The Best Contemporary Art Exhibitions In Chicago In 2016

Photo of Samantha Looney
18 February 2016

From the Art Institute of Chicago to The Bean, the Windy City is known for its world-famous collection of sculptures, paintings, and designs. With various museums and galleries throughout the city, it can be difficult to narrow down which ones to visit, so we compiled a list for you. From the temporary to the permanent, here are the exhibits you must see this year.

Flamingo Sculpture | © Vincent Desjardins/Flickr


Make your way over to The Federal Plaza to see Alexander Calder’s 50-ton steel Flamingo for a pop of color in the midst of a series of black and grey buildings. The iconic red statue was built with the same materials as the buildings around it, but the curvature of the steel combined with the vibrant red paint makes it stand out against its neighbors. As you walk underneath, through, and around the Flamingo, the statue encourages a sense of creativity and originality amidst the rigid lines and lifestyle of the office buildings surrounding it.

Flamingo, 50 W Adams St, Chicago, IL, USA


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Agora | © John Picken /Flickr
The south end of Grant Park holds Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz’s nine-foot-tall sculptures titled Agora. This outdoor exhibit is made up of 106 headless and armless steel ‘bodies,’ all walking in various directions. While none of the statues have arms, there is a sense that they all could be reaching out to each other, helping to lead and guide each other in the right direction, potentially referring to immigrants as they began a new life here in the United States. As you walk through the series of headless statues, potentially getting lost in the crowd, it encourages you to pause and be mindful of the direction life is taking you.

The Weight of Rage

Museum, Park
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The Hyde Park Art Center is hosting its third annual art exhibit of pieces created as part of the Prison and Neighborhood Arts Project through classes at the Stateville Prison. Inmates at the prison were given an opportunity to express their feelings of alienation and incarceration through different artistic media, such as abstraction, portraiture, video, audio, and writing. The display of these works, The Weight of Rage, invokes feelings of disconnect and loss while also creating a sense of community through education and art.

eighth blackbird

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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see what a Grammy Award-winning band’s practice looks like behind the scenes? The Museum of Contemporary Art is making that dream a reality this year with its Artist in Residence program. The band, eighth blackbird, rehearses in real time, allowing visitors to view the making of the band’s original music. One room is dedicated to the band’s rehearsal space, while an adjacent room is filled with viewers and music lovers embracing this once-in-a-lifetime experience. And when the band is away, video of the band’s performance is projected on the walls with accompanying audio filling the room.

The Street, The Store, and The Silver Screen: Pop Art from the MCA Collection

Museum, Store, University
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Due to the nature of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the ‘can’t miss’ contemporary art exhibit could not simply be narrowed down to one. The Street, The Score, and The Silver Screen exhibit encourages visitors to take a look at the influence of capitalism and mass communication in addition to the allure of Hollywood and glamour on artists like Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenberg in the 1960s and 1970s. The exhibit is meant to complement the Pop Design exhibit, which shows the effect of pop style on design and furniture during this era as well. Make sure to enjoy a drink at the café while staring into Johnson Marklee’s repetitive architectural masterpiece A Grid Is A Grid Is A Grid before you leave.
By Samantha Looney

Samantha is a recent graduate from Brigham Young University and majored in English. When she’s not reading or writing, she spends her time painting, baking gluten-free treats, and planning her travels around the world.

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