Photo Credit:

What's known as the second city certainly places first when it comes to displays of arts and culture. Famous cultural institution, The Art Institute of Chicago, was ranked number one among the top museums in the world by TripAdvisor in 2014 and has a collection of 300,000 works of art. The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) Chicago is one of the country’s largest museums for contemporary art, boasting pieces created by new and experimental artists of local and international renown. Smaller, private institution The Richard H. Driehaus Museum preserves a Gilded Age mansion that was restored to maintain its elegant interior, and is just steps away from The Magnificent Mile, trendy boutiques and highly-rated restaurants. No matter which art form you find most palatable, or which section of the city you reside, the windy city celebrates beautiful and diverse art from around the world and close to home.

Here are five of the best art exhibits to see in Chicago during the coming spring and summer:

1. Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times

Feb.9 - May.8, 2016; The Richard H. Driehaus Museum

Step back in time and experience England's fashion evolution from the post-Edwardian era of 1912 to the dawn of the Jazz Age in 1925. A more relatable showcase for modern day visitors, this special exhibit features period costumes of one of the most loved television dramas in the world, Downton Abbey . Explore the private rooms of the Driehaus mansion (optional audio tour included) while admiring the original coat that Lady Edith Crawley first wore on a trip to London in season 3, or the lilac two-piece day dress that is a staple of the Dowager Countess’ wardrobe. Everything from the “downstairs” white ties and striped waistcoats of footmen like Thomas Barrow to the silk beaded evening dresses and standard tweed suits of the “upstairs” ladies and men are on display and described in their historical context, offering a new perspective on the show’s characters. For an additional sum of $55 , enjoy a traditional English tea (locally sourced from a rare tea company in Chicago) in the museum’s garden-inspired room before or after your viewing. 

2. Van Gogh’s Bedrooms

Feb.14 - May.8, 2016; The Art Institute of Chicago

It’s little known that Vincent Van Gogh painted three versions of his bedroom in Arles, France, but in this unique exhibit running at The Art Institute, all three versions of “The Bedroom” from 1888-1889, can be seen side by side for the first time in North America. Van Gogh’s Bedrooms is an interactive exhibit that offers a personal look into the life of the tortured artist who infamously severed his own ear. Discover Van Gogh’s constant search for a place of belonging, as he traveled across 24 cities and inhabited 37 residences before settling in a yellow house in Arles; the only place he ever considered sanctuary and immortalized in his art. The exhibit begins with a map of where Van Gogh lived over the course of his life, and an illustrated timeline full of photographs dictates the history of his homes, career, and art. Next comes the gallery of works by artists who inspired him, his early pieces, and the colorful paintings that came about while living in Paris under the influence of avant-garde artists like Paul Gauguin.

The journey of the exhibit ends with the time Van Gogh spent in Arles, where visitors can admire a live reconstruction of his intimate bedroom. An animated presentation of the artist’s own words and art compliments the sketches of his bedroom and the three iconic paintings he created, and a documentary produced by The Art Institute teaches decades of research that went into studying the works.


3. The New Contemporary

New Permanent exhibit; The Art Institute of Chicago

In December 2015, The Art Institute reopened its contemporary art galleries, unveiling 44 new and iconic works of art that were donated by private collectors in Chicago. This contribution marks the largest gift in the museum’s 136-year history and includes works by celebrated artists Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns. The additional paintings, sculptures and photographs breathe new life into the museum’s existing contemporary collection, making it one of the best in the world. From Warhol’s famous tribute to actress Elizabeth Taylor in a painting called “Liz #3” to Lichtenstein's classic pop-art style paintings, this daring collection is unusually fascinating, and definitely worth the time.


4. Surrealism: The Conjured Life

November.21, 2015 - June.5, 2016; The Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA)

More than 100 surrealist paintings, sculptures, drawings and photographs are on display in this dream-like exhibit, expressing how the “art of the irrational” influenced Chicago’s art scene. First brought to Chicago in the late 1940s by art collectors and patrons who traveled to Europe and met renowned surrealists like René Magritte, surrealism impacted many Chicago-based artists who formed groups like the “Monster Roster” and “Hairy Who,” becoming known for their grotesque and strange art. Presenting works by the founders of the movement, surrealist artists in the 1950s, contemporary surrealists of today, and Chicago-based surrealists, this exhibit displays the style's diversity and celebrates the edgy and personal imagery that defines it.

From a disquieting painting called “The Courtship” by Chicago-based artist, Gertrude Abercrombie, which represents the artist’s own troubled relationship with her first husband, to Balthus’ sensual portrait of two young women absorbed in their own thoughts, called “Two Young Girls”, The Conjured Life captures everything from bizarre landscapes and magical creatures to detached body parts and human-animal hybrids. 


5. MOCP at 40

Jan.25 - April.10, 2016; The Museum of Contemporary Photography

The Museum of Contemporary Photography is the leading photography museum in the Midwest, and this year celebrates its 40th anniversary with a dynamic exhibit displaying contemporary photographic art and related objects from its permanent collection, which today has 14,000 objects by more than 1,400 artists. Learn the museum’s history and explore how photography has changed the way people see the world, from the museum’s oldest photograph of scientist and photographer, Sir John Herschel, that dates back to 1867, to faded photographs by artist John Steck Jr., who creates light-sensitive work that fades over the coarse of the exhibit, reflecting his own wish for bad memories to disappear.  Celebrating iconic photographers and unknown artists alike, this exhibit is the perfect choice for travelers who adore photography and are looking to discover cool, new photographers.