Looking for something beautiful and original to hang over the mantel, but don’t know where to start?
Buying a piece of artwork can be both daunting and overwhelming. There used to be two types of people: those who collect art, and the rest of us dopes, with galleries only willing to talk to the former. No more! Any gallery owner worth their salt knows that art lovers aren’t born; they are built by answering every question from every new face that walks through the door. Making newcomers feel comfortable and sharing information about the artists—with no pressure to buy—is how most galleries build long-term relationships and function in today’s economy.
Here’s a list of six friendly, established galleries in Chicago and the North Shore. Chicago Gallery News magazine, which is free for the taking at all of the galleries, is a great source for many more.
Receptions are a fun way to get your feet wet and to understand the general vibe of the gallery. Check gallery websites for hours. And remember, when considering a piece of artwork, the ultimate question is: Do you love it?
River North Gallery District
I have always loved this gallery for its elegant space, unassuming gallery directors, helpful assistants and stellar eye for emerging and established artists. A visit here is a treat and always informative. Prices range, so you might get lucky with something that isn’t necessarily going to put you in a financial straight jacket. 325 W. Huron St., Chicago, 312-944-1990
Deborah Butterfield sculpture.
Entering this small gallery in River North is like being welcomed into the owners’ home. Arica Hilton and Sven Asmus take great care in making everyone feel at ease. Shows rotate, so you never know if you will find photography, textiles, paintings (sometimes by Ms. Hilton, herself a respected painter) or sculpture, but the prices are reasonable and the work is very approachable. 716 N. Wells St., Chicago, 312-475-1788
Not every mantel calls for a painting. If you can work your way past the price tag, considering glass for your home is an easy option because it is so beautiful. Form and technique are often easier to process than the sometimescomplex storylines of a painting. Owner Ken Saunders is as nice as they come. 230 W. Superior St., Chicago, 312-575-1400
West Loop Gallery District
My favorite painter of all time shows here: Peggy McNamara, the only artist in residence at the Field Museum for the past 20 years. The contemporary art featured at this gallery can be both mind-opening and mind-bending, and Aaron Packer is truly passionate and easy-to-talk-to. Let him show you around and share the vision of the artists he represents. One of them might be just the right fit for you. 942 W. Lake St., Chicago, 312-226-8984
This large, beautiful gallery has an eye for contemporary, established and emerging artists. You can spend time talking to the owner about the varied artists she represents, or just stroll on your own. 327 N. Aberdeen, Ste. 151, Chicago, 312-432-9500
For some lovely and provocative photography options, which can sometimes be a less expensive choice for the dining room than a painting, visit the Perspective Gallery at 1310-1/2B Chicago Ave., Evanston, 224-200-1155.