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15 Extraordinary Exhibitions Taking Place In Chicago This Year That You Simply Cannot Miss

From Monet to Marvel. There is something for everybody!

Elliot McGowan Elliot McGowan

15 Extraordinary Exhibitions Taking Place In Chicago This Year That You Simply Cannot Miss

From Monet to Marvel, there is something for everybody!

With life gradually moving back towards the way it was before a global pandemic turned the world upside down, we can once again do the things we loved to do pre-2020. Travel, day trips, and cultural experiences are some of the many things we’ve had snatched away from us. There were times even those who weren’t necessarily frequent museum-goers would have done almost anything to be out exploring and experiencing some of the best exhibitions in Chicago.

Now, with the phenomenal array of museums in Chicago alive and kicking exclusive galleries have been extended, new special events have been created to celebrate the light at the end of the tunnel, and some unique exhibitions offer exceptional experiences after an unprecedented year.

If there is a time to experience firsthand the transformative power of art and the astounding feats of the human race, it is in 2021, after the year we’ve been through. Here are some of the most unique museum exhibitions taking place in Chicago this year that you simply cannot miss.

1. Human+Nature

Image from Morton Arboretum

Of all the exhibitions to have set foot in Chicago, Morton Arboretum’s Human + Nature is one of the ones we’ve been looking forward to most. The arbor-inspired exhibition features five 20-25-foot art installations from the internationally renowned South African artist, Daniel Popper.

The massive natural sculptures are found at various locations across the 1,700-acre tree museum and research center leading guests to areas they may not have explored before. It is the largest exhibition of Popper’s work to date and the colossal statues will remain on display for at least one year,

You can read more about it here.

Where: Morton Arboretum
Dates: Happening now until at least May 2022
Website/Tickets: Mortonarb.org/humannature

2. The Womanish Experience

Step into a 5-story experience in the heart of Chicago. Entirely designed by women to celebrate all women, the Womanish exhibit will take you on an inspiring journey into womxnhood. Your journey starts by walking through a 1950’s diner and invites you to explore Rhe Womanish Experience through different perspectives. Wind your way up the spiral staircase or float upon the escalator as you visit exhibits by globally known artists, statements about womanhood, and artistic explorations. Flirt with censorship in a juicy way and follow paper planes to a holographic dimension. The Womanish Experience is like nothing you’ve seen before and another wonderful exhibition taking place here in Chicago.

You can read more about it here.

Where: 114 South State Street
Dates: Happening now until September 30, 2021
Website/Tickets: Feverup.com/m/100473

3. Marvel: Universe Of Super Heroes

MoPOP Marvel Opening (Photo by Christine Mitchell)

News released early last year sent Marvel fans into hysteria when The Museum of Science and Industry announced dates for their interactive new exhibit Marvel: Universe of Super Heroes. It was set to open on Thursday, October 8, 2020, but… well you know, 2020 happened.

The interactive exhibition instead opened on March 4, 2021, and celebrates Marvel history with more than 300 artifacts. Guests can delve into the origins and histories of iconic characters like Spider-Man, Black Panther, and Captain Marvel, reading about how they evolved alongside society over the past 80+ years from their inception to their place in modern-day Marvelmania.

Original comic book pages, sculptures, and a whole load of fantastic interactive displays offer a day of unparalleled Marvel fun. With costumes and props from Marvel’s record-breaking blockbuster films, there is something for all ages and all different levels of Avengers-enthusiast.

You can read more about it here.

Where: Chicago Museum of Science + Industry
Dates: Happening now until October 24, 2021
Website/Tickets: Msichicago.org/marvel-universe-of-super-heroes

4. Van Gogh For All

The globetrotting Van Gogh for All exhibit has landed in Chicago! Focusing on the artist’s work from his time in Arles, Saint-Rémy, and Auvers sur Oise, the new exhibit allows guests the chance to walk in the footsteps of Vincent van Gogh and immerse themselves in his life story.

Visitors can be more than just passive spectators standing in front of his paintings admiring the distinct brushwork and expressive use of color. Instead, they can transport themselves directly into the world of Vincent Van Gogh and submerge themselves in the elegance of his renowned creativity.

Guests will find themselves in Vincent Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles, sat at a table from his famous Café Terrace at Night, or taking a nap with the muses of The Siesta.

You can read more about it here.

Where: 333 North Michigan Avenue
Dates: Happening now until September 26, 2021
Website/Tickets: Feverup.com/m/101727

5. Neon And Light Pop-Up Museum

From the bright lights of New York’s Times Square to the quaint lights of a streetside diner, neon lights have long radiated a timeless mystique. They’re captivating yet calm, eerie yet nostalgic, and retro yet futuristic. The vintage vibe of neon effortlessly draws people in and now Chicago has an exhibition dedicated to artwork utilizing that unique and mysterious glow.

Giving guests the chance to stand in, under, and around 70 different neon and light-based sculptures, the museum’s many interactive displays offer an immersive experience teeming with prismatic photo ops. Running for 8 weeks, the Neon and Light museum will showcase work from a variety of talented digital artists, sculptors, and glass benders through October 31.

You can read more about it here.

Where: 325 West Huron Street
Dates: September 9 – October 31, 2021
Website/Tickets: Neonandlightmuseum.com

6. Frida Kahlo: Timeless

Frida Kahlo is one of the most important and influential painters in history. In many ways, however, without an insight into her character, her mentality, and her significant experiences, a viewer is only scratching the surface. Images of Frida Kahlo’s most iconic creations can be found online, but simply viewing them through a screen has never been more than a shrouded, one-dimensional glimpse at her world. Luckily for residents of Chicagoland, a mesmerizing new exhibition of the Mexican painter’s life has now taken over the Cleve Carney Museum of Art in Glen Ellyn.

Frida Kahlo: Timeless offers a presentation of the life and works of Frida Kahlo. Featuring 26 original pieces within an expansive and immersive historical exhibit, it is the largest exhibition of Frida Kahlo’s work to come to the Chicago area in over 40 years. Grab your tickets here.

Where: Cleve Carney Museum of Art
Dates: Happening now until September 12, 2021
Website/Tickets: theccma.org/frida-kahlo

7. Fantastic Landscapes: Hokusai And Hiroshige

The work of two artists of far lesser notoriety over here is currently on show at the Art Institute Of Chicago. Japanese printmaking saw two concurrent trends in the 19th century: an intensification of color and a rise in the popularity of landscape images. Katsushika Hokusai (1760­–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) capitalized on these trends and became the most successful print designers of their time.

The vibrant, daring, mystical displays depicted in their work garnered attention around the globe and fueled worldwide demand for their landscape art. Brilliant blue waterfalls, jade hills, chartreuse cliffs, and pink skies made up a new palette for the natural world and introduces new realms of imagination in art. Many of these intensely colorful landscape images are now on display at and a rise in the popularity of Art Institute Of Chicago through October 11.

You can read more about it here.

Where: Art Institute Of Chicago
Dates: Happening now until October 11, 2021
Website/Tickets: Artic.edu/exhibitions/9454/fantastic-landscapes-hokusai-and-hiroshige

8. Magic Selfies: An Immersive Selfie Installation

Magic Selfies is an immersive art installation and Chicago’s very own selfie playground created to offer the absolute perfect conditions for taking unique and iconic photos. With over 10 magic curated rooms and over 20 walls of all different shapes and layouts, you can be sure you’ll have a backlog of awesome photos to work through once you’re done.

From riding atop a unicorn to reclining in a toy duck-infested bath, a plethora of photo-friendly setups are waiting to be enthusiastically exploited. Immerse yourself in the fun interactive selfie playground Wednesday through Sunday at the Roosevelt Collection Shops!

You can read more about it here.

Where: 1143 S Delano CT (Inside Roosevelt Shops)
Dates: Happening now until December 31, 2021
Website/Tickets: Feverup.com/m/96845

9. Vivian Maier In Color

Talking of selfies, the renowned photographer Vivian Maier was a master of selfies long before they were a thing. The late Chicago photographer Vivian Maier, whose work only gained notoriety after her death has become a cult phenomenon in the global photographer community.

Whilst working as a nanny in Chicago Maeir snapped hundreds of thousands of photos of everyday moments and life unfolding in the Chicago suburbs as well as numerous arresting self-portraits. She had an affinity with the poor due to her own economic constraints, and as such her photos often also portray the lives of those struggling to get by. Falling behind on payments Maier was forced to auction her negatives in her later years, which went on to become a viral phenomenon and today a much-sought-after collector’s item.

Vivian Maier: In Color features 65 color images made during her time as a suburban Chicago nanny from the 1950s to 1970s, most of which have never been on display, as well as film clips, quotations, and sound bites.  

You can read more about it here.

Where: Chicago History Museum
Dates: Happening now until May 8, 2023
Website/Tickets: Chicagohistory.org/exhibition/vivian-maier-in-color

10. The Art Of Banksy

Claiming to be “the largest Banksy exhibit ever assembled” Chicago’s The Art of Banksy features over 80 original and authenticated works of art by the anonymous artist. As arguably the most intriguing and talked-about artist in modern history, Banksy’s creations never cease to amaze.

The exhibit is taking place in a 45,000-square-foot space that previously housed Saturday Night Live and features iconic works such as ‘Girl and Balloon’, ‘Flower Thrower’ and ‘Rude Copper’ alongside some of Banksy’s lesser-known masterpieces. Today these aforementioned pieces, and many others, are some of the most recognizable pieces of street art on the planet. At The Art of Banksy guests can feast their eyes on these whilst also admiring Banksy’s indoor pieces – original and unique works on canvas, wood, and paper – that have been less exposed and are also on display.

Where: 4th floor of 360 North State Street
Dates: Happening now until October 31, 2021
Website/Tickets: Banksyexhibit.com/chicago

11. Mandela: Struggle For Freedom

Image courtesy of Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center

Mandela: Struggle for Freedom illustrates the life of the eponymous human rights champion; paying homage to his legacy and unbreakable will, but also explores themes such as “the role of nonviolent protest, the power of youth, and the indignities of incarceration that still resonate today.”

Among its many dramatic features, the immersive exhibition has a replica of the eight-foot by seven-foot cell where the Nobel Peace Prize winner spent 18 years of his life. Stepping within, the enclosing walls illuminate around you showing projections that evince the dehumanizing conditions of Robben Islands and tell tales of repression and resilience.

In one room of the exhibition, an enormous tank-like truck emerges from one wall moving towards the onlookers. Visitors who dare can grab a trashcan lid as their only protection and get a feel of what it was like to be a student during the Soweto uprising. “Schwe-schwe” fabrics and rhythmic toyi-toyi dancing make it a culturally enriching experience as well as immersive and interactive.

You can read more about it here.

Where:  Illinois Holocaust Museum
Dates: Happening now until September 12, 2021
Website/Tickets: Ilholocaustmuseum.org/mandela

12. The Willis Tower Skydeck Interactive Museum

Image from Instagram / @mmeyers76

Willis Tower’s famed Skydeck has long been an essential Chicago bucket list experience for visiting tourists and seasoned locals alike. After undergoing a multimillion-dollar renovation the iconic experience reopened in April boasting even more reason to head up to the Skydeck whether you’ve been before or not.

The 45,000-square-foot space is now, according to the Skydeck general manager Randy Stancik, “part Chicago museum, part selfie museum, part architectural river tour, and part children’s museum.” The experience combines lighting, sound, and visuals effects to offer a journey through Chicago’s history. Guests will find information about the city’s formative years and key events in the “Origins” section before entering the “Architecture” section, the “Taste of Chicago” section, and more. There is even a life-size “L” train car that takes visitors on a simulated journey through Chicago, and then, of course, the revamped observation deck itself.

Where: Floor 103 of the Willis Tower
Dates: Permanent Exhibit
Website/Tickets: Theskydeck.com

13. Claude Monet: The Immersive Experience

After successful exhibits in London, Barcelona, and a number of other cities around the world, the time has finally come for the spectacular Claude Monet: The Immersive Experienceto make its way to the states. The multisensory journey through these famous bodies of work is an entirely new way of experiencing art, bringing every stunning detail to life like never before.

Using technology to recreate animated displays of these masterpieces you’ll be immersed directly into the paintings themselves, making you feel as if you’ve stepped into one of his works, like his most famous paintings, “Water Lilies” or “Springtime.” These incredible images will be taking over a secret location in Chicago with a specific venue and dates for 2021 to be announced soon.

You can read more about it here.

Where: TBC
Dates: TBC
Website/Waitlist: Feverup.com/m/98166

14. Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago (Closing Soon)

Image courtesy of Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago

The Immersive Van Gogh Exhibit Chicago is the first of its kind in the U.S. fusing high-tech installations and state-of-the-art soundscape with the Dutch painter’s revolutionary masterpieces. The 35-foot walls of the Victorian landmark’s Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago are now adorned with flawless digital projections that offer an art experience like no other.

Surrounded by famous works like IrisesThe Bedroom in Arles, and Starry Night, guests can take an hour-long journey through the kaleidoscopic displays and submerge themselves in the elegance of Van Gogh’s creativity whilst unraveling his tormented mind.

Designed and conceived by Massimiliano Siccardi and Luca Longobardi, who pioneered the exhibition’s Parisian precursor, guests are invited to “step inside” Van Gogh’s iconic creations. Rather than playing the passive spectator a walk through the memories of the eccentric genius offers the chance to be galvanized by the passion behind every laden brushstroke.

With this innovative exhibition comes an exclusive opportunity to encounter one of the most famous painters to have ever lived via a visual, scholarly, and emotional journey through his world.

You can read more about it here.

Where: Lighthouse ArtSpace Chicago
Dates: Happening now September 6, 2021
Website/Tickets: Vangoghchicago.com

15. Bisa Butler: Portraits (Closing Soon)

Another exhibition to have been postponed and extended is the stunning Bisa Butler: Portraits exhibition. On show through September 6, Bisa Butler’s portraits vividly capture personal and historical narratives of Black life evincing an expansive view of history through their engagement with themes such as family, community, and migration. A colorful exhibition devoted to the textile artist’s portrait quilts, it depicts Black subjects that have historically been marginalized. Bisa Butler: Portraits is the first solo museum exhibition of Butler’s work and includes over 20 of the artist’s remarkable portraits.

Where: Art Institute Of Chicago
Dates: Happening now until September 6, 2021
Website/Tickets: Artic.edu /bisa-butler-portraits

See more: 10 Essential Chicago Bucket List Experiences For 2021

[Featured image from Morton Arboretum]