With the recent creation of the UChicago Arts Pass, students now get free admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute, as well as discounts to several other museums. The pass is a respite from the usual steep ticket prices, and it gives students a good excuse to explore the city's many visual arts offerings.
The Museum of Contemporary Art, or MCA, has featured exhibits ranging from an introspective on water and ship imagery to a rock ‘n’ roll-themed display including music videos and album covers. Last spring, the museum played host to an evening of U of C student performances. Current offerings include an examination of Alexander Calder's relation to contemporary artists.
And of course there’s the Art Institute of Chicago, which has a collection large and eclectic enough to see again and again. Its recently-built 264,000 square foot expansion houses a Modern Wing featuring some of the most cutting-edge art in new mediums; there's more to gain from the museum than another look at "La Grande Jatte."
The Art Institute, which is probably Chicago's foremost arts museum, has exhibited everything from Andy Warhol’s iconic portrait of Mao as a jolly drag queen to some predictably debauched photographs of people shooting up heroin by Harmony Korine. Current exhibits include more typical museum fare: the dramatic black-and-white oeuvre of photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and a collection of Persian art in the newly refurbished Islamic art installation, on display until October 3.
Beyond museums, there are particular Chicago neighborhoods famous for their galleries. For example, the Bridgeport neighborhood boasts a vibrant arts scene. There’s Gallery 2, which shows the work of Chicago’s “most advanced undergraduate and graduate students.” There’s also the very austere 33 Collective Gallery, along with the fun and occasionally frivolous Gallery 400. There are even a few galleries without numbers in their titles, like the eclectic Oskar Friedl Gallery, Iron Studios—co-curated by the editors of the countercultural Lumpen magazine—and the experimental Mars Gallery.
Another noteworthy neighborhood is Andersonville, which features art collections that are distinct from traditional galleries and bring their own unique flair to the city’s arts scene. Michelle Fire displays paintings in her beloved club Big Chicks. Don’t let the name fool you—the clientele tends toward lithe gay men and, apparently, hip art connoisseurs. Actual chicks go to T’s Bar and Restaurant, a popular lesbian bar that always has colorful paintings for sale on its walls.
To experience a more community-driven taste of the Chicago art scene, visit the Pilsen neighborhood on the second Friday of each month. As part of a gallery hop organized by the Chicago Arts District, many local galleries stay open into the night, offering free entertainment and refreshments. Most notable among these are the Prospectus Art Gallery, which displays traditional Latin American works, and the Chicago Art Department, known for its educational and interactive approach to art, often exhibiting works created in its local artist-oriented classes. The neighborhood is also home to the National Museum of Mexican Art, which includes works ranging from ancient sculpture to an examination of the influence of Mexican muralists on American artists.
And that’s just a few neighborhoods. With a little exploring, you're bound to find more astounding on your own.