Art aficionados will not want to miss the River North Gallery District in the Near North Side area of Chicago. It has the largest concentrations of art galleries in the United States outside of Manhattan. This bustling creative center grew in the 1970s, when dealers and artists took over the area’s former manufacturing spaces. Today, you can take a free tour of River North galleries on Saturday mornings with Chicago Gallery News.
The River North Neighborhood
River North had several identities before it became the sprawling cultural center it is today. Around the turn of the 20th century, the area was named Smokey Hollow for the smog emitted from its many factories. Little Sicily was also located here, until later immigrants moved north to form their own parishes.
In the 1970s, the abandoned factory buildings were slowly restored and new commercial properties were built. Real Estate developer Albert Friedman started calling the area River North around this time in an effort to change its less-than-savory reputation. Soon, he found art galleries, photographers, and advertising agencies to rent low-cost space in today’s River North Gallery District.
Further developments came in the 1990s, and River North became one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods for nightlife and restaurants. Today, you can stay in the area’s many trendy hotels like Home2 Suites River North, Godfrey Hotel, Felix and Fieldhouse Jones.
The River North Galleries
The gallery district is centered around Franklin and Superior Streets, bounded by Wells, Chicago, Orleans, and Huron Streets. On Saturday mornings (with the exception of a few major holidays), Chicago Gallery News hosts free gallery tours departing from 714 North Wells Street. Tours run rain or shine, and visitors are lead to four different galleries each week. Conversation centers around the exhibitions and artists on view.
Depending on when you’re in town, you can attending opening receptions for new exhibitions on the first Friday of January, May, July, September, and November. Plus, the district hots one of the city’s largest art events each summer: the Mid Summer Art Walk. This event provides an exciting evening of exhibit openings, local fare, and live entertainment. Best of all? It’s completely free to the public.
A local favorite, Addington Gallery features contemporary works specialized in mixed-media pieces and paintings made in hot wax. Another popular location is Carl Hammer Gallery, which boasts works by self-taught American and European artists. Jean Albano is cutting-edge contemporary representing emerging and established artists through sculpture, paintings, and mixed media. Modern artists from China, Korea, and Japan have works on display at Andrew Bae, a quiet gallery on Superior Street.
Another impressive display is Art on theMart. The project brings theMART building’s façade to life with the largest permanent digital art projection in the world. Artists are commissioned to create new works for the illuminated display each season.
If you prefer decorative arts, The Golden Triangle is an 18,000-square-foot design resource featuring hand-selected vintage and modern furnishings from around the world. Professional designers and curious Chicago shoppers alike are welcome to browse curated vignettes of Asian and Europeans artifacts, antiques, artwork, and lighting.