10 Must-See Chicago Exhibitions

September 2018 Edition

Chicago's internationally renowned museums burst with insight and inspiration, with a packed schedule of special exhibitions throughout the year. Check out what's in store this month.


Through September 23, 2018

Chicago Cultural Center
(Millennium Park Campus)

78 E Washington St
FREE Admission

Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-7pm, Saturday & Sunday 10am-5pm

Abney at Chicago Cultural Center

We have a gutsy local teacher named Irving Zucker to thank for the biggest thing to hit Chicago in 1989. Zucker invited New-York based pop artist and graffitist Keith Haring to visit the city to paint a 500-foot-long mural in Grant Park, assisted by more than 450 Chicago Public School students. What followed was a pure PR sensation, with WTTW producing a short documentary narrated by Dennis HopperOff the Wall: Keith and the Kids, and a feature in Rolling Stone magazine.

Haring’s iconic work is internationally recognized and lauded. His incisive draftsmanship and often unsettling cast of symbolic characters—most famously atomic baby and barking dog—catapulted Haring’s neo-expressionist street art to the lead of the 1980s New York art scene.

In 1990, only nine months after the Chicago project was completed, Haring tragically succumbed to HIV-AIDS, making these works and this exhibition all the more poignant.


Free Museum Days: See it FREE September 4-30​, 2018!

Shedd Aquarium
1200 S Lake Shore Dr

Hours: 9am-6pm daily except Sunday, 9am-3pm

Rugnose ClamRugnose Clam, Courtesy of the Field Museum of Natural History

This special exhibition plunges you into the world of jellyfish, eels, reef fish and coral. Approximately 100 species create a living tapestry, filled with color, movement, and sublime beauty. See Peacock Mantis Shrimp, Ribbon Eels, Spotted Sea Jellies, Weedy Seadragons, Rugnose Clams, Pyramid Butterflyfish, and other rare species from around the world.

FREE MUSEUM DAYS! Upcoming Illinois resident free days are September 4-30 and October 3, 10.

2. John Singer Sargent & Chicago’s Gilded Age 

Through September 30, 2018

Art Institute of Chicago
111 S Michigan Ave
FREE admission for Illinois residents on Thursdays

Hours: 10:30am-5pm daily except Thursday, 10:30am-8pm

Must-See Exhibition: John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded AgeLa Carmencita, 1890, Musee D'Orsay, Paris

This mesmerizing exhibition is filled with ethereal beauty and penetrating insight into the life of one of the nation’s most celebrated artists. The exhibition traces Sargent’s impact on Chicago’s Gilded Age, as well as bringing to light the sheer breadth of the artist’s work — not only his best-known society portraits, but his lesser-known early work, with all its atmospheric moodiness , his landscapes, watercolors and public murals.

3.  Lucas Foglia: Human Nature

Through September 30, 2018

Museum of Contemporary Photography
Columbia College Chicago
600 S Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60605

FREE Admission

Hours: Monday-Weddnesday & Friday-Saturday 10am-5pm, Thursday 10am-8pm, Sunday 12-5pm

Lucas Foglia - Museum of Contemporary PhotographyEsme Swimming, Parkroyal on Pickering, Singapore, 2017 © Lucas Foglia. Courtesy of Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, New York and Michael Hoppen Gallery, London.

Lucas Foglia (American, b. 1983) is interested in the complexities of our relationship with nature, and particularly in disputing the idea that people and nature live at odds. He began his project Human Nature (2006–16) in order to probe our fundamental need to commune with nature, documenting leisure activities, exploration, and some of the science behind climate change—often in remote locations. Foglia also explores neuroscience, and research that shows that human beings benefit intellectually, emotionally, and physically when exposed to nature.

View Finder - Museum of Contemporary PhotographyGreg Stimac, Badlands (Christian Bus Group), 2006

A companion exhibition, View Finder: Landscape and Leisure in the Collection, considers the varied ways state parks and public outdoor spaces enhance human experience by providing spaces of refuge and relaxation.


Through September 30, 2018

Stony Island Arts Bank
6760 S Stony Island Ave
FREE Admission

Hours: Thursday 10am-8pm, Friday-Sunday 10am-6pm; closed Monday-Wednesday

Art Design Chicago
Furniture and Objects Installed in the Johnson Publishing Building in 2015. Photo: Jacob Hand, 2016. 

Acclaimed for publications such as Ebony and Jet, the Johnson Publishing Company (JPC) was founded in 1942 by publisher and art collector John H. Johnson. This exhibition explores the role of both Johnson and JPC in “defining and popularizing a black aesthetic and identity around the globe,” bringing together a collection of books, periodicals, ephemera, paintings, sculptures and custom-designed office furnishings from the JPC archives and Rebuild Foundation collections. This exhibition, which runs through September 30, is presented at the Stony Island Arts Bank a hybrid gallery, media archive, library and community center, and a home for the Rebuild Foundation’s archives and collections. It serves as a destination for artists, scholars, curators, and collectors to research and engage with Chicago’s South Side history. This exhibition is part of Art Design Chicago

5. Peeling Off the Grey

Through October 7, 2018

National Museum of Mexican Art
1852 W 19th St
FREE Admission

Hours: 10am-5pm daily, except Mondays

This insightful exhibition explores the impact of gentrification on communities like Pilsen, a center for Hispanic art and culture. This highly debated topic is interpreted through the work of individual artists and activists, each of whom exposes the experiences, reactions and actions that have taken place in protecting and preserving the heart and soul of age-old neighborhoods. 

6. I Was Raised on the Internet

Through October 14, 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 E Chicago Ave
FREE Admission for Illinois residents on Tuesdays

Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 10am-9pm; Wednesday, Friday-Sunday 10am-5pm; closed Monday

I Was Raised on the Internet - Museum of Contemporary ArtEva and Franco Mattes, My Generation, 2010. Installation view, Plugin, Basel.

I Was Raised on the Internet documents a specific moment in time, beginning with 1998 and extending to the present, and focuses on the shifts that have occurred since the millennium. The nearly 100 works in the exhibition encompass photography, painting, sculpture, film, and funky video installations, as well as emerging technologies and interactive elements, such as VR. Visitors can even contribute to the art-making process.


Through October 28, 2018

Art Institute of Chicago
111 S Michigan Ave
FREE admission for Illinois residents on Thursdays

Hours: 10:30am-5pm daily except Thursday, 10:30am-8pm

Art Design Chicago
Valeria "Mikki" Ferrill Untitled, 1972. From the Garage (1970/80). The Art Institute of Chicago, National Docent Symposium Endowment, 2012.533 (C) 1972 Mikki Ferrill

Through both images and film, this exhibition offers a fascinating view of life in the communities from which the featured artists heralded, or to which they were granted intimate access. Works span the 1950s through the 1970s, and provide commentary on the narratives that defined the city during a period of pivotal cultural and social change. The exhibition is part of Art Design Chicago


Through December 30, 2018

Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
220 E Chicago Ave
FREE Admission for Illinois residents on Tuesdays

Hours: Tuesday & Thursday 10am-9pm; Wednesday, Friday-Sunday 10am-5pm; closed Monday

Kenneth Josephson, "Chicago," 1972Courtesy of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago

“Chicago-based photographer Kenneth Josephson changed the way we think about pictures,” the Museum of Contemporary Art explains. “His so-called conceptual photography pushes the boundaries of the medium, demonstrating that photographs are not neutral; on the contrary, they convey an idea in addition to a picture.”

Josephson’s body of work explores the facets and mechanics of a photograph, namely how it is cropped, reproduced, circulated, or archived. He employs techniques such as taking photographs of photographs to create images that comment on themselves—often in a wry, humorous way—bending “the truth in order to expose the inner workings of photographic images.”

The exhibition is part of Art Design Chicago

9. The Science Behind Pixar at the Museum of Science & Industry

Through January 6, 2019

Museum of Science & Industry
 5700 S Lake Shore Dr

Hours: 9:30am-5:30pm daily

©The Science Behind Pixar

Experience a unique look into the Pixar process, and explore the science and technology behind some of the most beloved animated films and film characters at the Museum of Science and Industry’s The Science Behind Pixar. This exhibition gives an unparalleled view of the production pipeline and concepts used at Pixar every day. Participate in fun hands-on activities, listen to firsthand accounts from studio production teams and come face-to-face with the likes of Buzz Lightyear, Dory, Mike and Sulley, Edna Mode and WALL•E. 

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

From September 8, 2018 to January 6, 2019

Driehaus Museum
40 E Erie St

Hours: 10am-5pm daily except Mondays

Richard Driehaus Museum Chicago

 The Richard H. Driehaus Museum presents Treasures from the White City: Chicago World's Fair of 1893, displaying original objects and memorabilia designed for and exhibited at the fair on the occasion of its 125th anniversary. The objects are drawn from the Museum’s permanent collection, as well as the Richard H. Driehaus private collection, and are exhibited in two galleries in the Nickerson Mansion, a building that not only stood during the 1893 World’s Fair but also hosted a large reception to celebrate the event. The exhibition is part of Art Design Chicago

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