1. The Renaissance Society got its first new director in 40 years
Solveig Øvstebø now heads the internationally renowned contemporary art venue at the University of Chicago. She is the first new director in forty years. (Coincidentally, Øvstebø was born in Logan Square but relocated to Norway as a baby.) She replaces Suzanne Ghez, who is now an adjunct curator of contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago.
2. Gallerist Kavi Gupta expanded his art empire
It was a good year for the art dealer who represents Theaster Gates. Not only did Gates attract international acclaim landing at number 40 on ArtReview’s Power 100 list, Gupta also opened his second, behemoth Chicago location in the West Loop. (Gupta maintains a third gallery in Berlin.) The shiny new digs are 8,000 square-feet and can fit works like NYC-based artist Roxy Paine’s life-size replica of a fast-food restaurant, which was part of the inaugural show in September.
3. Art fairs boomed
Although we lost one art fair this year (MDW, which showcased artist-run galleries), we gained two. The Edition and Fountain fairs added much needed oomph to the scene and to the sophomore effort of EXPO, which was roundly lauded by critics and visitors. And SOFA, the design fair, marked its twentieth anniversary in Chicago with no sign of stopping anytime soon.
4. The University of Chicago used art to build neighborhood diplomacy
“Creative placemaking” has been a buzzword in the art world for several years, but in 2013 the University of Chicago made a serious commitment to its neighboring communities, which have historically been against in the school’s expansive real estate plans. The Arts + Public Life initiative (also Theaster Gates) has developed arts programming (such as the Washington Park Arts Incubator) relevant to Chicagoans who live near the university but are not served by it.
5. 17 Chicago artists were selected for the 2014 Whitney Biennial
The important New York showcase is a round-up of the latest and best trends in American contemporary art. Now, with the largest concentration of Chicago-based artists ever in this show, all eyes are on Chicago.
6. A bank sponsored an anti-banking themed art show
A special exhibition series at the Museum of Contemporary focuses solely on Chicago artists, called Chicago Works, and each show is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank. In March, Jason Lazarus included his archive of Occupy Wall Streets protest signs in his Chicago Works exhibit. It’s not clear how the bank execs felt about Lazarus’s criticism, but the artwork’s placement in a lower level side lobby, rather than in the galleries proper, may be a clue.
7. Public sculptures popped up everywhere
Dozens of large-scale sculptures were plopped along the city’s lakefront, while a hundred Buddha heads sprouted all over Chicago neighborhoods, from Indira Johnson’s Ten Thousand Ripples project (See ”Chicagoans of the Year“). Meanwhile, Millennium Park got Jun Kaneko’s colorful standing “raccoon dog” sculptures, and Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir’s metal mannequins occupied nearby Solti Garden.
8. It was a breakout year for artist Elijah Burgher
The artist has had a cult following for several years. In April, Burgher appeared posing nude on a horse as a living equestrian monument in Jeremiah Hulsebos-Spofford’s Hyde Park Art Center exhibition. Then, in October, Burgher had his first major solo at Western Exhibitions, and a few weeks later it was announced he would be included in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. Burgher’s paintings and drawings are representative of a new contemporary queer art movement.
9. The 3D Printer Experience put sculpture in the hands of everyone
One of the nation’s first storefronts dedicated to 3D printing opened in River North this spring. MakerBots are clearly going to change the future of manufacturing, but Chicago is leading the way with this technology in art and design. The 3D Printer Experience was founded by Julie Friedman Steele, Tom Burtonwood, Holly Holmes, and Mike Moceri, and is located at 316 N Clark.
10. Chris Sullivan finally let us view his masterpiece
Local art filmmaker Chris Sullivan, who has been making art in Chicago for the past 23 years, worked on his stop-motion puppet animation, Consuming Spirits, for a decade. It finally premiered it in Chicago early this year, solidifying Sullivan as a leading voice in time-based art and validating the importance of this long overdue genre.