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On the Rise: Expo Chicago’s Artistic Director Stephanie Cristello

On the Rise: Expo Chicago’s Artistic Director Stephanie Cristello

Caira Moreira-Brown

Stephanie CristelloLast year Stephanie Cristello was named the artistic director of Expo Chicago, Chicago’s leading art fair. In recent years, Cristello has created synergies between the international and local art scene foremost as the fair’s program director and the founding editor of “The Seen,” a bi-annual publication covering Chicago’s contemporary art scene but also through other initiatives like the partnership between Palais de Tokyo and Institute Francais that culminated in an exhibition at the Dusable Museum of African American Art. With dynamism, she works with institutions, artists, publications, and the art market to forge new connections.

Our Chicago arts correspondent Caira Moreira-Brown took a few moments to talk to Cristello, who also happens to be a former colleague, about working in Chicago.

Caira Moreira-Brown: My first job in Chicago was at Expo. You were there then too, I remember you being both kind and smart and that you helped me navigate the city. Thanks for that!

Stephanie Cristello: You’re welcome!

What brought you to Chicago?

I moved to Chicago from Toronto when I was seventeen to study at the School of the Art Institute for a dual-degree in Visual Critical Studies with a Liberal Arts Thesis. The unique format of the program was the initial reason I was drawn to the city, but it quickly became clear that the city is where I wanted to ground my career.

How did your involvement with Expo begin and where has it taken you?

Joining Expo Chicago provided me the opportunity to grow the international facet of the local art scene through my exposure to galleries and artists around the world. Working within the exposition context requires a long lens that can make synapses from what may seem like disparate things into cohesive, diverse, and rigorous programming. Given my other roles, as the editor-in-chief of The Seen, and Director / Curator at Chicago Manual Style, there is a space for each of my ideas to manifest in the most appropriate form, though of course these projects are inherently linked. They feed each other. Often, I will try out the concept for an exhibition through an essay, or return to installation and have an idea for a panel program, or develop a narrative for a book from a show. It is all so interconnected that the three positions I simultaneously occupy are really part of a single identity, and that is my work.

How do you navigate Chicago’s art world with the multiple positions that you hold?

The institutional backbone of Chicago continues to be a strong foundation for my interests in criticism and curatorial practice—the city has allowed me to develop a really close network of peers from across disciplines in ways that I find constantly generative, collaborative, and deeply meaningful. As a writer, there is no shortage of ideas to discuss. Chicago provides the quiet, when chosen, to actually do the writing.

As a curator, what kind of projects does Chicago facilitate?

As a curator, there is no limit to the types of exhibitions and programs I can bring to the city. Chicago allows me a place to do this sort of alternative experimentation. It seems endless, and yet, there is a source of energy that demands these types of exchanges to take place. Chicago demands it.

Expo Chicago is held every year for four days in September in Chicago.

Our shortlist of top booths this year was: Jenkins Johnson Gallery (SF+BK) whose showcase presented a beautiful collection of black experiences through various mediums and by multiple artists; Mariane Ibrahim Gallery (Chicago) presented stunning works by Florine Démosthène in anticipation of her upcoming show in November, and quite frankly, the gallery’s booth is always stellar; and at Claire Oliver Gallery (NYC) Bisa Butler united fine art and textile crafts in her vibrant quilts that show a bright and enlightened depiction of the black community, a much-needed affirmation. 

Image: Stephanie Cristello. Photographed by Assaf Evron.

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