In a city where it is commonplace to see a Picasso sculpture keeping watch over a public courtyard, or to stumble across an urban water fountain that doubles as a 50-foot tall video tower, it’s not surprising that worldclass museums are abundant in Chicago. For centuries, this city has been a fierce champion of the arts: from the Chicago Academy of Sciences that opened in 1857, to the much anticipated George Lucas private collection museum debuting in 2015. There are institutions devoted to any and every discipline, including natural science, ancient textiles, and avante garden fashions. They house transparent, multi-colored cubes of plexiglass and a groundbreaking collection of ceramic Aztec pottery. More often than not, these spaces are multi-disciplanary. They host musical and theatrical performances, as well as revered intellectuals for lectures and seminars. To see what is on offer at these museums, the city has designed one convenient site with downloadable exhibition information and a pocket guide to make planning a visit effortless.
Art Institute of Chicago
The AIC is home to more than 300,000 artworks from the far reaches of the globe. Within the collection are works by noted artists such as Monet, O’Keefe, and Hopper. Don’t miss the incredible stained glass windows by Marc Chagall or the recently-built Renzo Piano designed Modern Wing, with its naturally-lit galleries accessible by a footbridge suspended over the park.
Museum of Contemporary Art
Credited with giving Frida Kahlo, Jeff Koons, and Gerhard Richter their first exhibitions, the MCA has been celebrating the creative process since 1967. Whether it is in the gallery space or a 300-seat theater, this institution is all about taking risks and defining the cutting edge. Next up? The blockbuster David Bowie exhibition, slated for Fall 2014.
Chicago History Musem
From fashion to photography, this museum’s refined 600-object collection explores both Chicagoan and American history. Multiple exhibitions (don’t miss the dioramas) shed light on Chicago's rise from a desolate frontier outpost to a thriving metropolis. Check out the Abraham Lincoln Alcoves that highlight the sixteenth president's election, leadership, and untimely assassination.
For orinthology enthusiasts or would-be archeologists, you’ll find your thrills at the massive Field Museum. Home to more than 20-million specimens, the Field is one of the most prestigious institutions in the USA. Standout exhibitions include SUE, the largest Tyrannosaurus rex ever unearthed, while just around the corner is a reconstructed Egyptian tomb and the hands-on lab for kids.
The Museum of Science and Industry
Its status as the largest science center in the Western hemisphere is impressive. But when you consider that the structure housing 35,000 artifacts is itself an actual architectural relic from the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, you’ve got serious wow factor. Exhibitions range from cool (a five-story Omnimax theater ) to interesting (America’s only complete German U Boat).