1-10 in Chicago.
Who: She uses the internet and social media to research, organize, and produce exhibitions and essays, on topics like adolescent self-portraiture, feminism, and pop-culture critique. Eler once co-curated a video art program broadcast on French and German cable TV, and she is a guest curator for ACRE artists’ residency.
Curating style: “These days I like to cast a large net with a good, crowdsourced open call to start,” usually on Facebook, says Eler. She curates from and for the internet, usually as “collaborative experiments,” she says.
Artist recommendation: Abinadi Meza, from Austin, whose upcoming video installation in Chicago “will turn the gallery into a space of disembodied consciousness,” says Eler. The show runs June 16–July 2 at ACRE.
Up next: “NewQueerness,” an ongoing, co-curated Tumblr project. “Deadlines are open-ended and constantly transforming, especially in a virtual space,” says Eler.