On the wall, a work by Brooklyn-based artist Carrie Schneider. It’s a portrait of her brother, who appeared in her series of creepy-funny photographs exploring the boundaries of sibling relationships, Derelict Self. Meloche recently posed for a portrait as part of Schneider’s Reading Women project. Her book of choice for the shot: Grace Coddington’s memoir.

Monique Meloche, Chicago Gallerist

PHOTOS BY DEBBIE CARLOS

When Monique Meloche took a chance on opening a Chicago gallery back in 2000, she launched with a show called Homewrecker, for which she invited 30 artists to exhibit over all three floors of her Ukrainian Village townhouse. The huge turnout prompted her to find a more permanent spot, as did gentle prodding from her husband. “He was like, ‘Sorry, I don’t want people sitting on my bed watching videos on Saturday when I come home from the gym.’” But while her home is no longer on public view, it remains a kind of lived-in display of contemporary paintings, photography, and sculptural works by artists she represents along with those she simply loves. We were lucky enough to visit recently and get to know Meloche a bit better.

Originally from Toronto, Meloche studied art history and theory at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and got her start on the curatorial side at the city’s Museum of Contemporary Art. She initially had “less than zero interest” in selling art. But when faced with limited mobility in the museum world — as well as a desire to stay in the city she’d fallen for — she explored other options, landing a role with preeminent Chicago dealer Rhona Hoffman, whom she considers a mentor. A few years later, Meloche became the director at Kavi Gupta before setting out on her own.

The work she backs is diverse, but in all of it, she looks for a hands-on, worked-through quality and a solid conceptual framework. She also tends “to favor artists who make insane installations.” The first solo show she put up, I Borrowed My Mother’s Bedroom, was by Joel Ross, who went to his mother’s Texas home and came back with all of her stuff: her bed, her ceiling fan, her VCR, her soap opera tapes, “even her answering machine — it still had a blinking light with a message on it,” recalls Meloche. “The price was ‘Ask Joel’s mother,’ because it was clearly not for sale. I specifically did that because I wanted it to be known: This is going to be a commercial gallery, but I’m a curator at heart.”

That balance is evident in her Wicker Park gallery space, which features a street-facing window of site-specific work, in addition to the main room, where Meloche has lately showcased artists such as Heidi Norton, Carrie Schneider, and Ebony G. Patterson. She champions emerging talents and more established ones, like Rashid Johnson. In Chicago, she can maintain the footprint she wants while having a broad reach. “I can be a big fish in a small pond and that’s worked for me.” Meloche founded Gallery Weekend Chicago, works closely with the Expo Chicago art fair, sits on SAIC’s Fashion Committee, and has found herself brainstorming cultural initiatives with the mayor’s office. In short, she’s a force, and things seem more fun and fabulous in her presence.