12 Exhibitions to Visit in Chicago this Winter

by Paul Joseph  |  Published November 24, 2022

There’s no better way to escape the cold chills of a Chicago winter than by ducking inside one of the city’s prestigious museums to catch an exhibition.

(Photo: Field Museum / Artwork by Blue Rhino Studios)

Among the largest cities in the US, Chicago is typical of any major metropolis as being home to a large number of museums and other cultural venues. Many of them play host to a mix of permanent and temporary exhibitions throughout the year, with the winter season being a particularly busy period. If you’re coming to Chicago over the coming months and would like to check out an exhibition during your stay, here’s a selection to inspire you.

Death: Life’s Greatest Mystery

Inviting visitors to consider their own big questions about death, this exhibition explores cultural and biological perspectives that hold possible answers to some of life’s biggest questions – with a sharp focus on life’s inevitable conclusion. Through artifacts, specimens, and immersive media experiences, visitors can learn how life and death are part of a universal, continuous, and cyclical process. Experience connections between life, death, growth, and decay in a multimedia experience at the heart of the exhibition, and se how life goes on after death – and could not without it.

Field Museum / Through 27 August 2023

Resist!: A Visual History of Protest

Photo: By Franklin McMahon / Courtesy Margot McMahon)

In the 1940s, Franklin McMahon was a cartoonist depicting conditions in WWII POW camps. He mailed his drawings back to Extensions Magazine in Chicago. In 1955 McMahon covered the Emmett Till Trial for Life Magazine in Sumner, Mississippi that transformed him into an artist-reporter. The 1960’s began with him drawing the construction of the Berlin Wall and continued with his art coverage of Dr. Martin Luther King’s peaceful protests, including the march from Montgomery to Selma across the Edmund Pettus Bridge and the Chicago Eight Conspiracy Trial. Five decades of social change are documented in his brilliantly painted graphite on paper images through to 2008 when Senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton debated. In capturing historic events through art or major publications from the Chicago press to national publications McMahon chronicled current events that nudged society in a more just direction.

Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art / 17 December 2022 – 12 February 2023

Making Sense of Marbles: Roman Sculpture at the OI

(Photo: The Oriental Institute, University of Chicago)

On view as a group for the first time in an exhibition are a collection of Roman sculptures, each illustrating how we can make sense of marbles with divergent histories and the fundamental importance of archaeological context in telling an object’s story. The works on display were discovered during an excavation of the ancient city of Ptolemais in modern-day Libya, which revealed large quantities of marble sculpture, ranging from decorative statuettes to honorific portraiture. With their provenience remarkably well documented, these marbles showcase the diverse roles sculpture played in the lives of the city’s residents.

Oriental Institute Museum, The University of Chicago / Through 12 March 2023

Arctic Highways

Taking visitors on a journey through an Arctic highway of culture and life, stretching from the past into the future, this exhibition discusses the exploitation of Indigenous land and how imposed boarders of nation states has erased the natural land borders used by Indigenous peoples. It comprises works by nine Sami artists and three Indigenous artists from Canada and the United States, who want to use the exhibition to start a dialogue, raise questions, and establish way points between their culture and ours.

Swedish American Museum / 13 January – 2 April 2023

David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring, Normandy, 2020

(Photo: David Hockney / Courtesy Art Institute of Chicago)

Two years ago – at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic – the ever-versatile artist David Hockney travelled to France with the express intention of capturing the emergence of spring. This exhibition marks his third series documenting the blossoming of spring, the first in 2011 and the second in 2013. For this latest project, he observed the richness of the season, from the bucolic surroundings of rural Normandy. Working en plein air (in the open air), he spent his days scrutinising and recording the subtle, daily changes in the plants and light as spring emerged and took hold with all its drama and glory.

Art Institute of Chicago / Through 9 January 2023

Chim: Between Devastation and Resurrection 

Featuring over 50 photographs, many rarely seen, this exhibition shines a light on the work of Dawid Szymi, one of the most respected photojournalists of his day. Born Dawid Szymin in Warsaw in 1911, Chim, who published under the name David Seymour after World War II, was an astute observer of 20th Century European politics, social life, and culture, from the beginnings of the antifascist struggle to the rebuilding of countries ravaged by the war. The photographic works on display focus on the post-war reconstruction of Europe, European elections, the effect of the war on children, and the birth of the new State of Israel.

Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center / Through 4 February 2023

The Art of the Brick

This captivating exhibition features over 100 incredible works of art made from millions of LEGO bricks by renowned contemporary artist Nathan Sawaya. The original pieces and reimagined art masterpieces on display include “Yellow”, a life-size sculpture of a man pulling his chest apart with thousands of yellow LEGO bricks flowing from the cavity; Van Gogh’s Starry Night and Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa; and a multimedia collection of LEGO brick infused photography produced in tandem with award-winning photographer Dean West.

Museum of Science and Industry/ Through 16 January 2023


(Photo: Jeff McLane / Courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery)

In recent years, many museums and galleries have attempted to represent historically marginalised people by displaying works that depict their bodies. Responding to the limits of this approach, this exhibition considers the potential of geometric abstraction – a form of art that relies upon simplified shapes – to obliquely allude to the body. The works on display use basic shapes, curves, and grids to imply the sensual presence of a figure, while at the same time, these abstract elements fragment, obscure, or distort the body, allowing subjects to remain indeterminate.

Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago / Through 8 January 2023

Treasured Ten: Selections from the Costume Collection

The clothing we wear and the styles we embrace often reveal what we value and what we aspire to, ultimately helping us understand ourselves and examine the world in which we live. This exhibition features 10 never-before displayed ensembles that tell the remarkable stories of five acclaimed designers: Stephen Burrows, Scotty Piper, Patrick Kelly, Willi Smith, and Barbara Bates. Dressing celebrity clientele as well as everyday people, they produced engaging, conscientious, and stylish designs while contributing their own perspectives to fashion. Dating from the 1970s to the 1980s, the garments on show are expressions of their creators’ experiences and identities.

Chicago History Museum / Through 16 January 2023

Surrounding Kahlo: Works from the Permanent Collection

(Photo: Kathleen Culbert-Aguilar / Courtesy National Museum of Mexican Art )

The visage of Frida Kahlo has become one of the most instantly recognisable of all artists across time. Since her popularisation in the 1980’s, the late Mexican artist has been the subject of books, movies, an opera and a great deal of visual art created by those who have been moved by her paintings and life story. This exhibition explores works inspired by Kahlo; the work of her students, known as “Los Fridos,” who learned from and surrounded her while she recovered at home in La Casa Azul after a bus accident aged 18; as well as familiar items that Kahlo chose to surround herself with such as arte popular, Mesoamerican artifacts and traditional clothing from her beloved Mexico.

National Museum of Mexican Art / Through 15 January 2023

Capturing Louis Sullivan: What Richard Nickel Saw

The fact that we have a comprehensive overview of Louis Sullivan’s Chicago architecture today is largely thanks to Polish-American architectural photographer Richard Nickel’s tireless efforts to document Sullivan’s design philosophy and to preserve the architect’s legacy. Focusing on Chicago buildings of the 1880s and early 1890s, this exhibition explores the firm’s architecture through the lens of Nickel’s photography, which provides a detailed record of these buildings and, in particular, Sullivan’s signature ornamentation. The exhibition highlights the integral role Nickel played in preserving Sullivan’s legacy, while ultimately losing his life in an effort to salvage artifacts during a demolition.

Driehaus Museum / Through 19 February 2023

Monochrome Multitudes

(Photo: Claire Zeisler / Courtesy Smart Museum of Art)

This exhibition traces “the monochrome” as a fundamental if surprisingly expansive artistic practice. Revisiting classic modernist ideas about flatness, idealised form, and colour, it opens up this seemingly reductive art to reveal its global resonance and creative possibilities while working toward a more expansive narrative of 20th and 21st century art. Within the exhibition, art is presented in monochromatic groupings, alternating with thematic sections where single colours engage concerns with the body, urban space, sound, and other topics. Switching between these two types of spaces, the exhibition serves to suggest that works that look alike are often quite different, and that works that look different can share historical, thematic, or conceptual propositions.

Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago / Through 8 January 2023