August 13, 2018

Get Smart

Like I’ve said a thousand times before, Chicago has one of the best collections of museums in the country. Just in the “Museum Campus” area alone, right on the lake and a little south of downtown, we have the Field Museum, the Shedd Aquarium, and the Adler Planetarium, which are all huge famous and fantastic in their own individual ways. I also know that unfortunately, the downtown Chicago experience, museums included, can really run up your budget a little bit. So if museums are your thing but you don’t want to reach deep to deal with the touristy mayhem of the main museum spectacles, I’ve got just the place for you.

I wrote a few weeks ago about the fantastic Oriental Institute on the campus of the University of Chicago, but that’s not the only cool museum on the UofC campus. The Smart Museum of Art is just a couple blocks further north, and it’s free and open to the public. Where the Smart Museum loses ground to the Art Institute with its lack of Picassos and Rembrandts (though holding any museum to the standard of the Art Institute is a pretty unfair exercise), it makes up with its excellent collection of modern art and sculpture, and also a bunch of extraordinarily weird and fascinating furniture designed by none other than Frank Lloyd Wright. Don’t get me wrong, either—the Smart Museum isn’t just a bunch of moderately interesting paintings by folks people are only going to recognize 75 years after they’re dead (that’s how it usually works, right?)—they’ve got plenty of names that you’ll recognize from your high school art class, including some classics of Diego Rivera, Francisco Goya, Andy Warhol and Gustave Caillebote, plus statues and sculptures courtesy of Edgar Degas and Auguste Rodin. In a sense, it’s kind of like the hipster Art Institute: you’ll still recognize all of the names, but here, you’ll find some of the stuff that you can’t find plastered all over the internet as soon as you google them.

The building itself is pretty cool, too. The whole thing surrounds a really pretty courtyard and garden, which is an excellent place to pause and have a bite to eat from the cafe on a warm day in the spring, summer, or fall. It’s also worth saying that with the Smart Museum, you really do get a kind of taste of Chicago and its art. There’s all the big names that I mentioned above, of course, but the museum does dedicate a good amount of space to local artists both big—Theaster Gates, for example, is well represented—and small. Chicago has a long lineage of local artists and creative types, who have always transcended or put their own unique twists on whatever the world’s greater predominant artistic movements are. So no matter what you’re interested in, you’ll definitely find something that’ll catch your eye.