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Thompson Hotels Chicago Influencers X Jessica Cochran


An insider’s guide to the Chicago art space

After graduating in curatorial practice and art history at California College of the Arts and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Cochran immersed herself in the Chicago art scene as a visual arts coordinator at a Wicker Park-based alternative space called Around the Coyote. Soon after, she landed roles in public programming at Art Chicago and NEXT: The Invitational for Emerging Art—two important art fairs on the modern and contemporary art circuit.

Cochran has also cut her teeth as a curator at academic galleries—at both Dominican University and Columbia College—where the interdisciplinary, rigor and collaboration fueled her love of Chicago’s artistic community.

Now, working for a growing private collection, she gets to research and travel to source works by some of the most interesting contemporary artists working today.

The Chicago art scene is…

Fueled not only by world-class institutions, but also in large part by our incredible art schools – we are home to several of the most important MFA programs in the country. That means our city is full of generations of artists and creative entrepreneurs opening galleries, mounting projects and just generally keeping the scene alive with activity. All that said, I believe the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, set to open in fall 2015, is probably the most exciting thing to happen to the Chicago art and culture scene in some time.

My go-to galleries in Chicago

In Chicago, nondescript warehouse buildings in Garfield Park are home to a few of the best galleries in the city—Julius Cesar, for example, is an experimental space that consistently offers challenging conceptual shows that combine local and international artists. Devening Projects & Editions is similarly defined by a spirit of experimentation, however the program reflects the founder’s own specific sensibility which seems to be defined by a love of abstraction. If you are downtown, however, stop by the Sullivan Galleries at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago or Glass Curtain Gallery and the Center for Book and Paper Arts at Columbia College for brilliant and accessible exhibitions.

Must-know up-and-coming artist

I often like to introduce those “uninitiated” in the art world to Theaster Gates, based in Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood. He’s doing phenomenal artwork that spans ceramics, performance, sculpture, city planning and redevelopment, archival work, and public art projects. It’s actually impossible to describe his artistic practice in a single sentence because it is so all-encompassing. For some time now he has been one of Chicago’s most famous art figures with near-constant shows across the world at major museums and biennials—but I mention him because his practice demonstrates to people what contemporary art actually is. It can be anything and everything, and it can actually make a difference.