I don’t usually write about places I haven’t visited. My goal is to write about things I know and experiences I have had because I like to give my honest opinions about places and destinations for travel. After all, if my only task was to research and sort information from the internet, this project wouldn’t exist at all. 

But this time I have to step out of my usual path and write about a place I have never visited in my life. Chicago is one of those cities that I have meant to visit for years, but never really had the chance. Despite traveling and living in the US, I never managed to get there, but I hope to make amend soon. 

Back when I was living in New York City, I planned a trip to Chicago for the following Spring – Winter would have been way too cold for my Mediterranean soul. But that Spring Covid shut all our lives down and I had to cancel the trip. 

That being said, Chicago has always fascinated me. First of all, I am a huge fan of the 1990s tv medical drama ER. Carter and Dr. Greene are still two of my all-time favorite tv show characters, and I would love to go see the hospital. But turns out Chicago is huge for contemporary art as well, from museums to private collections, public art, and art fairs. So it comes as no surprise that it is one of the top destinations on my personal bucket list. 

So, to dream about future trips and unexplored cities, here are 5 places I want to visit on my future contemporary art trip to Chicago. 

Chicago contemporary art - MCA
Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago | Photo Courtesy MCA

MCA – Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago

Quite obviously, I would start my art trip with the Museum of Contemporary Art. The MCA is located in downtown Chicago. It was established in 1967 and is one of the world’s largest contemporary art venues. 

Its collection comprises almost 3000 pieces, dating from 1945 to the present day. The collection is displayed throughout the year, along with loans and private collections, in group and solo exhibitions in the museum’s galleries. The collection represents all the major American and international contemporary artists, with artworks by Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Kara Walker, and Alexander Calder. It also contains historical samples of the 1940s–1970s late surrealism, pop art, minimalism, and conceptual art; notable holdings of 1980s postmodernism; as well as contemporary painting, sculpture, photography, video, installation, and related media. It also presents dance, theater, music, and multidisciplinary arts.

With a long history of important debut exhibitions, such as Frida Kahlo’s first U.S. exhibition and Jeff Koons’ first solo museum exhibition, it is definitely the place to visit to discover great artists and possibly visit an exhibition that will make history. 

MCA – Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 E Chicago Ave, Chicago, IL 60611, United States

Info, tickets, and opening hours: mcachicago.org

Chicago contemporary art - Art Institute
The Art Institute of Chicago – The Modern Wing | Ph. Shunji Ishida

The Art Institute of Chicago

Self-proclaimed “Downtown Chicago’s #1 Museum”, as they state on their website, the Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 and it is today one of the oldest and largest art museums in the world. With a permanent collection of over 300.000 pieces, the museum is a real encyclopedia, covering all forms of art and all time periods, from Eastern and Western Art, Asian Art, and African Art. 

Modern and contemporary art have, of course, a fully dedicated section, with incredible pieces by some of the most famous artists of all time. Here you can find iconic works such as Georges Seurat’s Un dimanche après-midi à l’Île de la Grande Jatte, Pablo Picasso’s The Old Guitarist, Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. But you can also see more recent works, by Andy Warhol, Cindy Sherman, Cy Twombly, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, just to name a few. 

The Art Institute of Chicago is the Louvre of Illinois, an astonishing museum where you can easily spend several days to actually be able to visit all its sections and collections. And let’s not forget that they also host temporary exhibitions. Definitely high on my personal list, especially for the famous paintings hosted in its permanent collection. 

The Art Institute of Chicago
111 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60603, United States

Info, tickets and opening hours: www.artic.edu

Chicago contemporary art - Smart Museum
Michael Barera, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Smart Museum of Art

Everything seems to be huge in Chicago, even University museums. The David and Alfred Smart Museum of Art is an art museum located on the campus of the University of Chicago, whose permanent collection has over 15,000 objects. 

With pieces ranging from European to Asian Art, both modern and contemporary, the museum is definitely worth a visit. Not to mention that the admission is free and open to the general public. The collections are used both for exhibitions as well as for university classes, so expect students around and a particularly lively environment. I wish I had a university museum to visit between classes! 

Come here to see paintings and sculptures from the early 20th century, as well as the original dining room furniture designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Robie House. You can also discover here art from China, Japan, and Korea, Buddhist sculpture, ceramics, and ukiyo-e prints, along with the European collection, that focuses on art created before 1900. And for all the people only interested in contemporary art, the museum offers an important collection of Chicago-based artists, plus it maintains an archive of artwork, sketchbooks, letters, tools, original woodblocks, and other personal material related to the life and work of H. C. Westermann. 

Smart Museum of Art
5550 S Greenwood Ave, Chicago, IL 60637, United States

Info and opening hours: smartmuseum.uchicago.edu

Museum of Contemporary Photography

Moving on to photography, Chicago has yet another impressive museum dedicated to this form of art. The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) was founded in 1976 by Columbia College Chicago as the successor to the Chicago Center for Contemporary Photography. The museum houses a permanent collection as well as the Midwest Photographers Project (MPP), which contains portfolios of photographers and artists’ work who reside in the Midwestern United States. 

The Museum of Contemporary Photography began collecting in the early 1980s and has since grown its collection to include more than 15,000 objects by over 1,500 artists. The collection revolves mainly around photographers and photojournalists from the 1930s onwards and embraces every type of photography, from gelatin-silver prints to digital pieces, photograms, and various alternative processes. If you are a photography lover, this is definitely your place to visit. 

Museum of Contemporary Photography
600 S Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL 60605, United States

Info, tickets and opening hours: www.mocp.org

Chicago contemporary art - Hyde Park Art Center
Hyde Park Art Center | Installation view | Photo courtesy Hyde Park Art Center

Hyde Park Art Center

Last on our list, but equally as important for the city of Chicago, the Hyde Park Art Center is a visual arts organization and the oldest alternative exhibition space in the city of Chicago. Founded in 1939, it was originally meant as a neighborhood space for the visual arts. Over the years, it moved to different locations until in 2006 it relocated to its current venue, a 3,000 m2 exhibition space in the Kenwood neighborhood of Chicago. As every art center, the HPAC does not have a permanent collection, but it primarily exhibits work by emerging or under-recognized contemporary artists living in Chicago, while also mentoring and supporting local artists and communities. It hosts educational programs, as well as talks, readings, and screenings, meant both for the local communities and for the general public. Come here to dive deeper into the Chicago art scene and meet some great local artists. 

Hyde Park Art Center
5020 S Cornell Ave, Chicago, IL 60615, United States

Info and opening hours: www.hydeparkart.org

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Cover image by Antonio Gabola on Unsplash