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O-Issue 2011: Chicago art

Museums and museums of culture.

Although the University of Chicago campus offers many world-famous museums of its own, the city as a whole offers a bevy of galleries, museums, and everything in between. Last year the University created the Arts Pass, which gives students free admission to the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Art Institute, as well as discounts to several other museums, so that students will leave Hyde Park and explore the city. Work-light O-Week and first week provide the ideal time to hop on the CTA and take advantage of the Arts Pass and Chicago’s numerous cultural options.

First and foremost is the Art Institute of Chicago, the second largest museum in America, as well as one of the most famous. Although it is most known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art, including Seurat’s Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the museum holds everything from contemporary to ancient Indian art. Unless you plan on spending all day perusing its near one-million square feet, the Art Institute takes more than one visit to get through, especially with the recent addition of the Modern Wing. The museum also has many exhibitions throughout the year that focus on a specific theme, era, or artist, so it’s always a good idea to check their website to see what they are offering.

If the Modern Wing doesn’t satisfy your taste for contemporary art, head to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA), for one of the world’s largest collections of modern art. The MCA features only art from after World War II to the present day.  Special exhibits usually focus on up-and coming artists, such as its current exhibit titled UBS 12 × 12: New Artists/New Work: Dan Gunn. The MCA also houses the MCA Stage, where you can catch dance and performance art.

Many of Chicago’s neighborhoods feature specialized museums, the most notable being Pilsen’s National Museum of Mexican Art, which covers a wide breadth of Mexican and Mexican-American art and artifacts, as well as excellent Mexican food. The museum’s annual Día de los Muertos exhibit, featuring Chicago artists, is the nation’s largest. The Chicago Cultural Center downtown also hosts many Chicago-related art exhibits throughout the year, usually for free. Last year the Center was the first to display a collection of photographs by Chicagoan Vivian Maier, whose works were just recently discovered after being forgotten in storage for years.

Chicago is also home to many galleries. Stroll down the streets of nearly any neighborhood, and you’re guaranteed to run into a gallery housing a particular artist or group’s art. On the second Friday of every month, Pilsen hosts a gallery hop organized by the Chicago Arts District. The neighborhood’s galleries extend their hours late into the night, and many bring in live music and offer food and drinks. Many galleries also put on art shows or openings open to the public.

Chicago has always been known for its vibrant arts scene. Don’t remain confined in the interesting but limited Hyde Park bubble. With a little exploring, you might come across the next artist to hit it big.