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Obituary of Deborah Wilk

March 6, 2020

Deborah Wilk – Accomplished Arts Journalist with the Soul of a Philosopher
Written by Ellen Steinberg Coven

Deborah Wilk, endowed with beauty, fiery intelligence, and spiritual contemplativeness, was a force of nature. Her career led her from an early start at the best art galleries in Chicago, to senior positions in arts journalism at a wide range of publications and organizations. Throughout her career and in everyday life, she deployed keen philosophical acumen and razor-sharp wit. She was never at a loss for an insightful interpretation, and she was respected for her spot-on articulation of the cultural zeitgeist.

Born in Chicago, Illinois on Feb 10th, 1965, she graduated from the Latin School of Chicago, and earned a BA in Philosophy at Boston University in 1986. Deb returned to Chicago where she soon began to work at the Robbin Lockett Gallery, then at Dart Gallery, positions which launched her career in the dynamic art world in Chicago in the 1980's. She found her way to journalism as an editor at the New Art Examiner, a beloved Chicago-based arts publication. Through most of the 1990's, Deb brought a brilliant editorial vision to her work at the Examiner. Working closely with Ann Wiens and Kathryn Hixon, Wiens reminisced the three had an informal motto: "to create a magazine about what artists talk about in bars." With this in mind, they represented the work of women and artists of color at a time when they were less visible. As an excellent editor, Deb was able to work closely with writers to refine their criticism, and to help manifest what was most important to both writers and artists at that time. Every month their readers would look forward to engaging thematic issues that compiled many voices to address the most riveting and the most relevant matters. Later as publisher, she shifted her attention to more administrative responsibilities.

In 1998, she was hired by the Chicago Tribune as a reporter in the Home & Garden Section. She served as editor and dining critic at Chicago Magazine, where she also created the dining blog. This trajectory that would lead to positions in New York including as senior editor at Interior Design, editor-in-chief at Art + Auction and at vice-president and New York manager of digital news as Christies. In addition, and throughout her career, Deb wrote for art catalogues and other publications.

Deb cultivated diverse relationships among wide ranging communities, always looking to engage on the deepest levels and to embrace exciting new experiences. She traveled widely for work and to visit family and friends; Colorado, Italy, Israel and Vietnam. She had a higher degree of inquisitiveness than most people, to get to the root of whatever she encountered, whether a conceptual art exhibition or a delicious meal at an excellent restaurant.

For more than twenty years, Deb stoically battled chronic Inflammatory Bowel Disease, sadly succumbing to complications at home on Friday, March 6th, 2020. She is survived by her devoted mother, Evelyn Wilk, with whom she had a special bond, her sister, Jessica, her father, Michael Wilk (Lynn), her half-brother, Joshua, as well as a large extended family. Deborah Wilk's uniquely exquisite and vivacious spirit will be truly missed by all who knew and loved her.

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Deb was all this and more. She made our lives and the Art world better a better place.

Posted by: Fitz FitzGerald - Los Angeles, CA - March 14, 2020

I will miss Deb's wonderful goofy brilliance very very much. Sending love and condolences to her family.

Posted by: Susan Peterson - chicago, IL - March 14, 2020

I just learned of Debbie's passing. We had completely lost touch, only briefly knowing each other as fellow campers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. We were friends and she was a truly kind person, even way back then. We have all reconnected recently and another fellow camper discovered her obituary. I am deeply saddened by Debbie's passing, even though we have not spoken in decades and I wish to send the entire family my sincerest and most heartfelt condolences. Though our paths only crossed briefly she was, for a short time someone very dear to me and we were the fiercest of friends. I will hold those memories a little more closely to my heart tonight thinking of her. May her memory be for a blessing always.

Posted by: Susan Balaban - Wilmette, IL - June 23, 2020

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