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.
Had you peeked into London gallerist Libby Sellers's diary for the week of the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this month, you would have seen all the requisite stops on the circuit: Rossana Orlandi one afternoon, Lambrate and Tortona the next, plus a stop at Satellite and a time out for breakfast at the Four Seasons with Alice Rawsthorn, her former boss. There was time made for shopping — Sellers is a self-admitted clothes horse, having transformed most of her London apartment into a walk-in closet — and for a visit to the 10 Corso Como gallery and bookstore. But despite what you'd expect from one of the world's most respected supporters of emerging design, who for the past two years has commissioned work from and produced pop-up exhibitions with talents like Max Lamb and Julia Lohmann, Sellers did not walk away from the fair with an arsenal of new relationships to pursue. Her scouting is done before she even gets there, in graduate degree shows and over the internet, so that in Milan — unlike the rest of us — she gets to relax and enjoy the show.
“Being a photographer and being an artist working with materials like resin, plants, and glass — those two worlds should not really mix,” says Heidi Norton. “You have the camera and you have film and you’re trying to keep things clean and archival, and then you have dirt and glass shards everywhere.” Such contradictions are at the core of Norton’s work, from the immaculate glow of her photography to the dirt-under-your-fingernails feel of her sculptural pieces, which typically feature houseplants in some form or another. Norton started incorporating plants into her photographic practice several years ago in a series of still lifes. It was partly a way to bring the natural world she grew up with, in rural West Virginia, into the urban setting of Chicago, where she’s lived since getting her MFA at the School of the Art Institute in 2002. Those photos eventually inspired her to make plant-based sculptures that explore how we create, cultivate, and change ourselves. Therein lies the central paradox: “The idea of preservation, and trying to save the plant while at the same time killing it through that preservation, became really interesting to me,” she says. “All of the mediums I use deal with that idea in different ways.” Even her studio itself, shot by Debbie Carlos for part two of Sight Unseen's series on Chicago artists, is part of the process.
When Jonathan Nesci was 23 — with a one-year-old at home, and working as a forklift operator at FedEx in Chicago while attending night school for 3-D drafting at a community college — one of his coworkers gave him a fateful nudge: “He knew I wanted to design furniture, and he was like, ‘You can do it!!’,” recalls Nesci, now 31. And so he cold-emailed Richard Wright, founder of the eponymous Chicago auction house, and promoted the heck out of himself until he landed a job managing Wright’s restoration department, where he stayed for five years before founding his own studio in early 2012. As he tells it, his cheerleader at FedEx deserves substantial credit for inspiring him to take the leap that changed his life. But to know Nesci is to realize that no matter what happened, the results would have been the same — he was destined to be a designer.