Art dealer Rhona Hoffman has been in business in Chicago for more than 40 years, occupied five different spaces, spent the last 15 years in the city’s West Loop neighborhood, and is now moving once again, to the burgeoning West Town arts district, where she will open location number six in April.
Reached by phone in Chicago and asked about the new space, an energized Hoffman replied, “It’s 2,800 square feet, it’s being designed by John Vinci, it’s beautiful.” Vinci is a Windy City–based architect whose projects include the Arts Club of Chicago and a renovation of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Oak Park studio. The entrance of the new gallery will feature a wall drawing by Sol LeWitt, whose work Hoffman has presented in 15 solo shows.
“I did not want to move,” Hoffman said. But her lease was up in April and her landlord wanted to increase the rent by 27 percent. “That’s too much,” she said. “That’s reason number one.” While she felt she could have absorbed that increase, “the neighborhood is just not working for us.”
“Right now we have maybe 40 restaurants cheek by jowl,” Hoffman explained of her longtime neighborhood, adding that “Robert DeNiro’s hotel is being built now,” and that McDonald’s and Google have new buildings nearby, which is driving up prices. Also, “There is no parking,” she said. Chicagoans drive, so parking is key.
Hoffman is moving to 1709-1711 West Chicago Avenue in West Town, which is home to galleries like Document, Western Exhibition, and Volume. Corbett vs. Dempsey and Richard Gray’s recently inaugurated Gray Warehouse space are also nearby, she pointed out. “There will be sort of a critical mass there.”
Hoffman’s first exhibition in West Town will be the fifth one-person outing by Judy Ledgerwood, opening on April 6, and a Deana Lawson solo show is on the calendar for September. (Other artists on the Hoffman roster include Derrick Adams, Natalie Frank, Jacob Hoshimoto, Jackie Saccoccio, and Nathaniel Mary Quinn.)
Rising rents in neighborhoods that are home to galleries is, to be sure, not a problem that is unique to Chicago. “Chelsea is having the same problem,” Hoffman said. “Everyone who doesn’t own their space is getting hijacked for incredible rates.” And over the past few years, as luxury condos have shot up in West Chelsea, dealers have decamped for cheaper neighborhoods in Manhattan and Brooklyn, like the Flower District, Harlem, and Bushwick, or shuttered entirely.
“David Zwirner is making a fortune, Hauser & Wirth is making a fortune, but most of us aren’t making a fortune,” she continued. “Most galleries, when you get down to it, it really is for the love of doing it.”