Chicago art curator Stephanie Cristello finds that there is much to enjoy in the unique exhibitions – cialisdfr
Chicago art curator Stephanie Cristello finds that there is much to enjoy in the unique exhibitions
Chicago art curator Stephanie Cristello finds that there is much to enjoy in the unique exhibitions

Step into the gilded darkness of the Driehaus Museum and a tumultuous past comes to life: an imagined shriek of delight from the ballroom, billowing corseted dresses, men blowing cigar smoke, perhaps the screams of children as they descend the banister of the grand staircase.

Only something bold, confident – even a little cocky – can compete here.

Then you see it: a naked female figure reclining on a blue pedestal in the center of the museum’s Maher Gallery. His bronze skin is so shiny it looks wet. But look closer and you’ll see that there’s something odd about the figure—one of her arms seems to be melting, her left leg a wave of boneless flesh.

Someone to Watch in Chicago in 2024

“In a space like this, to make a subtle gesture, you have to go a little overboard,” says Stephanie Cristello, the 32-year-old curator of the Driehaus’ recently opened contemporary art exhibition, Twin Flame. , Double Ruin’, featuring the work of Danish artist Sif Itona Westerberg. fluorescent lights.”

Cristello, a Chicago Sun-Times “One to Watch in 2024” selection, embraces the “daring” side of assembling contemporary art in spaces you probably wouldn’t expect to see it—like the Driehaus, where busy silk damask wall coverings compete for space with polished walnut and oak.

Screenshot 2024-03-20 at 4.39.31 PM.png.  installation view,

Installation view from the exhibition “Sif Itona Westerberg: Twin Flame, Double Ruin” at the Driehaus Museum in Chicago. Pictured: ‘Ascendance Seabed’.

Anthony Vasquez/Sun-Times

Last year, Cristelo wanted to start displaying art in her home. So she invited a Swiss-based artist to Chicago. They embedded glow-in-the-dark “radioactive” crystals into the concrete floor of her two-car garage in Wicker Park — to recreate a slice of space, she said.

She then throws in this: “I want to do an underwater, underground exhibition – that would be great.”

But Cristelo doesn’t want to be shocked. And she displays a quiet, almost demure demeanor (fiercely interrupted when she drops an F-bomb just once during our lengthy chat).

Cristelo’s real strength lies in her ability to connect with the artists whose work she wants to show. She usually writes about their work – say for a magazine, catalog or in a published essay – before collaborating with the artist on an exhibition.

Westerberg, the Danish artist, said: “Sometimes you feel like you have to explain everything and really make sure, especially with the curator, that they understand what your work is about. With Stephanie, … she just got it. Every time we had conversations, she somehow contributed to the process.”

Westerberg’s work explores moments of transformation—and she is particularly interested in the changes, many of them irreversible, that the planet and its inhabitants are experiencing now and in the recent past.

She said Cristello convinced her that the Driehaus, built at the dawn of the Industrial Revolution, would offer some interesting “overlays” for her own work.

“She strikes you as powerful: she’s the person who can do anything, but she also has a brilliant mind,” Westerberg said.

As a child, Cristelo, who is Canadian, traveled to Italy and Greece to see her family, exposing her to the artistic treasures of the Vatican, the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, and the architectural might of the Acropolis in Athens.

This background helped shape the lens through which she views contemporary art—connecting the ancient past with the present.

CRISTELLO-02XX24-05.JPG.  Curator Stephanie Cristello sits for a photo in front of

Curator Stephanie Cristello photographed with “Dogs Bark” by Sif Itona Westerberg at the Richard H. Driehaus Museum.

Anthony Vasquez/Sun-Times

He studied contemporary art at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). She was a writer first – writing stories for arts magazines and newspapers – before she got into curating.

Her first professional gig was in 2013, the year she graduated from SAIC, as Artistic Director of EXPO CHICAGO, where she remains until 2020. EXPO launched in 2012, showing works at a contemporary art gallery at Navy Pier. Cristello decided he wanted to expand the show beyond the pier, including at The DuSable Black History Museum and Education Center.

“Stephanie is really great at thinking about artists entering unique spaces and the interaction that art can have with the architecture it’s in,” said Driehaus Executive Director Lisa Key.

Or as Cristello puts it, “I’m the curator you call when you’re doing something really weird and you want to make it work.”

Last year, she was part of the team organizing a show built entirely of volcanic rock by American sculptor Alma Allen at the temple-like Anahuacalli Museum in Mexico City.

When does she know the show she’s curated is working?

“Anything that gets you out of your body for a second so you can focus on something that’s not you is a really good thing,” she says.

And when is it wrong?

“I’ve had moments where it’s a few days before the opening and I’m like, ‘This is terrible.’ I don’t want to open this. Then I’ll just stay and fix it. It’s intuition. I feel wrong. The work is not displayed the way it should be displayed.

She has had offers to curate shows around the world, but currently sees no future outside of Chicago.

“It’s the perfect place for an artist or a writer to live because you can actually afford it. … There are such important institutions. It’s amazing to be able to go to the Art Institute on any given day. It is one of the best museums in the world,” she said.

The conversation shifts to art in larger cities, including London. Would he be interested in organizing a show at, say, the Tate Modern?

“I’d rather do an exhibition on the (River) Thames, which is only accessible at low tide,” she said.

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