Fall Arts Preview 2019: Alternative Spaces in Chicago

for Newcity Art, September 2019

A mock-up of Lawrence & Clark booth at Julius Caesar’s upcoming miniature art fair, Barely Fair/Photo: courtesy Lawrence & Clark.

Chicago’s most prominent cultural institution, the Art Institute of Chicago, once shared the qualities of what can be loosely defined as an “alternative space:” an artist-run, noncommercial gallery that exhibited primarily local artists in a fixed space on a continuous basis. “It is interesting and, in the light of history ironic, that the entity against which virtually all the alternative spaces have worked, the Art Institute of Chicago, was founded in 1866 by a group of artists,” longtime MCA curator Lynn Warren wrote in the 1984 exhibition catalog for “Alternative Spaces: A History in Chicago.” The connection made by Warren speaks to the importance and possibilities of artists who work outside of traditional galleries and models. An amorphous ecosystem of rooms, projects, administrators and participants continues as part of the city’s fringe history of “rejection and rebellion” through daring and experimental approaches to contemporary art. This all-too-brief overview of Chicago’s alternatives showcases people and places working within this tradition and their programming scheduled for fall.

Apparatus Projects

Since 2018, co-directors Gareth Kaye and Julian Van Der Moere have operated Apparatus Projects from the dining room of a Lincoln Square apartment. After hosting eleven exhibitions and eighteen artists in one space, the pair are changing their format: the curatorial and publishing platform will no longer exhibit in a fixed location, but will operate Apparatus Projects in a traveling format, with extended dates for each show. In October, at a yet undisclosed space in Logan Square, Apparatus will host their first traveling exhibition: a group show featuring artists Caroline Kent, Sterling Lawrence, Shir Ende, Robert Chase Heishman and Thomas Huston. Apparatus Projects will also team up with publishing imprint and collaborative design practice Shelf Shelf for ”Sleeper Cell”. Through an open call, “Sleeper Cell” will pair artists with “sleepers”: the artist will install work in the sleeper’s bedroom. Further challenging the alternative space model, those participating will then write about their artist pairing, culminating in a print journal archiving the project.

Artwork by Kaitlin Smrcina, image courtesy Baby Blue Gallery

Baby Blue

Run by artist and curator Caleb Beck, East Pilsen’s Baby Blue gallery has been exhibiting artists in a warehouse of studios across the street from the Skylark bar since December 2017. Beginning with a solo exhibition by Minami Kobayashi, Beck has hosted an impressively large number of shows in a short amount of time. In an interview with Comp Magazine, Beck says he will extend the run of shows from four to six weeks and will focus on group exhibitions that feature two or three people. Baby Blue opens a group show on September 20, “I Know You Would Never Laugh At Me,” featuring works by Darius Airo, Spencer Harris and Kaitlin Smrcina.

Chicago Manual Style

Located in West Town, curator, writer and contemporary art critic Stephanie Cristello runs a garage gallery that elevates the model of alternative spaces with an international roster and exceptional research-driven programming. The gallery’s first 2019 show was “Saturnine,” featuring artists Theodora Allen, Antoine Donzeaud, Assaf Evron and Wim van der Linden, an exhibition chosen by Artforum as one of its Critics’ Picks. The gallery will bring German artist Sarah Ortmeyer to the space this fall in conjunction with EXPO Chicago. Known for her humorous and allegorical installations, Ortmeyer has exhibited only a few times in the U. S., and this will be her first show in Chicago.

Installation view, “Teyo’s Lightshield: Hyun Jung Jun,” inaugural exhibition of Fresh Bread, 2019/Photo: courtesy Fresh Bread

Fresh Bread

The Rogers Park artist-run project space held its inaugural exhibition, “Teyo’s Lightshield: Hyun Jung Jun,” in July. Fresh Bread co-directors, writer Kim-Anh Schreiber and artist Morgan Mandalay, host shows in their kitchen “that meditate on metaphors of digestion.” Reservations are recommended, where each show is paired with an accompanying cookbook and documentation of process and practice. Programming will commence in late September with a solo show by Siera Hyte, followed by an exhibition by Max Guy in October.

COBRA, “Rat Museum For Rat,” 2019. Rat trap, acrylic on canvas, wood panel, 4.5 × 6 × 15.25 inches/Photo: courtesy the artist and Good Weather, North Little Rock.

Julius Caesar

Founded in 2008, Julius Caesar operates under the direction of an ever-evolving collective of artists. The current co-directors are Josh Dihle, Tony Lewis, Roland Miller and Kate Sierzputowski. In an admirable and ambitious move, Julius Caesar will host a 1:12 scale miniature art fair for alternative spaces, Barely Fair, during EXPO Chicago. “The fair will contain a layout of approximately twenty-four contemporary miniature and full-scale galleries,” says Sierzputowksi, “and is designed to mimic the layout of a standard fair.” The fair will bring in alternative space participants from Chicago, the greater United States and around the world. Confirmed galleries include; Bozo Mag (Los Angeles), Club Nutz (Tyson Reeder and Scott Reeder, Chicago and Detroit), Serious Topics (Inglewood), Five Car Garage (Los Angeles), Flyweight (New York City), Franz Kaka (Toronto), Good Weather (North Little Rock), The John Riepenhoff Experience (Milwaukee), Lawrence & Clark (Chicago), Loo Gallery (Chicago), Monaco (St. Louis), MPSTN (Chicago), Odd Ark-LA (Los Angeles), Outlet Gallery (traveling), The Pit (Los Angeles), Prairie (Chicago), Produce Model (Chicago), The Suburban (Milwaukee), BLITZ (Malta) and EXO EXO (Paris).


Wicker Park gallery LVL3 operates as an exhibition space and online publication, showcasing artists, designers, musicians and creative entrepreneurs. Through their interview series, LVL3 pairs Chicago artists with artists living outside the city in a direct method of community building. LVL3 begins the fall season with the two-person “Question and Answer,” featuring Roni Packer and St. Louis-based artist Lyndon Barrois Jr. Director Vincent Uribe has published interviews and hosted exhibitions for almost ten years, and LVL3 space stands as a testament to the rewards of consistency and persistence in a field that guarantees neither.

photo courtesy of the artist Joel Dean


Co-directors Jack Schneider and Tim Mann initially ran Prairie, an exhibition space for contemporary art and a platform for critical discourse, in a shared studio space in a mixed-use warehouse in Pilsen. The name of the gallery refers to the region of Chicago prior to colonization and industrialization, and themes of lasting impact and interrelated social issues often appear in exhibitions. After hosting an average of six shows each year since 2017, Prairie closed at the end of 2018 and reopened in a renovated storefront on West Cermak in February 2019, for greater public accessibility. Prairie opens “Evolve Right Now” on September 13, an exhibition by former SAIC graduate and mixed media artist Joel Dean.