Dialed In

Kaylee Wyant (MFA 2008) has taught her Continuing Studies course Contemporary Art in Chicago three times—in three very different worlds.

A group of people face away from the camera and ponder a painting hanging on a white wall

Photo by Tony Favarula

Photo by Tony Favarula

by Brontë Mansfield (MA 2017)

In 2010, Kaylee Wyant (MFA 2008) set out to teach her first course at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC): a crash course in Chicago’s dynamic art scene for adult learners—but not from inside the four walls of a classroom.

Her syllabus was the sprawling city: from hushed museums of the Loop and River North to artist studios in Garfield Park and up-and-coming West Side galleries.

“We were zipping around the city a little too much,” Wyant recalled with a laugh. “Going from one place to another, which is just difficult with a big group of people trying to find parking, getting caught in traffic, getting lost. And without Google Maps on their phone!” 

Just under a decade later in the fall of 2019, Wyant was invited to teach the course again, happily trading her Nokia flip phone for the wonders of productivity apps and Google Calendar. The ease of technology allowed her to focus less on logistics and more on what mattered: getting students out into the art world, in front of artists, gallerists, curators, and collectors.

“Being in a space, walking through a door of a gallery and talking to someone right there—it’s like bursting a bubble,” Wyant explained. “Because a lot of people have reservations or are nervous about entering this space.” 

The class was a smash hit, filled to capacity with curious adults asking smart questions in the back rooms of galleries and networking in artist studios. Wyant wanted her students to learn that “[the art world] is a social network. Art’s not made in a vacuum, it’s not seen in a vacuum. We operate for each other,” she said. “And I think what’s gonna be really challenging this round is that for almost a year now, the art world has been under lockdown.”

A woman with a short brown bob wearing a scarf holds her iPhone close up on a golden, dragon-like sculpture

Photo by Tony Favarula

Photo by Tony Favarula

A group of people face away from the camera and look upwards at a high-hanging yellow sculptural piece

Photo by Tony Favarula

Photo by Tony Favarula

The class was penciled in for the 2020–21 program year, but on a Friday night last March, while preparing to host an exhibition opening, Wyant’s phone lit and buzzed with text after text: galleries around the city were closing.

When the class was scheduled to run again in 2021, Wyant had to figure out how to move a class based on physical spaces fully onto the virtual plane. Bubbles aren’t safe to burst anymore. Art is being made in a vacuum. But Wyant is aiming to show—from the glow of a Zoom screen—Chicago art history in the making, one gallery and artist studio and collector’s home at a time.

A zoom screenshot of five individuals viewing a painting (a watercolor that depicts a large lemon on a brown background) virtually.

Artwork: Vik Muniez, The Lemon, after Manet, 2011, digital C-print, 71 x 115 ¼ in., collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams. From top: Daphne Pals, Kaylee Wyant, Laura-Caroline de Lara, Craig Hutson, and Jana Hees view Muniez's artwork over Zoom.

Artwork: Vik Muniez, The Lemon, after Manet, 2011, digital C-print, 71 x 115 ¼ in., collection of DePaul Art Museum, gift of Eric Ceputis and David W. Williams. From top: Daphne Pals, Kaylee Wyant, Laura-Caroline de Lara, Craig Hutson, and Jana Hees view Muniez's artwork over Zoom.

“This 2021 class is less about ‘oh, come get a taste of this or that art scene.’ It’s also: how are you surviving? It’s a story of resilience,” Wyant said. “We are doing this because we love it, and we can’t wait to welcome you back when things are normal again.”

What the next iteration of Wyant’s Contemporary Art in Chicago will look like in a year or a decade is now up to the art world to create—and for Wyant’s next generation of students to explore.

Contemporary Art in Chicago is available to adult learners this spring. Learn more about Continuing Studies courses for adults, teens, and kids at saic.edu/cs [10].