Chicago’s internationally renowned museums burst with insight and inspiration, with a packed schedule of high anticipated exhibits throughout the year. Here are just 10 of the top museum exhibits in Chicago this September.

1. Figures of Speech

Figures of Speech
Nathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

Now open through Sept. 29, 2019

You might not know his name but you’ve probably seen the work of Virgil Abloh, a multimedia, multi-genre artist, architect, DJ, and Chicago native. He was Kanye West’s top creative collaborator, designing album covers and merchandise, and he started his own fashion brand Off-White. His trajectory continues, though: Last year, he was named Men’s Artistic Director of Louis Vuitton. Figures of Speech is the first museum exhibition devoted to this artist’s genre-bending work. Timed tickets required.

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave.

2. Tara Donovan: Fieldwork 

Tara Donovan, Untitled (Mylar), 2011/2019, Mylar and hot glue, Dimensions variable. Installation view,Tara Donovan: Fieldwork, Smart Museum of Art, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Pace Gallery. Photo: Michael Tropea.

Now open through Sept. 22, 2019

Everyday objects you’d expect to find in a junk drawer (like plastic straws, index cards, rubber bands, Slinkys, and Mylar) are transformed into fascinating, mind-bending works of art in this showing of New York-based artist Tara Donovan’s work.

The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago, 5550 S. Greenwood Ave.

3. Wired to Wear

Now open through 2020

Get up close and personal with the wardrobe of the future at Wired to Wear, the first-ever exhibit dedicated to wearable technology. See cutting-edge smart clothing, like a working jet pack, jackets that help you see in the dark, and racing suits that deploy their own airbags.

Museum of Science & Industry, 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive

4. Memory Unearthed

Photo from the Illinois Holocaust Museum
Henryk Ross © Art Gallery of Ontario

Now open through 2020

Imprisoned in Europe’s second-largest ghetto, Henryk Ross was assigned to take official photographs for the Nazis. He was forbidden from taking any unofficial images — but he disobeyed. Ross risked his life to document this dark era of history, sneaking photos from under his coat and between cracks in the doors. His buried negatives were only unearthed after the ghetto was liberated, creating this powerful collection of haunting images.

Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center, 9603 Woods Drive, Skokie, IL

5. Bob Dylan: Electric

Now open through fall 2019

This temporary exhibit honors the enduring influence of Bob Dylan on American culture, music, and writing. It will explore the American bluesmen and folk singers that influenced Dylan, as well as the new writers and musicians that have been inspired by Dylan’s music. One highlight of the exhibit will be rarely-shown Fender electric guitar that Dylan played at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. It will also cover the story of Dylan winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016. 

American Writers Museum, 180 N. Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor

6. Silver Screen to Mainstream

Dress at Chicago History Museum
Evening dress, circa 1940. Rayon. Howard Greer, United States.
Gift of M r. and Mrs. William O. Hunt

Now open through 2020

See styles from Paris, New York, Chicago, Hollywood and beyond in this fashion-forward exhibit. Featuring garments designed by some of the world’s top designers, the exhibit explores how high-end fashion made its way into everyday life, even during a tumultuous era in American history. 

Chicago History Museum, 1601 N. Clark St.

7. Setting the Stage: Objects of Chicago Theatre

Chicago Design Museum exhibit

Now open through 2020

In honor of the Year of Chicago Theatre, this exhibit showcases design in theatre through costumes, lights, sound, props, sets, and more. See objects on loans from iconic Chicago theatres, plus get a special deep dive on a different local theatre each month — September will highlight Chicago’s renowned Black Ensemble Theatre.

Design Museum of Chicago, 1917 N. Elston Ave.

8. Justin Duerr: Surrender to Survival

Intuit museumSurrender to Survival by Justin Duerr. Courtesy of the artist.

Now open through 2020

This small but always-fascinating museum for outsider art presents a set of intricate drawings by Philadelphia-based artist Justin Duerr. The artist began creating detailed scrolls using pen and marker back in 1999; in 2008, he began connecting them to create an elaborate story that weaves in original poetry, as well as themes of spirituality and the cyclical nature of time.

Intuit: The Center for Outsider and Intuitive Art, 756 N. Milwaukee Ave.

9. Back to “The NAM”

Now open through 2020

This new retrospective presents 50 years of memories and reflections by Vietnam veteran and artist Maurice Costello. After actively repressing his war experiences for decades, Costello began to confront the past through his art practice. This deeply personal exhibit touches on both the horrors of war and healing for both sides.

National Veterans Art Museum, 4041 N. Milwaukee Ave.

10. Wildlife Photographer of the Year


Now open through 2020

Produced by the Natural History Museum in London, this show highlights 100 of the world’s top nature photographs as taken by professional, amateur, and even child photographers. The displayed works were chosen from 45,000 entries that capture fascinating scenes of animal life, from China’s mountains to a busy Indian cityscape and beyond.

Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive

Bonus! Underwater Beauty

©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez ​

Now open for a limited time

Experience bold colors, mesmerizing movements, and dreamlike patterns — all created by nature. This new special exhibit showcases more than 100 species from around the world and explores beauty through the five senses.

Shedd Aquarium, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive