Major museums aren’t the only game in town

Before this year I hadn’t gone to galleries much, thinking them showcases of contemporary art I wouldn’t appreciate and places rich people go to buy art. This year my friend JoAnn invited me to join her on two gallery walks and at the 21c Hotel Museum in her River North neighborhood and at Gallery 400 on the University of Illinois at Chicago campus. I was a first-timer at all.

The River North gallery walks informed me of an exhibit at Hilton-Asmus Contemporary’s Bridgeport location, and it turned out to be my favorite show of the year. Origins was an exhibition by National Geographic photographers Paul Nicklen and Cristina Mittermeier. They travel around the globe photographing wildlife and the natural world. Fifty huge, stunning images of theirs were hung in the gallery’s expansive space, each accompanied by a written description of how the photographer got the shot. 

Although not a gallery regular, I do check out the shows at a couple of smaller museums within walking distance of my downtown residence. The exhibits at the Museum of Contemporary Photography can be over my head, but I usually like at least a few images. The Newberry Library’s exhibits are always interesting to someone with a penchant for history. Closing December 30 is Chicago Avant-Garde: Five Women Ahead of Their Time, spotlighting dancers Katherine Dunham and Ruth Page, writer Gwendolyn Brooks, artist Gertrude Abercrombie, and gallery owner Katharine Kuh during the 1930s through the 1950s. 

This fall a friend and I stopped into the recently opened MindWorks at 224 South Michigan Avenue. The University of Chicago project is a “behavioral science discovery center,” not a museum, according to its director. Interactive displays introduce visitors to ideas from behavioral science to apply to their own lives.

Whatever you call them, all over Chicagoland there are exhibition spaces — commercial, nonprofit, university, ethnic, library, neighborhood, and more. Art exhibits are announced on the Chicago Gallery News website, where you can sort by neighborhood and specialty. Smaller venues are likely to be covered by the neighborhood press if not the major media. Wikipedia lists museums and galleries

Admission to galleries and small museums is generally free, so you have nothing to lose in giving them a try but your time. Because it’s smaller and more manageable and is unlikely to have must-sees, a minor museum can be a more relaxing experience than a major one. Even if the art or artifacts don’t wow me, it’s refreshing to go somewhere new.


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  • Yes, I visited the 21c Hotel gallery this summer, definitely worth seeing if you are in the River North area.

  • In reply to schultz:

    Yes, and an interesting place for a museum.

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