Chicago is known for long winters – but fortunately, this city is also known for its exciting museums! World-class institutions provide endless opportunities for culture, education, entertainment, and enlightenment for locals and visitors alike. Whether your interest is in art, architecture, media, culture, science, or history, you’ll find many places to enjoy and learn – and harness the energy of your restless children!
For in-state travelers, this time of year is especially good for museum-hopping, since most city institutions offer free days for Illinois residents (with ID). The buildings may be packed, but they’ll definitely be worth coming in from the cold. Check museum websites for free days throughout January, February, and March (until Spring Break). Also, WCG recommends Chicago CityPASS if you’re looking for discounted VIP experiences at the Shedd, the Field Museum, the Museum of Science and Industry, and Adler Planetarium or the Art Institute.
Along Lake Shore Drive on Museum Campus, a trio of institutions stand right next to Lake Michigan, offering family fun and great views of the water. At the Field Museum of Natural History, Sue the T-Rex is leaving Stanley Field Hall– which means you have until February 2018 to catch her before she goes to anew gallery upstairs, opening spring 2019. This spring, a 122 foot-long touchable titanosaur replica will be revealed in Sue’s old space. “Jurassic World: The Exhibition” and “Specimens: Unlocking the Secrets of Life” end 1/7, and “Ancient Mediterranean Cultures in Contact” runs through 4/29. “Mummies,” featuring 14 mummies along with coffins and more, runs from 3/16-4/21. “Antarctic Dinosaurs” comes to the Field 6/15-1/6/2019.
The Adler Planetarium & Astronomy Museum allows space enthusiasts of all ages explore the universe through interactive exhibits and sky shows, which run daily. The “Chasing Eclipses” exhibit closes 1/8, but current shows include “Planet Nine,” “Cosmic Wonder,” Destination Solar System,” and “Skywatch Live.”
Rounding out the Museum Campus trio is The John G. Shedd Aquarium, where the special exhibit through September is “Washed Ashore: Art to Save the Sea,” featuring giant sculptures of aquatic animals that are made from plastic beach trash. Of course, the real animals are still the star attraction here, and the marine mammal presentations are always fun. Check out the new Kelp Forest in the Oceans Gallery, which features leopard sharks, urchins, schools of fish, and more.
Travel south along Lake Shore Drive for the monumental Museum of Science & Industry. “Brick by Brick” with its awesome LEGO sculptures from Adam Reed Tucker is still here through 1/7, “Robot Revolution” remains through 2/4, and “Turn Back the Clock” and “Imagining the Museum” are open through spring. “Extreme Ice,” with stunning photographs and time-lapse videography, looks at climate change and runs until early 2019. The annual Black Creativity program takes place 1/15-2/21, exploring the contributions of African-Americans. Favorite permanent exhibits include Science Storms, Colleen Moore’s Fairy Castle, the Numbers in Nature mirror maze, the U-505 Submarine, The Idea Factory, and the Baby Chick Hatchery.
Go north to Michigan Avenue, where the Art Institute of Chicago resides next to Grant Park. This internationally recognized institution always hosts multiple exhibitions and a full schedule of events. Current highlights. “Rodin: Sculptor and Storyteller” is on site through 3/4, “Making Memories: Quilts as Souvenirs” runs through 4/1, “Shockingly Mad: Henry Fuseli and the Art of Drawing” runs through 4/1, “Andrew Lord: Unslumbrous Night” goes through 4/15, and “Dress Codes: Portrait Photographs from the Collection” closes 4/22. Open now: “Past Forward: Architecture and Design at the Art Institute” and the Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms, and Armor. Upcoming exhibits include: The Medieval World at Our Fingertips: Manuscript Illuminations from the Collection of Sandra Hindman,” from 1/27-5/28; “Xu Longsen: Light of Heaven,” from 2/1-6/24, “Philippe Parreno: My Room Is Another Fish Bowl,” 2/3-4/15; “Mourina Al Solh: I strongly believe in our right to be frivolous,” 2/8-4/29, and “Mirroring China’s Past: Emperors and Their Bronzes,” 2/25-5/13.
Focus on modern art by traveling north along the Mag Mile to the Museum of Contemporary Art, where the 50th anniversary exhibit “We Are Here” runs through 4/1. Other exhibits include “Woman with a Camera” through 1/14, “Edra Soto: Open 24 Hours” through 2/25, and “Michael Rakowitz: Backstroke of the West” through 3/4. Felix, the beloved sculpture on a cat skeleton that satirizes the popularity of dinosaur displays, is on display until 4/8. The MCA is closed on Mondays, and offers Illinois residents free admission all day every Tuesday.
More interested in history? Across the street from the Art Institute is the Pritzker Military Museum & Library, where the stories of America’s military are lovingly held, and displayed. There’s an article on this institution elsewhere in this issue. Or visit the Chicago History Museum in Lincoln Park for a look at the city’s rich history. The current exhibit there through 7/15 is “Race: Are We So Different?”
If you’d like to add some cultural context to that history, visit the DuSable Museum of African American History. Current exhibits include “Rewriting History: paper gowns and photographs,” featuring the work of Fabiola Jean-Louis, “Chicago: A Southern Exposure,” featuring South side architecture until February; and “Clearing A Path for Democracy: Citizen Soldiers of the Eight Illinois National Guard.” Admission is free on Tuesdays; the museum is closed on Mondays. Or, visit the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, where “Placemaking & Landmarks: The Creation of Mexican Spaces in la Dieciocho (Pilsen)” is available until 4/29, and “Luis Tapia: Sculpture as Sanctuary” is around through 4/15.
There are so many other great museums in Chicago, we can’t list them all. We do have our favorites, however, including the Peggy Notebaert Nature Museum with the Judy Istock Butterfly Haven and “Birds of Paradise,” opening 1/18. From the Oriental Institute Museum to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House, the Chicago Children’s Museum at Navy Pier, the Newberry Library, the International Museum of Surgical Science and even the American Writers Museum downtown, there are so many cool museums in town!. It would take weeks to visit them all. Want to know more? Contact us for more information on your cultural options.