10 Must-See Chicago Exhibitions

May 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

Opens April 27

Northerly Island
Tickets start at $39.50

Hamilton: The Exhibition mock up

You’ve seen the award-winning musical, now see the immersive exhibit. Visitors will journey through America’s founding, led by the musical’s author Lin-Manuel Miranda via an original audio tour. The exhibit will have its world premiere in Chicago before embarking on a national tour.

2. Laurie Simmons: Big Camera/Little Camera

Through May 5

Museum of Contemporary Art
220 E. Chicago Ave.
(312) 280-2660
Suggested admission: $15 adults, $8 students, seniors, and teachers

Laurie Simmons photo from the MCA
Laurie Simmons, Big Camera/Little Camera, 1976. Photo © Laurie Simmons, courtesy of the artist and Salon 94.

This major retrospective celebrates a pioneer in art photography. The exhibit presents all of Laurie Simmons most prominent series spanning more than four decades of work. These iconic photos use scale and props to make sharp observations about contemporary gender roles.

3. Recovered Jade Treasures

Jade boat from Heritage Museum of Asian Art
Jade carving of a boat and four figures, 18th century China.

Opens May 7

Heritage Museum of Asian Art
218 W. 26th St.
(312) 842-8884
Suggested donation: $8 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, $3 for teens age 14 – 17, active military and children

Many magnificent jade pieces are held in private collections and rarely presented to the public. This stunning exhibit will be the first in a series that highlights long-hidden treasures from anonymous collectors. Visitors will get a chance to view jade masterpieces from the late Stone Age through the 18th century.


American Writers Museum

Through May 31, 2019

American Writers Museum
180 N. Michigan Ave., 2nd Floor
(312) 374-8790
$12 for adults, $8 for seniors and students, free for children

Frederick Douglass, the famous author and activist, escaped from slavery to become one of the most eloquent and well-known voices of the abolition movement. His writings and speeches, which denounced racism and demanded true equality for all, continue to resonate to this day. Dive deeper into Douglass’ legacy and explore rare artifacts, including Douglass’ inkwell and glasses, on loan from the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site.


An exhibit at Smart Museum of Art
Installation views of Solidary & Solitary: The Joyner/Giuffrida Collection. Photo by Michael Tropea.

Through May 19

Smart Museum of Art
5550 S. Greenwood Ave.
(773) 702-0200

This major exhibition offers a new perspective on the major contributions of African American artists to the discipline of visual art in the modern era. Explore the artistic legacy of different generations of African American artists, with a focus on abstract art from the 1940s through today. The exhibit will also explore how this complex story intersects with black identity, social change, global migration, and more.

6.  Silver Screen to Mainstream

Opens April 8

Chicago History Museum
1601 N. Clark St.
(312) 642-4600
$19 adults, $17 seniors and students, free for children under 18

Dress from Chicago History Museum, Silver Screen to Mainstream
Evening dress, circa 1940. Rayon. Howard Greer, United States. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. William O. Hunt; 1987.381.6​

See styles from Paris, New York, Chicago, Hollywood, and beyond in this new, fashion-forward exhibit. Featuring garments 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.

7. Thomas D. Mangelsen — A Life in the Wild

Through June 2

Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum
2430 N. Cannon Drive
(773) 755-5100
$9 for adults, $7 for students and seniors (60+), $6 for children ages 3 - 12, free for children under 3

Mangelsen photo from Nature Museum
Catch of the Day (1988) ©Thomas D. Mangelsen​

During his 40 year career, renowned wildlife photography Thomas D. Mangelsen has amassed millions of images of animals and landscapes. This exhibit showcases some of his most iconic images, from startling moments to vast panoramas, across all seven continents. Each image was captured under natural conditions without digital manipulation, making them all the more breathtaking.

8. Rembrandt Portraits

Through June 9

Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
(312) 443-3600
$22 for Illinois residents, $25 out-of-state admission; starting at $16 for students, seniors, and teens, Thursdays free admission for Illinois residents

Rembrandt at Art Institute

At first glance, Rembrandt’s portraits seem straightforward. But his works are more complex than they may appear. Through significant loans and the Art Institute’s own collection, this exhibit explores how Rembrandt’s portraits subvert the genre and leave us asking — what is a portrait?

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

Through July 28

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

Chicago! Musical Exhibit
Courtesy City of Chicago

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.

10. Treasures from the White City: The Chicago World’s Fair of 1893

World's Fair Exhibit at Driehaus Museum
Tiffany And Gorham Exhibits-Manufactures Building from Official Views Of The World’s Columbian Exposition, by C. D. Arnold and H. D. Higinbotham, 1893.

Through Aug. 11

Driehaus Museum
40 East Erie Street
(312) 482-8933

$20 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for students and educators, free for children 12 and under

The World’s Fair of 1893 forever changed the city of Chicago. Now you can see artifacts and memorabilia from the White City displayed in a historic Gilded-age mansion. The Driehaus Museum is celebrated the fair’s 125th anniversary with a special exhibit, which will include silver selections from Tiffany & Company, glass work designed for the magnificent World’s Fair chapel, artifacts from the exposition such as tickets, maps, and programs.

BONUS! Underwater Beauty

Now open for a limited time

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

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

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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