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10 Must-See Museum Exhibits in Chicago

July 2019

Chicago's internationally renowned museums burst with insight and inspiration, with a packed schedule of special exhibitions throughout the year. Here are just 10 of the highlights.

1. Hamilton: The Exhibition

Hamilton: The Exhibiton

Opened April 27

Northerly Island
Tickets start at $39.50

Thanks to Lin-Manuel Miranda’s smash hit musical, Alexander Hamilton has been enjoying renewed fascination. Fans can now learn more about the founding father at this immersive exhibition, led by Miranda via audio tour. Included in the journey through the founding of America are interactive displays, lifelike projections, Instagram-ready art installations, and more.

2. Figures of Speech

Virgil Abloh exhibit at the MCA ChicagoNathan Keay, © MCA Chicago.

June 10 through Sept. 22, 2019

Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
220 E. Chicago Ave.
(312) 280-2660
Tickets $15; students and seniors $8; 18 and under free

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. This is the first museum exhibition devoted to this artist’s genre-bending work. Timed tickets required.

3. Chicago! The Play, The Movies, The Musical...The Murders

Chicago! Musical Exhibit
Courtesy City of Chicago

Through July 28

Chicago Cultural Center
78 E. Washington St.
(312) 744-3316
Free admission

You've seen the musical — now get a look behind the scenes. This Year of Chicago Theatre exhibit examines the evolution of the Broadway hit and the real-life Chicago murders that inspired it.

4. Louder than Words: Rock, Power and Politics

Louder than Words at Louder than Words at Museum of Broadcast Communications

Through Sept.  2, 2019

Museum of Broadcast Communications
360 N. State St.
(312) 245-8200
Tickets $18; senior, student, teacher, military with ID $14; kids 12 and under free

Direct from Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, this exhibition looks at how rock music has been able to speak “louder than words” when it comes to politics and empowerment over the years — from ‘60s singers addressing the Vietnam War to hip-hop artists confronting police brutality. The show includes original artifacts, video, photographs, and more.

5. About Face: Stonewall, Revolt and New Queer Art

Leonard Suryajaya_Deafening Silence
Deafening Silence by ​Leonard Suryajaya

Through Aug. 3, 2019

Wrightwood 659 
659 W. Wrightwood Ave.
(773) 437-6601
Tickets $20, some complimentary tickets available 

Honoring the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, this showcase of queer art features paintings, photography, and more, curated around a theme of metamorphosis and plurality. The diverse group of artists represents 11 countries, with trans, intersex, Black, Indigenous, Asian, Latinx, and other voices included. Advance tickets are required.

6. TARA DONOVAN: FIELDWORK

Artwork by Tara Donovan at the SMART Museum of Art
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.

THROUGH SEPTEMBER 22, 2019

The Smart Museum of Art at the University of Chicago
5550 S. Greenwood Ave.
(773) 702-0200
Free admission

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. 

7. FORE! THE PLANET & CONSERVATION QUEST

OPENS JULY 1, 2019

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N. Cannon Drive
(773) 755-5100

Included with museum admission (‌$9, students and seniors $7, kids 3–12 $6, kids under 3 free, members free)

A game of mini-golf takes museum-goers through a tropical rainforest, a waterway, and beyond. Meanwhile, saving the planet is the name of the game at Conservation Quest, where kids will learn how to create a wildlife refuge in your backyard, and get lessons on renewable energy such as solar, wind, and hydropower.

8. GO DOWN MOSES

A woman sits in a hair salon
Melissa Ann Pinney, Canella School of Hair Design 1987, courtesy of the artist

JULY 18 — SEPTEMBER 29, 2019

Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College Chicago
600 S. Michigan Ave.
(312) 663-5554
Free admission

Named for the old African American spiritual, this exhibition features photos from the museum’s permanent collection as curated by Teju Cole, a noted writer, photographer, former New York Times critic and current Gore Vidal Professor at Harvard. The sequence of images blends past and present through themes of movement, chaos, freedom, and hope. 

9. RAW RECKONING

THROUGH AUGUST 4, 2019

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art
2320 W. Chicago Ave.
(773) 227-5522
Admission: $5

The art at this neighborhood museum is always modern, but not always Ukrainian. Raw Reckoning features works from Chicago artist Michael K. Paxton. His large-scale paintings and works on paper draw from his West Virginia roots and are based on slides showing the effects of the black lung disease that afflicted many Appalachian coal miners. 

10. WILDLIFE PHOTOGRAPHER OF THE YEAR

Two owls nest together
© Arshdeep Singh 

THROUGH JANUARY 12, 2020

Field Museum
1400 S. Lake Shore Dr.
(312) 922-9410
Admission included with Discovery and All-Access passes ($32–$38, kids 3–11 $23–$27, seniors and students $28–$33)

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.

Bonus! Underwater Beauty

Fish in the Underwater Beauty exhibit at the Shedd
©Shedd Aquarium/Brenna Hernandez ​

Now open for a limited time

Shedd Aquarium
1200 S. Lake Shore Drive
(312) 939-2438
$44.90 adults, $34.90 children

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.

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