Fall Cover Story: Women in the Arts


Women in the Arts. This is a deep topic, and it’s long been a much-debated flash point in the art world throughout art history and into modern times. While CGN is regularly devoted to generally promoting many facets of the visual arts in Chicago and in the region, for this fall’s edition we chose to focus editorially on a few women leading our cultural community now. 

The Chicago area has a rich history of women both working in and supporting the arts; after all it was Mrs. Potter Palmer’s generous contributions to the Art Institute of Chicago that became the foundation of the collection that is world renowned today. Women were even taking architecture classes at the early School of the Art Institute back in 1889. Throughout our artistic history, women have made pivotal contributions. 

We are home to organizations, such as Woman Made Gallery and ARC Gallery, devoted to supporting and providing women with creative opportunities and resources. Women like Suzanne Ghez, who solidified the international reputation of the Renaissance Society, and Ruth Horwich, who was an unwavering patron of multiple institutions, such as the Hyde Park Art Center and the Smart Museum, made indelible marks on our community that will last for decades. They are just two of scores of women who have been instrumental supporters of the arts. 

Today many creative women in our midst are working as artists, gallery owners, museum directors, curators, critics, designers and architects. There are more than 45 women who own, lead or direct area galleries, art centers and museums listed in CGN. Interviews in this issue span generations, offering promises for the future while honoring the past. Gallery owner Rhona Hoffman, just one of the 45 mentioned above, has launched the careers of dozens of artists, male and female, in her four decades in business. Helen Zell has built one of the most significant art collections in the country from her enthusiasm for female artists like Gertrude Abercrombie, Lee Bontecou and Louise Bourgeois. Artist Cheryl Pope engages the public to work out conflict and address violence. Julie Rodrigues Widholm, Solveig Øvstebø and Madeleine Grynsztejn are all young, female directors leading area art museums. Zoë Ryan is a young curator turning the world’s eyes on design while opening the Art Institute’s first galleries dedicated to the subject. Naomi Beckwith is curating personal, thoughtful exhibitions at the MCA. Sarah Herda is one half of the team launching the first Chicago Architecture Biennial - a three month global event featuring projects and ideas by world super stars as well as local luminaries like Jeanne Gang. 

We cannot forget that Chicago Gallery News was founded in 1982 by Natalie van Straaten and is currently owned by Publisher Ginny Van Alyea and run with help from Managing Editor Laura Mettam.

CGN wants to honor all women who pursue creative endeavors, be it starting a gallery, practicing as an artist, becoming a curator, or starting an art collection, and we hope to encourage everyone, men and women, to continue paving Chicago’s cultural path.

Top row: Dealer Rhona Hoffman; Collector Helen Zell. 
Middle row: Artist Cheryl Pope, photo by LaMont Hamilton; DePaul Art Museum Dir. Julie Rodriques Widholm; Far right: Studio Gang/Jeanne Gang’s Aqua Tower (detail) in Chicago.
Bottom row: Gladys Nilsson, Big School Picture; Little Paper Mural, 1992,  Samuel T. Avery Endowment. Collection of Art Institute of Chicago; Museum of Contemporary Art curator Naomi Beckwith, photo by Paul Mpagi Sepuya; Art Institute of Chicago curator Zoë Ryan.