The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

ASSASSINATION: Monique Meloche, Director of moniquemeloche

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Photograph of Monique Meloche. Courtesy of Facebook.
Raahid Johnson: Promised Land, 2008, spray enamel on miror, multiple of 3, 37 1/2 inches by 49 1/2 inches. Courtesy of moniquemeloche.
Last winter I had the chance to speak with one of Chicago‘s most esteemed gallerists Monique Meloche who has presenting brilliantly challenging and conceptual artwork at various venues including The Volta Show NY during 2010 as well as the NADA Art Fair during 2009. One of her primary artists is the provocative Rashid Johnson who explores daringly mainsteam iconography such as the tennis player Jimmy Connors from the viewpoint of an African American or the language of graffiti using simple words or phrases in spray enamel on paper or a mirror. Meloche apparently believes in her artists’ ability to convey the most complex ideas such as race, social structure, or personal identity into forms that forces the viewer to confront their innermost desires and fears.
Meloche’s program for her gallery is rather varied and quite experimental. Works can range from the wood, hardware, and paint installations of Kendell Carter to the appliqued prime numbers on pieced pillowcases of Karen Reimer. There is a sharp focus on the subversion of both the design and decorative arts that makes the viewer realize that even the most commonplace of household objects can force one to realize the potential of these seemingly normal things to become magical and even reinvented as a reborn creation that reveals new threads of our lives. This interview portrait with Meloche was quite a feat in itself as she was busy moving her gallery to a new venue in Chicago (which I really need to revisit pretty soon).
If you have any questions about any of the artwork featured at moniquemeloche, please contact Ms. Meloche at or at (773) 252-0299. May you enjoy this tasty morsel of our conversation.
qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your gallery here? Do you have any other recent galleries apart from the moniquemeloche gallery or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us?
Monique Meloche: Bernini is my favorite artist of all time. Rashid Johnson (whom I do represent) continues to amaze me. My husband and I have personally collected his work for years and have a pretty in-depth collection of his varied oeuvre.
LAW & ORDER and any CSI — guilty pleasure as can always find one tv somewhere at any given time (although I do dvr them too just in case). Like the 1 hour escape and complete closure at end of each episode
My husband is Green Bay Packers fan and we have amazing tickets for some home games at Lambeau Field — 50 yard line 7th row up from Packer bench!
Just finished reading Stieg Larsson‘s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl who played with Fire….looking forward to 3rd book in the trilogy
Always read Artforum and Frieze. Time Out Chicago a must for local coverage! Online check the daily.
Am complete non-techie – no video game — barely even any apps on my iphone type of gal!
Fav movie all time Pedro Almodovar Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown. Recently watched A very long Engagement on demand — it was great. Really want to see Precious — totally missed it during Chicago Film Festival last week or so….
Victorian photo show at Art Institute and the Caravaggio not to be missed. Jeremy Deller at MCAIt Is What It Is—Conversations About Iraq. Heartland exhibition at SMART museumKerry James Marshall‘s RHYTHM MASTR terrific. Arturo Herrera permanent wall painting at The Hotel at Madalay Bay in Las Vegas was great surprise upon check in! Headed to LA for Rashid Johnson solo show over Halloween weekend. Previewed the sculptures here in Chicago last week and was blown away.
qi peng: What is the story of the founding of your space in Chicago starting from exhibitions at your home back in 2000? What are some of the other goals for the gallery now that it has expanded substantially into an international domain with curatorial projects and art fairs?
Monique Meloche: After 6 years working at the MCA Chicago as assistant curator I looked to Rhona Hoffman Gallery to dip my feet into the commercial side knowing full well that I could continue curatorial pursuits as clients would want to do actual transactions with Rhona! I was director of Rhona Hoffman Gallery for 2 years where I learned a great deal then moved on to work for Kavi Gupta (then Vedanta Gallery) as Director for 1 1/2 years building up their program. As I gained more and more autonomy I decided it was time to put my name on the door. It was the summer of 2000 and I began to look for spaces and nothing seemed right, by the end of summer I realized that the art world has a short memory and I needed to throw my hat in the ring with or without a space. Knowing the great history that Chicago has of apartment galleries, I cajoled my husband into letting us open in our 3 story home in Ukranian Village with the caveat that it be temporary and only 1 show. For Homewrecker I invited 30 artists to exhibit artwork throughout the house — a couple which have become permanent installations. Every TV had video, bathrooms, hallways, kitchen — nothing was off limits except our personal closet and bathroom plus the office space (which was where all the mess went). With a mailing list of 800 — unbelievably around 500 showed up over the course of our opening night. Response was so good that kept the show up until the spring of 2001, found my 1st space on Fulton Market and opened to the public May 2001. That dramatic sunk-in space was designed on a dime — literally sketched on a cocktail napkin by an architect friend Geoff Brooksher for the price of a couple martinis. We spent 3 great years there really being a destination location — we were there before all the fancy restaurants opened — and frankly we got squeezed out after our 3 yr. lease was up. Luckily Julia Friedman (who opened her gallery space the same day we did) was moving to NY and her ground floor space right next to Rhona Hoffman was available and we jumped at the chance. Made some minor renovations, but the space was pretty particular, and spent 5 years in the midst of the West Loop gallery area. As our lease was running out and the global economic crisis was in full swing, we decided to move. Although we did look at some spaces in the West Loop it became less and less enticing to me to deal with minimal parking, constant truck congestion, and the unfulfilled promise of all those West Loop condo owners really taking advantage of the galleries in their midst. We lucked out and found a new but 2 year vacant space in Wicker Park on the corner of Division and Leavitt and with the help of Leslie Johnson from Dirk Dennison Architects (of the famed Terzo Piano restaurant in the new Modern Wing at AIC and the heavenly restaurant L2o) and all the fabulous people at Ranquist Development we built out the gallery and reopened in less than 2 weeks! We’ve streamlined our program, will be doing less exhibitions but keeping those we do up for 2 months to ensure enough time for people to visit, and will add a very international wall project series on our 25 foot wall in our front windows!
Art fairs we are focusing on Miami, NY and Basel!
qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around Chicago, where you are based now out of or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen? Do you see a lot of differences in lifestyles between that of Chicago and the other major art cities such as New York City and Los Angeles?
Monique Meloche: 10 years ago I would tell you that I’d hang out at the Rainbo Club — still going strong as Chicago’s “art” bar. My local artists still hang there, but I’m more of a Fulton Lounge lady. In my hood we hang at Bar Deville and the Continental. Know the bartenders low key sort of joints — at least during the week. Do NOT go to bars on the weekend. Always go back to Erie Café — a Chicago staple and we know everyone there and the whitefish is delicious.
Like to stay on top of new places and most recently fell in love with The Bristol — yes another gastropub but great room and food. Chicago is more chill, has great art schools, zero art press, a handful of good collectors, and superb museums. What you don’t get is all the chance encounters that NY offers. To function globally we totally rely on the business and opportunities that art fairs can bring. LA I still don’t totally understand.
qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits such as the New Art Dealers Alliance (NADA) will be coping with the downturn within the political and corporate culture, in where the collector base is seated, particularly in America? What things are you optimistic about for the contemporary art market in the future?
Monique Meloche: Everyone stopped buying last October, but slowly people are coming back. The great surprise has been a new crop of younger collectors who never realized that galleries will gladly offer payment plans — old school layawy — interest free. It is challenging and people are collaborating more.
Not really seeing artist changing their practices — but just continuing to make great work. However, our current exhibition SIGN OF THE TIMES is a group show tackling the topic of the Recession. Fantastic strong work NOT commissioned for a theme — its already in the air. Artists are always influenced by what is going on in the world, but in terms of changing their pursuits to something more “personal and intimate” specifically – I don’t think so. It’s a more organic thing. Regardless of the economy, I’ve never been interested in artists making “art fair art” unless the work is site-specific project. Our participation in art fairs has become more focused over the last couple of years — I tend to do solo projects or at the most 3 artists. We will feature Rashid Johnson, Joel Ross and Justin Cooper in our booth at NADA in Miami next week. We’ve seen some galleries close but others have opened — and this has been a wake up call for some galleries to refocus and even collaborate! Each fair this year seemed to do a little better, so I am quite optimistic about Miami. The contemporary art market is slowly coming back.
qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the work and curating at your gallery that you pursue? With your personal interests, are your own tastes in conceptual art, painting, works on paper, sculpture, and installations within the moniquemeloche gallery reflective of the hobbies that you engage in? How does the layout of your space reflect your overall philosophy about art and its creation?
Monique Meloche: Well I love gardening, running, pilates, fashion and especially cooking.
There are a few instances when art and life entertwine.
I often cook dinner for up to 40 people at my home for post-opening dinners.
I do have a bit of a shoe fetish and my masters thesis was on the history of the shoe in art and I curated an exhibition NO SMALL FEAT on that very theme including Andy Warhol, Ed Paschke, Gary Simmons, Doris Salcedo to name a few artists while I was Director of Rhona Hoffman Gallery in 1996. My interest in fashion certainly led me to the work of Swiss artist Sylvie Fleury and I curated the MCA’s 1st exterior wall project at its old location in the early 1990s — Fleury painted the masthead of GLAMOUR magazine in neon hued pink and blue. The one that I resisted for a long time was my secret past as a cheerleader, so I finally caved in and curated BRING IT ON at my own gallery in 2006 — even using my high school cheerleading photo at the announcement — bad 80s hair an all….But that said my gallery is more reflective of my personal aesthetic that tends to focus on conceptually driven work in all media. Its always a gut reaction with me. I have noticed tho that I started out working with a lot of painters, then it was more photography, and as of late increasingly sculpture….but that is more a result of artists working in multiple media. I designed my gallery layout to offer the most flexible working space as I am always open to artists making site-specific installations — but it also can be a simple white cube. We also designed a 25 foot long wall that faces our front plate-glass windows and will begin a series of projects to be viewed by the public outside the gallery space. Assume Vivid Astro Focus will be our 1st project starting in January!
qi peng: What is a typical day at your gallery like? What responsibilities do you have as the director and owner of the galleries? How has your curating philosophy matched up with the environment and the audiences within each location? How does the artistic environment in Chicago differ than that of New York City or Los Angeles, which are considered the two major contemporary art centers? Do the collectors’ tastes vary much between these areas? Do you see the Chicago art world converging with the New York or Los Angeles art world in terms of concept and style?
Monique Meloche: Typical day starts with coffee from Letizia’s bakery 2 doors down from the gallery, turning on any video etc., checking on email. We’re usually juggling quite a number of arrangements for artwork going on loan to various galleries and museums for multiple artists, following up on sales for our current show, posting new press on our website, organizing for the upcoming show, and invariably applying for yet another art fair and planning for whatever the upcoming fair is. I don’t really change my curating philosophy per locale – but certainly take locale under consideration. The artistic environment in Chicago is vital with an abundance of top notch art school and obviously artists. The major newspaper pay little or no attention to the visual arts but weekly publications like Time Out and New City consistently cover and online blogs are abundant. Chicago gets maybe 1 review per issue of ArtForum, less in Art in America, and sporadically in places like Flash Art, Frieze, etc. Contemporary art collectors that we deal with cannot really be defined by region. Chicago’s museums are completely on par with those in NY and LA — there are some really great galleries, but just not as many good ones as LA and NY.
qi peng: What is your favorite online resources, blog, and art magazines or journals for checking out the latest art news scoop and inside information? Do you have any favorite or humorous stories from your gallery you wish to share with your fans and column readers here? Do you feel that selling artwork will be more aligned with Internet-based sales and/or the white-box gallery physical building during the future?
Monique Meloche: artnet, artdaily, artinfo, artforum scene & herd. Internet will never replace seeing object in person, but if you’re familiar with the artists work (especially with photos) people increasingly more comfortable to buy from jpg.
qi peng: What is your opinion on art fairs and its seemingly more commercial and less conceptual presentation of artwork as compared to that of more traditional exhibitions, especially during the past ten years? Is it possible to present artwork now in a challenging manner within the Miami warehouse spaces and question the status quo? What elements of the curator’s playfulness can enter into the domain of the Miami or New York art fairs? Do you think that the style and presentation of artwork of art fairs will change as the recession is underway? Or will they continue to act as a venue for “art merchandising?” What was your experience like at last year’s PULSE art fair in Miami?
Monique Meloche: I feel strongly that it is possible to present smart, curated booths at art fairs and I try to always do that. It is not ideal presenting art these settings, but it is necessary. PULSE was quite good for us last year in spite of economy. Featured site-specific installation by Kendell Carter paired with new works by Rashid Johnson — who was included in the Rubell’s 30 Americans show (not to mention on the cover of the catalogue and banners around the city).
qi peng: Do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?
Monique Meloche: Food is essential to every situation! The preparation is total therapy for me — I use whatever is fresh and in season — nothing processed. I have a habit of selecting music to prep by inspired by the type of cuisine. Italian is my favorite followed closely by sushi. We cook tons of fish — whole red snapper, trout, whatever looks fresh from the fish monger. I use herbs from garden to marianate and usual serve with grilled veggies. I am not a big fan of sauces. I like the solitude of cooking but I also entertain a lot, and I’ve become known as the kitchen ninja since I can juggle hostess duties and be part of the party secretly slipping into the kitchen now and then and miraculously whipping up a meal. Presentation is also very important from simple cheese tray to the plating of individual dishes — always a fresh herb garnish.
qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? What things do you like looking when you are at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of artwork does your personal tastes gravitate towards?
Monique Meloche: My husband and I actively collect so our museum would tend to include a lot of work by black artists including Rashid Johnson, Mickalene Thomas, Kehinde Wiley, Ebony Patterson, Shoshanna Weinberger and Zoe Charlton. A Barkley Hendricks painting is at the top of our wish list as well as Kerry James Marshall, Giacometti and Egon Schiele. There is a lot of figurative work in our collection, and we have great work by, Marcel Dzama, Robert Davis + Michael Langlois, Gabriel Vormstein, Joe Baldwin and Anna Bjerger; photos by Carrie Schneider, Laura Letinsky, Joel Ross and Anthony Goicolea; sculpture by Tobias Rehberger and Justin Cooper. Lately though we been gravitating toward abstract work by Walead Beshty & Karl Haendel although we’ve always been a fan of Carla Arocha in terms of abstraction.
I tend to like solo shows more than groups show in both galleries and museums – like seeing more work in depth. But love permanent collection shows at any institution.
qi peng: What do you think are the dominant issues and subjects within contemporary art at the moment? How do these subjects and themes differ from the focus of artists ten years ago? Do you envision any new subjects that may pop up within the next ten years? If so, what would those be?
Monique Meloche: I have been noticing a lot more “content-lite” artwork — maybe post 9/11, Katrina, wars, economy getting too much for people and want to escape….a lot of this is great to look at but I personally have a problem jumping on board.
qi peng: One of your exhibitions called “Paranormaldise” with performance artist Justin Cooper featured a wonderful video piece with drawings called “Studio Visit” that reflected on the difficult challenges that an artist has to face. What was the driving concept behind Cooper’s work and how did it evoke a sense of thoughtfulness within an audience who are interested in art that focuses on the process of art making? What do you think about art about art?
Monique Meloche: Well the piece was made while Cooper was in residency at Skowhegan, which is basically about being in the studio every day without the distractions of the rest of the world. It made perfect sense for him to investigate the feeling of being “stuck” (both physically and mentally) in the studio. As with all his work whether performance, photography, video Cooper is an active participant in the piece and the physical comedy plays an important element. So this is the best of both worlds — an artwork about art by and artist whose work is not always about that and that makes sense within the rest of his practice. Most art about art sucks. This video doesn’t and in fact will be featured in an upcoming group show at the MCA Chicago curated by Dominic Molon called Production Site: The Artist’s Studio Inside-Out alongside William Kentridge, Rodney Graham, Ryan Gander, and Frances Stark to name a few!
qi peng: With the moniquemeloche gallery, what are some of the future projects that you will be embarking on? What exciting artists or projects will you be featuring in upcoming shows?
Monique Meloche: Our wall project series is something we are really excited about and give us the opportunity to work with some exciting artists not represented by the gallery. 1st up Assume Vivid Astro Focus in January 2010… Laura Letinsky will have a solo show of new photos in January. Carla Arocha and Stephane Schraenen are working on something for the Fall and Rashid Johnson in early 2011. Carrie Schneider has a solo 12×12 show at the MCA in December and we are continuing our ongoing partnership with The James Hotel and having a reception in her honor is the James Lobby Gallery where Schneider’s work is currently on view.
qi peng: Before we embark on the last question, thanks very much for your time. Is there anything else that you wish to share with readers, fans, and patrons of moniquemeloche as well as your other curated projects?
Monique Meloche: [no answer]

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

May 24, 2010 at 5:59 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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