Art. It's everywhere you look—both in the hippie, everything-is-art kind of way, and in the sense that Chicago is one of the most vibrant cities for gallery and museum hopping.
Off campus, there's the Museum of Contemporary Art, or MCA (220 East Chicago Avenue, (312) 280-2660, mcachicago.org), which has featured exhibits ranging from an introspective on water and ship imagery to Sympathy for the Devil: Art and Rock and Roll Since 1967, an exhibit that "examines the dynamic relationship between rock music and contemporary visual art, a relationship that crosses continents, generations, and cultures," and displays media including music videos and album covers. Admission is $6 with a student ID and free on Tuesdays.
The Art Institute of Chicago (111 South Michigan Avenue, (312) 443-3600, artic.edu) has a collection that's large and eclectic enough to see again and again. The world-class museum has exhibited Andy Warhol's iconic portrait of Mao looking like a jolly drag queen; some predictably debauched photographs from Harmony Korine, the director of Gummo and Kids, of his friends shooting up heroin; and a really weird video loop of a girl making realistic explosion noises with her mouth as a commentary on growing up in a war-torn society.
Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood boasts a vibrant arts scene. There's Gallery 2 (847 West Jackson Boulevard, (312) 563-5162, saic.edu/art_design/galleries/gallery2), which shows work from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's "most advanced undergraduate and graduate students"; the very serious 33 Collective Gallery and 33 1/3 Gallery (1029 West 35th Street, third floor; (708) 837-4534;
33collective.com); the fun, occasionally frivolous Gallery 400
(1240 West Harrison Street, (312) 996-6114, uic.edu/aa/college/gallery400); and scads more. There are even a few galleries without numbers in their titles, like the eclectic Oskar Friedl Gallery (1029 West 35th Street, Suite 301, (312) 493-4330, friedlgallery.com); the hip Iron Studios (3636 South Iron Street, (773) 837-0145), co-curated by the editors of Lumpen magazine; and the challenging, experimental Mars Gallery (1139 West Fulton Market,
(312) 226-7808, marsgallery.com). OK, we'll stop now, but you get the point. And that's just one neighborhood. If you're not finding art in Chicago, you're simply not trying hard enough.
Finally, we'd like to bring attention to a few spots in the Andersonville neighborhood that, while not traditional gallery spaces, bring their own unique flair to the city's arts scene. Michelle Fire displays paintings in her beloved club Big Chicks (5024 North Sheridan Road, (773) 728-5511, bigchicks.com). Don't let the name fool you; the clientele tends toward lithe gay men and, apparently, art appreciators. Actual chicks go to T's Bar and Restaurant (5025 North Clark Street, (773) 784-6000, tsbarchicago.com), a popular lesbian neighborhood bar that always has colorful paintings for sale on its walls. And you may remember the controversy that swirled around A Taste of Heaven (5401 North Clark Street, (773) 989-0151) when owner Dan McCauley placed a sign on the door proclaiming that "children of all ages have to behave and use their indoor voices when coming to A Taste of Heaven." What the hysterical New York Times and CNN coverage missed was that McCauley is a cartoonist who sells paintings of frogs. Yes, frogs—frogs as icons like Madonna, Elvis, and Blanche DuBois from A Streetcar Named Desire. It's low art, to be sure, but that's the great thing about Chicago. Whether your tastes run toward high art (Michelangelo, the artist) or pop art (Michelangelo, the Ninja Turtle), there's something here for you.