Chicago is a lucky spot for people who like emerging and otherwise overlooked visual art. We have a bunch of college programs in the area that recruit and keep globally savvy artists in our midst, and a bevy of nonprofit institutions that work hard to support both challenging art and the artists who make it. While you can still find groupings of galleries clustered together in some neighborhoods, the global economy doesn't sustain the "gallery scene" mythology that used to dominate the art world discourse in major cities. In short, it's tough here, and in most places, to sustain the rent for a storefront. Fear not, art lovers! Chicagoans should understand this as a boon to our experience. The necessity of having a diversity of spaces for art in a variety of neighborhoods has resulted in a more robust world of art for Chicago. In full disclosure, my pre-Reader days include a significant amount of time working in art circles, so I have some friends among the art spaces that I appreciate. It's still proven impossible for me to think of one "best" gallery in this city. Chicago art spaces give us so many different art adventures. All I can give you are places to start.
6018 North in Edgewater has a wealth of programming with thoughtful curation. Rogers Park's PO Box Collective and Roman Susan project spaces and North Pole Exhibitions (a literal flagpole) will challenge in the best ways. Heaven in Wicker Park is still a hub for experimental work in a not-so-experimental neighborhood. 4th Ward Project Space in Hyde Park offers smart exhibitions, while the Comfort Station in Logan Square and the Breathing Room Space in New City/Back of the Yards give us a variety of art experiences with dedication to their communities.
Ready for more? Solid work can be found in East Village's Roots & Culture, West Town's Western Exhibitions and Volume, East Garfield Park's Julius Caesar and Corbett vs. Dempsey, Bronzeville's Blanc Gallery, and Pilsen's ACRE Projects, Uri-Eichen, and Prospectus. I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the Co-Prosperity Sphere in Bridgeport, the Stony Island Arts Bank in South Shore, and Bronzeville's South Side Community Arts Center, continuously open since 1941 and a link to an art history in this city that is often forgotten.