Claudine Isé, Newly Appointed Executive Director of Woman Made Gallery in Chicago

Claudine Isé, Newly Appointed Executive Director of Woman Made Gallery in Chicago


We’re thrilled to report that former Bad at Sports’ blog editor Claudine Isé has been appointed executive director of Chicago’s nonprofit feminist contemporary art space Woman Made Gallery. In addition to having been a real force at Bad at Sports, where she (with Meg Onli) not only got this blog up and running but also garnered it international readership, Claudine has nearly 20 years of experience in the field of contemporary art. She has worked as a curator, writer and editor for some really top-notch places, most notably Wexner Center for the Arts, the UCLA Hammer Museum, and ART21. She has also written extensively about contemporary art and artists for numerous publications, including the Chicago Tribune, Chicago magazine, Chicago Reader,, Art Papers, and the ART21 Blog. She is currently a Visiting Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches in the Museum and Exhibition Studies Program in the School of Art and Art History. And, it’s important for us (especially for me, the now editor of this blog) to note how profoundly influential Claudine has been in her short time in Chicago to students and young curators, writers and arts professionals. Our own Richard Holland had this to say about Claudine, and Duncan MacKenzie and I enthusiastically second this statement:

“Claudine’s talent, scholarship, patience and kindness are to be admired. Mother Theresa looks like the devil’s cabana boy next to her.”

In the press release put out by Woman Made, Claudine, with the gracefulness she is known for, said this about her new gig:

“I’m thrilled to be joining Woman Made Gallery as its new Executive Director,” Isé said. “Under Beate’s governance, WMG has established itself as one of only a handful of nonprofit contemporary art spaces in the U.S. dedicated to the work of women artists. I am deeply inspired by the Gallery’s unwavering commitment to the social and cultural ideals espoused by feminism, LGBTQ activism, and social justice movements. Woman Made Gallery is a vital resource for contemporary artists of all genders, and I am looking forward to working with its exceptional staff, board and funders to further the Gallery’s mission.”

We caught up with the new executive director to ask a few nosey questions about what her new role means for her work as a curator and critic, and for Woman Made, for which Claudine will be the only the second-ever executive director after Beate Minkovski, a co-founder who leaves the post after 22 years of leadership.

In Woman Made’s two-decades history, which past shows or projects do you think meet the test of time?
Which past shows do I think meet the test of time? For me, it’s those that have situated female experience within larger social, political, historical and global contexts, like the group shows WMG has done around diasporic themes (“Women of the African Diaspora” [2005], “Cultural Memory: Transdiasporic Art Practices” [2009]). I think more and more, we’re questioning just what “woman” means in social, cultural, psychological and material/body senses, so I also think shows that looked at gender as a fluid rather than binary concept, like “Girl, Please!” from 2010, will continue to resonate for years to come. Shoshana Weinberger’s solo show “Potbelly pin-ups” took place just this past year, so I guess I can’t claim that it’s stood the test of time—but nonetheless, I love the way Weinberger combines humor, discomfort, and a certain kind of luscious grotesquerie to explore popular culture conceptions of “female” and “beauty.”
Over the years Woman Made has exhibited an incredible number of works by women (and men, too!). I’m looking forward to drilling down into the ideas underlying feminism a bit more, presenting shows that take a more sustained look at a particular phenomenon or issue and allow us to ask complex questions about it—and receive complicated answers in return.
Will you continue to write art criticism for local and national outlets? 

No. Working as the executive director of a nonprofit feminist contemporary art space and attempting to write criticism would present way too many potential conflicts of interest. Even if it didn’t—there is so much good work to pursue at Woman Made, I certainly wouldn’t have the time!

As executive director, will you curate exhibitions? If so, any specific themes you’re looking forward to researching/exploring.

Yes I will, but I’ll also be actively seeking out fresh voices to bring to the gallery in guest curator capacities. We have a tiny staff at WMG and we can’t do it all — and anyway, it’s more fun to collaborate with other people! For myself, it’s a bit too early to say for certain what I will or can do exhibition-wise, but there are two ideas I’m already turning over in my head: I want to look at the work of women coders, who often find themselves to be the lone female on a software team, and the communities that women coders are building together around their shared experiences in what’s still typically thought of as a guy’s field. I’m mulling over how to make that type of work “visible” in an art gallery context.  I also want to look at people’s relationship to clothing—and here I do mean “people”: women, men, and folks who gender identify in multiple and varied ways. Have you read the book “Women in Clothes”? A friend recommended it to me and it’s fascinating. I’d like to organize something big and ambitious that looks at a wide variety of people and their relationship to the clothes they wear. It’s the kind of thing where the more closely you look, the more strange our relationship to clothing becomes.