My Favorite Museums in Chicago


By Robert Glaze


Chicago has some of the best museums of any city in the world. As the weather gets colder, this is a perfect time to explore these great institutions in the city and the suburbs. My favorites include:

The Art Institute of Chicago: One of the true treasures of Chicago, this is one of the top encyclopedic museums in the US with great collections in many areas including textiles, prints and drawings, photography, European decorative arts and even architecture. Its Modern Wing, designed by architect Renzo Piano, is outstanding. The AIC is known for its famous French Impressionism collection with works by all of the major artists. I went to a Monet show at the museum in 2020 and learned that the Art Institute owns 33 paintings and 13 drawings by Claude Monet, making it the largest collection of his works outside of Paris. I am excited to see the current exhibition, Picasso: Drawing from Life, before it closes on April 8, 2024.

One of the masterpieces not to be missed, is Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of la Grand Jatte which will only be seen in Chicago and will not be allowed to travel. Gustav Caillebot’s Rainy Day is also a must for your list along with the famous Chagall windows. 111. S. Michigan.

A bit of history, the construction of the Art Institute building began in 1891 as the hall for the World’s congresses for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition. After the fair the galleries were filled with artworks and reproductions that included Old Master paintings, sculpture, textiles, photography and antiquities acquired or loaned by local collections. The Art Institute opened its doors on December 8, 1893.

The National Museum of Mexican Art: Located in Pilsen, this is one of the top cultural institutions in the city with an emphasis on Mexican art and folk art. It was founded in 1982. Check out their current exhibitions. In the Fall, they always have great altars for Day of the Dead and often bring in Mexican folk artists for special markets and demonstrations.

Museum of Contemporary Art: Just south and east of Water Tower Place is the Museum of Contemporary Art. It offers exhibitions of contemporary art and does offer a series of programs including musical performances throughout the year. Their museum store is well-worth the trip by itself. 220 E. Chicago Ave.

A wonderful new museum that recently opened in Lincoln Park is Wrightwood 659. I have always loved the Eychaner Lee House designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando in 1998 in his signature concrete, steel, and glass style. Fred Eychaner, the owner, is President of Alphawood Foundation and is known for his philanthropy in the city including arts institutions, public spaces and historic preservation. Very quietly Eychaner and Dan Whittaker, created this exhibition space next to Eychaner’s home. They had Tadao Ando create the space in a former four-story prewar, residential apartment building at 659 W. Wrightwood just west of Clark St. Ando removed the entire interior and filled it with steel and reinforced concrete.

It is a wonderful, small exhibition space that will be very popular among art lovers in the city.  According to the New York Times, “Wrightwood 659 does not possess a collection and does not intend to develop one. Its aim is to host alternating exhibitions focused on architecture and design and socially engaged art.” I enjoyed a very creative Ai Weiwei exhibition and a show dedicated to Ando and architect Le Corbusier.

I recently went back and enjoyed an exhibition on two lost works of famed architects Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright. Make sure to check their website and book your reservations in advance.

Driehaus Museum: This is a museum, located in the historic Samuel M. Nickerson mansion dating from America’s Gilded Age in the 19th century, that is a perfect place if you like antiques and the decorative arts. It is particularly wonderful during the holidays when it is totally decorated for Christmas. It is located at 40 E. Erie, just west of Michigan Ave.

The historic Newberry Library is an independent research library, specializing in the humanities and located on Washington Square. It has been free and open to the public since 1887. They do have temporary exhibitions that you should consider. I enjoyed an excellent show, Pictures from an Exposition, Visualizing the 1893 World’s Fair. The first floor was recently renovated. They also have a number of classes, lectures and events, so check out their website for details. 60 W. Walton.

A few years ago, I went to the American Writers Museum at 180 N. Michigan Ave. Opened in May 2017, it is a museum, inspired by the Dublin Writers Museum, that has a mission to educate the public about American writers, past and present.  There are excellent exhibitions to explore.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art: At 2320 W. Chicago Ave., this is a small museum founded in 1971, that features a permanent collection as well as temporary exhibitions. The permanent collection features paintings, prints and sculptures by Ukrainian and other international artists. The temporary exhibitions focus on artist retrospectives, group and collective shows and concept and theme topics like Chicago’s Bauhaus Legacy.

Chicago History Museum: A great small museum showcasing the history of Chicago. It also has photography exhibitions and fashion exhibitions at various times. 1601 N. Clark.

I also recommend checking out the art exhibitions of the temporary exhibitions at the Arts Club of Chicago at 201 E. Ontario, a block east of Michigan Ave. The Calder sculpture and the Mies van de Rohe staircase are worth the visit.

I recently went to see a special exhibit at Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. Located at 756 Milwaukee Ave., this small institution promotes the public awareness, understanding and appreciation of intuitive and outsider art, though education programs, exhibitions and special events. I remember well the homeless Lee Godie selling her paintings on the Michigan Ave. bridge during my first years in Chicago. Today her works are in many private collections in the city and were featured in the exhibition that I saw. You can see works from the permanent collection as well as in special exhibitions. I highly recommend the experience.

Originally opened as a pop-up museum, the wndr Museum, is now a permanent fixture in Chicago’s West Loop. It is located on the first floor of a three-story red brick commercial building and is now open daily. Visitors can either buy tickets for a particular time slot online or pay by credit card at the entrance. The shows or chapters combine art with technology. So, you can see exhibitions with sounds, light and more. I loved my first visit after it first opened. 1130 W. Monroe.

There are some excellent university art museums to visit:

DePaul Art Museum: Recently relocated to a new building at 925 W. Fullerton, in Lincoln Park, this is a great small museum offering special exhibitions featuring contemporary artists and works from its growing permanent collection.

LUMA/Loyola University Museum of Art: A good, small art museum with a permanent collection as well as rotating exhibitions. You might stop in to see what is being featured. The permanent collections feature European art from the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque eras. It is located at 820 N. Michigan.

I recently went back to see a photography exhibition featuring the photos of famed National Geographic photographer, Steve McCurry. I am again impressed with his work and the videos telling his story and how he tells the stories of others.

Museum of Contemporary Photography/MoCP: Founded in 1976, as part of Columbia College, the MoCP is an excellent academic art museum dedicated to photography. It is a hub for research and dialogue amongst students, faculty and the broader community. The feature changing exhibitions as well as classes for the students. Check out their website for the calendar of exhibitions, lectures and other special events. I was back recently for a special event and tour and was very impressed. They have a large archive of over 16,500 works.

They recently announced a $25 million capital campaign to renovate the museum and add larger exhibition spaces, a dedicated education center along with an expanded temperature-controlled collection vault.  600 S. Michigan.

 In Evanston, there is the Mary & Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University.  Here, you can see its permanent collection or one of its temporary exhibitions. The museum building is really exceptional. It opened in 2000 and was designed by Chicago architect Dirk Lohan, the grandson of famed architect Mies van der Rohe.

The permanent collection of close to 5,000 items has diverse holdings including works on paper, architectural drawings, photographs, textiles and bronze sculptures. Artists include Albrecht Durer, Honore Daumier, Mary Cassatt, Max Beckmann, Andy Warhol, Ed Paschke and Sarah Sze. 40 Arts Circle Dr.

In nearby Skokie, I made a special trip to visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum & Educational Center at 9603 Woods Drive. I found the exhibitions very moving including a special photography exhibition about the Jewish Ghetto in Lodz Poland. It gives an in-depth history of “pre-war European life, the rise of Nazism, ghettoization, concentration camps, liberation and resettlement around the world through more than 500 artifacts, documents, photographs, and a German rail car of the type used in Nazi deportations. It has a special focus on post-war life in Skokie, Illinois, which had the largest per capita population of Holocaust survivors outside of Israel and sparked the Museum’s eventual creation.” I highly recommend it.

I am excited to go back and see the current exhibition “I’ll Have What’s She’s Having”: The Jewish Deli, which is there through April 14, 2024.

While in Hyde Park, at the University of Chicago, you can explore the Institute for the Study of Ancient Cultures. Formerly The Oriental Institute, this important museum is world-renowned for the history, art and archaeology of the ancient Near East. It has a wonderful permanent collection with galleries devoted to West Asia and North Africa, including ancient Egypt, Nubia, Persia, Mesopotamia, Syria, Anatolia and the ancient site of Megiddo. There are special exhibitions as well. 1155 E. 58th St.

The Renaissance Society: Founded in 1915, this is an independent, non-collecting museum of contemporary art. It supports new artists and commissions many new works. Located at 5811 S. Ellis, on the U of C Campus, it is worth the visit.

Also on the campus is Smart Museum of Art: This small museum has a strong collection in Asian art, European art, modern art and design, and contemporary art. 5550 S. Greenwood.

Located at the College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn is the Cleve Carney Art Museum which has art exhibitions showcasing art by regional, national and international artists. I went to see a Frida Kahlo show with 26 of her paintings from the Dolores Olmedo Museum in Mexico City along with an historical exhibit on her life and family. I was very impressed with the Arts Center as this was my first visit.

I went back in September 2023 to see an excellent Andy Warhol exhibition. 425 Fawell Blvd.

Also in the suburbs is the Elmhurst Art Museum. Located in a contemporary glass and steel building, the museum opened in 1997. Today it offers rotating exhibitions, educational workshops and studio classes. It has a collection of over 500 items including architectural drawings, works on paper, furniture, and paintings by Chicago artists. The highlight of your visit will be seeing the famed architect Mies van der Rohe’s McCormick House from 1952. One of only three houses he designed, it was moved to this location and incorporated into the design for the new museum. I went back a second time for an exhibition on the Bauhaus at 100 and the impact of this famous German design school. I went again in September 2023 for the exhibition Picasso: Fifty Years Late about his influence on the 50th anniversary of his death. 150 S. Cottage Hill Ave.

I hope you enjoy visiting these wonderful museums as much as I do.




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