A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

Alternative Art Fair

by Jac Kuntz (MA 2016)

Gallery owners, curators, museum directors, entrepreneurs, and art professionals flock from every corner of the world to behold the shifts and summits of blue chip work, unveiled and celebrated at Art Basel Miami Beach in early December. Last year, the event attracted 75,000 visitors and exhibited more than 4,000 modern and contemporary artists. Its popularity has proliferated into satellite fairs that expand the diversity of talent and representation of the event.

Untitled is the newest manifestation of the satellite fairs taking place during the annual celebration. An international fair held on the beachfront, Untitled exhibits emerging and contemporary artists, alternative spaces, and not-for-profit galleries. A curatorial team hand selected the galleries participating in the third-annual exhibition, and LVL3 Gallery will be proudly representing both the Chicago and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago at the fair this year.

Vincent Uribe (BFA and BA 2013) and Anna Mort (BFA 2014), co-directors of LVL3 Gallery are counting down to the fair and putting in long hours to prepare, “We attended the fair the past two years to network, but financially it just wasn’t attainable. Every year we’d meet people and would always get asked if we had a booth at the fair…but this is the first year we can tell them, ‘yes, come see our booth, we are here, we are present.’ We’ve interviewed many artists [involved in the fair] throughout the years for our Artist of the Week series; it is great [that we will have the opportunity] to meet people we have only interacted with in online communication. This is an opportunity to put hands to hands.”

Uribe, who concentrated in studio art and arts administration during his time at SAIC, founded the gallery in his sophomore year. What began as an alternative exhibition space grew into an artist-run gallery with international ties at the forefront of collaborative work. Mort joined the team as an intern through an undergraduate opportunity. She stayed in the program for three rotations. “I just kept sticking around because I really enjoyed what I was doing. It just became a part of my routine. When a spot for assistant director opened up, everything fell into place.” As a recent graduate who concentrated in the Visual Communications Design department, she brings her talent for graphic design and printmedia to the gallery, creating promotional materials for exhibitions.

With the success and notoriety the gallery has acquired in Chicago and nationally, participating in an international fair was the obvious next step. The day after applying, Uribe received an immediate response from the fair’s director, on his personal cell, expressing his excitement for their desire to get involved. He knew the gallery well, and he anticipated the impact a team with their mission and programming would bring to the group.

Curating work for the Untitled both was an organic and intuitive process for the Uribe and Mort. All of the artists traveling to Miami previously exhibited at LVL3 and were drawn from the Artist of the Week Series archive of interviews. Uribe and Mort take care to sustain the relationships they form through exhibitions and interviews, staying informed in artists’ new shows and lines of work. They chose artists they had good experiences with, remain close to, and that well represented the emphasis LVL3 places on a vibrant Chicago art scene.

The LVL3 booth will showcase the work of three SAIC alumni: paintings by Josh Reames (Post-Bac 2010, MFA 2010), sculptures by mAtT Nichols (MFA 2010), and paintings by Sofia Leiby (BFA 2011). 

Uribe and Mort did not restrict candidates to artists within the network of SAIC alumni, but it happened naturally. All three of these artists have moved out of Chicago but maintain close ties. The work traveling to Miami represents the interdisciplinary and collaborative mission of the gallery and, as Uribe puts it, “sums up our aesthetic: very playful and attractive, pleasing to the eye, but with conceptual undertones and very fine detail…The pieces surprise you, and they are very personal.”

Uribe and Mort curated the work based on the nature of the artists’ work, not necessarily specific pieces. The two have not yet seen all of the work for Untitled. It will be coming in shipments from Los Angeles, Texas, New York, and Chicago. Once the pieces are together, the LVL3 staff will curate and layout the booth from the collection and plan to rotate the pieces over the three days. As Uribe explained, “We know the artists, and we trust their decisions and creative process enough so we gave them the freedom…to make what they wanted to show. None of the artists know what the other artists are making…so they will get to see our vision come through.” Uribe undoubtedly attributes his creative problem-solving skills he uses for projects like this to his experience at SAIC, with studio work that emphasized interdisciplinary, collaborative work and arts administrative courses that encouraged a zealous pursuit and utilization of opportunities.

A second international fair, Material Art Fair in Mexico City, is on the horizon for LVL3 gallery in February following a new show in January. An SAIC alum will be featured at the first show of 2015 as well as at the LVL3 booth at Mexico City. January 2015 marks the gallery’s fifth anniversary, and after a busy season of traveling, curating, and networking, the staff will find time to host a celebratory event for the occasion.

Untitled will take place December 3–7, 2014, in a tented convention space directly on the beach in South Beach, Miami. The fair will also host discussions, performances, and event programming to coincide with the gallery and artist booths and project spaces. A series of artists books will be published following the event, showcasing a selection of work from the participating galleries. In its third year, Untitled already holds a promise for a lasting legacy, with a heavy presence of Chicago-based galleries at the event, SAIC alumni are notable vanguards on the front of international, contemporary art.