While overshadowed by NYC and LA in the museums department, Chicago has always been a breeding ground for some of the best artists nationwide. Whether musicians or painters, the Windy City is known as the place where countless creative icons grew up and cultivated their talent – before they went and lived out their successful careers on the Big Apple stage. But being an underdog also comes with advantages: less market pressure, more creative freedom, and a closer-knit community all result in a plethora of artist-run studios and local galleries throughout town that curate honest, thoughtful pieces reflective of Chicago's deep cultural history. There's no lack of things to see here, and we've selected the best galleries in town to prove it.
From suitcase-boomboxes and a giant demonic pizza statue, to producing props for Red Bull, Floyd A. Davis has been building his own crazy creative world out of his East Pilsen studio for many years. Combining carpenter's workshop with a gallery storefront, he has also hosted hip hop concerts and ballet performances in his airy industrial space, including both local and international acts. If you've ever wondered how digital design, set and prop design, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and music production can all come together under one roof – this is the place to go.
What used to be the world's largest macaroni factory, Lacuna 2150 is now a creative powerhouse in Chicago's Pilsen district. Home to an alternative arts school, multiple gallery spaces, a hip new restaurant and some of the biggest names around (Chance the Rapper was a recent visitor), including this gallery was a no-brainer. We recommend heading to the Reverie Gallery or the Blank Canvas Gallery for a taste of local pop art, before wandering up onto the rooftop deck for the killer view.
Degenerate Art Gallery
Known for its Anti-Trump exhibition titled 'WE'RE FIRED' (which was also featured on Al Jazeera), Degenerate Art Gallery is so on point when it comes to cheeky commentary on political topics. It also functions as an active social space with a ton of awesome art parties, and has a long reputation for their inclusive attitude towards all levels of artists and collectors. Bonus: their pieces on display range from $35 to the thousands, so if you stick to the lower end of the spectrum, it's super do-able to take a piece home with you.
Agent Gallery is a little difficult to pin down. Part boutique, part museum, and part studio, this brick and mortar storefront in Logan Square is a mish-mash of interesting collector's items: industrial lamps, historical art prints, handmade Turkmen rugs, and lots of vintage finds from a 1950s dental office. Whether you're looking to add an antique vibe to your living room, or just want to embrace Halloween with some prosthetic eyes hanging on your walls, you'll find it here.
A young gallery shining bright in the city's Ukrainian Village, Vertical Gallery is out to change the status quo of contemporary art galleries. Focusing on design-centric work that often crosses over into street art, everything in their online shop is under $500. This is because an integral part of their goal to make collector's pieces more accessible to a wider audience. Next month's show featuring RYCA and Chris Cunningham is definitely a big one that's not to be missed.
Shane Campbell Gallery
Run by an instructor from The Art Institute of Chicago, the Shane Campbell Gallery runs three locations in Oak Park, West Town and Lincoln Park. The pieces he curates with his wife tend to feel intimate, illustrative, and textural, with soft colours that invite the viewer to look closer. They've exhibited in Paris and Miami, and stock their galleries with beautiful books and arty knick-knacks for extended browsing fun.