Art Enlivens Chicago in the Summer Season. Here’s an Insider’s Guide to the City’s Major Exhibitions, Landmarks, and Thriving Galleries
Make a day of it with these suggested art excursions in the Windy City, with pauses for refreshment along the way.
Following New York and Los Angeles editions, here we bring you our Chicago summer art guide. Bypass the selfie-taking hordes at the Bean and get to know some of the city’s more understated art landmarks, from the Driehaus Museum to the Pendry Hotel, as well as the thriving gallery scene of the West Loop art district.
Art Institute of Chicago
“Van Gogh and the Avant-Garde: the Modern Landscape”
Discover the Parisian countryside through the eyes of Vincent van Gogh, as well as Georges Seurat, Paul Signac, Émile Bernard, and Charles Angrand, in a sprawling exhibition (through September 4) that brings together more than 75 paintings and drawings by the Post-Impressionists. “Van Gogh and the Avant-Garde: The Modern Landscape” at the Art Institute of Chicago (111 S. Michigan Avenue) goes beyond bucolic scenes to examine the rapid industrial development of the French capital in the last decades of the 19th century—as witnessed by artists. Seurat’s verdant landscapes give way to Bernard’s steam-powered locomotives in the compelling exhibition.
Take a minute to unwind at the institute’s South Garden, the gates of which are now open. Designed by renowned landscape architect Dan Kiley and completed in 1967, the intimately scaled “secret garden,” as locals refer to it, is an unexpected urban oasis among canopied hawthorn trees and a reflecting pool.
Only a block away from the Art Institute sits the historic Chicago Athletic Association (12 S. Michigan Avenue), a 19th-century elite men’s club turned luxe hotel. The Founders Suite features original ornate woodwork, stained-glass windows, and two working fireplaces. Be sure to visit Cindy’s rooftop restaurant, where, under a towering glass atrium, some of the most sweeping views and creative cocktails in the city can be had.
Richard H. Driehaus Museum
“Hector Guimard: Art Nouveau to Modernism” at the Driehaus Museum (40 E. Erie Street), a restored 1883 mansion, provides an inside look into the life and work of the French architect and designer who, breaking from the organic forms of his classical Beaux-Arts training, became a pioneer of modern design. His avant-garde Paris Métro entrances, designed at the turn of the 20th century, still serve as symbols of the city’s Golden Age. The exhibition dives into his influential legacy that spans furniture, jewelry, metalwork, ceramics, drawings, and textiles.
Don’t miss the museum’s spectacular Maher Gallery, named after the Prairie School architect, George Washington Maher, who envisioned the stained-glass dome and lacquered cherry bookcases for the owner’s rare book collection. The dome features four trees arching toward the oculus with leaves rendered in autumnal-colored drapery glass—a masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts movement.
You’ll notice your close proximity to Magnificent Mile, as well as the elegant Gold Coast neighborhood, meaning your possibilities for high-end shopping (Oak Street) and dining are all but endless. For a taste of old-school Chicago, head to Gibsons (1028 N. Rush Street), an iconic steakhouse where you may find yourself noshing among celebrities, whose signed photos adorn the walls. Browse upscale boutiques such as Ikram or historic landmarks like the Water Tower, one of the few structures to survive the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and which now serves as an art gallery, showcasing the work of local artists.
West Loop Art District
Transformed from its industrial roots, the vibrant West Loop neighborhood has emerged as a thriving epicenter for dining and nightlife—but it’s an art district at heart. Start your journey at the first of two Kavi Gupta gallery locations (835 W. Washington Boulevard), where the artist and former Joan Mitchell Foundation fellow Marie Watt has installed a mesmerizing exhibition of ‘jingle clouds,’ large-scale metal sculptures that hang from the ceiling like chimes. Steps away, Soho House offers a quick pick-me-up and a refresh by the pool. From there, a short walk west will put you at Kavi Gupta’s other West Loop location (219 N. Elizabeth Street), where the African-Canadian sculptor Esmaa Mohamoud is currently exhibiting a field of steel dandelions in a meditation on contemporary life.
Near buzzy Fulton Market (Chicago’s former warehouse district), Randolph Street offers a plethora of culinary delights. For elevated Italian, head to Monteverde Pastificio, where chef Sarah Grueneberg’s hand-made pastas have made the eatery the hardest table to get in town. For a more novel experience, visit Stephanie Izard’s Girl & The Goat, one of the first restaurants on Restaurant Row, blending the bolder flavors of the world—including goat—with local ingredients. It’s the Chicago art world’s best-kept secret.
Château Carbide at Pendry Chicago
Rooftop Views and Riviera Vibes
Located atop the art-deco landmark building Carbide and Carbon—designed by the Burnham Brothers to resemble a green champagne bottle topped with gold foil—Château Carbide is an homage to the French Riviera, complete with a picnic-style menu. Appropriately, the rooftop restaurant (part of the Pendry hotel) boasts spectacular views of the city’s ever-evolving skyline. Hit the Moët Champagne spritz bar or cozy up to a botanical-driven beverage from the absinthe-inspired cocktail bar.
Back on street level, have a stroll around Riverwalk, a bustling mile-long walk and bike path along the Chicago River. Expanded in 2015, the Riverwalk now hosts Art on the Mart, the largest permanent digital art display in the world, projected onto the vast exterior of the Merchandise Mart building. Currently on view is Funtime Unicorn, artist Derrick Adams’s ode to Black joy. Presented in partnership with Rhona Hoffman Gallery, the exuberant crowd-pleaser lights up every night at 9 p.m. through July 5.
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