There's a ton of art for you to see inside of the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art and more of the best museums in Chicago, but there's no need to end your journey through the city's creative landscape there. Neighborhoods like Hyde Park and Wicker Park host thriving communities of art galleries, where you can see paintings, sculptures, photographs and interactive works by emerging and established artists. You'll find galleries devoted to video-game art, contemporary paintings, performance art and archives of antiquated media—you just have to know where to look. Use our guide to Chicago's best art galleries to find an opening and experience some bold and imaginative works.
The best art galleries in Chicago
As far as this gallery of the University of Chicago’s campus is concerned, the avantest of the avant-garde is the only one that matters. As for the name, well, the university wants to broaden the definition of renaissance. (Think less Michelangelo, more the Next Michelangelo, in other words.) The white walls and high ceiling create a hyper-resonant environment. Many European avant-garde stars get their only Chicago exposure here, and the shows are free.
Intuit is the only nonprofit organization in the U.S. devoted to the exclusive presentation of outsider and contemporary self-taught art. More than a gallery, Intuit is a vital resource for students, scholars and the art enthusiasts, featuring a permanent collection containing 1,100-plus works of art, the Henry Darger Room collection, the Robert A. Roth Study Center, educational programs and more.
Founded by John Corbett and Jim Dempsey in 2004, Corbett vs. Dempsey reflects its owners diverse interests: jazz, film, American modernist traditions, middle-American approaches to abstraction and contemporary art. The art gallery places an emphasis on digging up undiscovered talent, often featuring great regional art (and the occassional live performance from a notable musician).
After purchasing it from the city for $1, local artist and philanthropist Theaster Gates turned this long-vacant bank into a cultural institution. Inside the Stony Island Arts Bank, visitors can browse the archives of Johnson Publishing, flip through house music legend Frankie Knuckle record collection or view art on display in the venue's ground floor gallery.
Nestled in the Hancock Center is the Richard Gray Gallery, which hosts rotating exhibitions by artists primarily working with paint and sculpture. The space is named for its late founder, local art dealer Richard Gray, who is best known for his role in helping the Field Museum secure Sue the T. rex. Notable artists that have had work exhibited at the gallery include Josef Albers, Roy Lichtenstein, Mark Rothko, Robert Rauschenberg and Pablo Picasso.
Built in the early 1900s, this small building in Logan Square used to be a place where trolly riders could stop to rest during their journey. Logan Square Preservation took the building over in 2010, turning it into a community art space. Comfort Station regularly hosts art exhibitions, live music and film screenings while providing a public meeting place for neighborhood residents of all ages.
Kavi Gupta Gallery exhibits international emerging and mid-career artists in all media, including global art star Theaster Gates, whose practice encompasses installation, performance and urban interventions; multimedia artist Tony Tasset; Puerto Rican–born painter Angel Otero; folk art–style painter Clare Rojas and more. It's part of the network of galleries that includes Kavi Gupta Elizabeth Street (219 N Elizabeth Street).
Rhona Hoffman Gallery, founded as Young Hoffman Gallery in 1976, recently moved from its longtime home in the West Loop to burgeoning strip of galleries in West Town. Specializing in international contemporary art in all media, particularly of the socio-political variety, Rhona Hoffman exhibits young and emerging artists alongside established ones. Early on, it was one of the first galleries to offer exhibitions to women artists such as Jenny Holzer, Barbara Kruger, Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Cindy Sherman. Other notable artists who have shown here include Sol LeWitt, Gordon Matta-Clark, Fred Sandback, Lorna Simpson, Nancy Spero, Richard Tuttle, Carrie Mae Weems and Kehinde Wiley (among many others).
A former assistant curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Monique Meloche worked for Rhona Hoffman Gallery and Kavi Gupta Gallery before becoming an art dealer herself, opening a space in Fulton Market in 2001. Monique Meloche Gallery is now located in West Town and has established itself as a destination for consistently intriguing contemporary art in all media.
With a mission of making contemporary art more approachable, the Hyde Park Art Center offers engaging exhibitions, as well as community programming of all varieties: artist talks, a residency program, studio classes and more. Established in 1939, it's the oldest alternative exhibition in Chicago.
This Logan Square arts organization sets its sights on providing a home for artists working in all mediums. On any given night, you're likely to find a group of musicians playing improvised music in the space, a display of visual art or a collection of local artists presenting a workshop.
Operating out of the historic Madlener House in the Gold Coast, the Graham Foundation makes project-based grants to individuals and organizations and produces public art programs. The house also hosts free exhibitions that center around architecture and design as well as a bookstore that sells everything from publications written by grantees to obscure design magazines.
Bringing street art, graffiti, pop-culture–influenced art and graphic design to the walls of a small Ukranian Village storefront, Vertical Gallery is one of the best places to view (and buy) art by some of the most cutting-edge names in Chicago's scene. Hebru Brantley and JC Rivera have exhibited work here—the person who painted the mural on your block might be next.
If you want to see work by one of the next great Chicago artists, Roots & Culture is the place where you're most likely to find it. The contemporary art center focuses on exhibitions by emerging artists, both locally and nationally. Its Double Exposure program invites spontaneous collaboration by pairing visual artists with one another, while its Connect program reaches outside of the city limits, welcoming curators from other art communities.
With exhibitions rotating every five weeks, you'll nearly always find something fresh hanging on the walls of Truborn Chicago, a small gallery in West Town. Artists are usually asked to paint site-specific murals that complement the works on display and prices are generally affordable, playing into the gallery's unofficial motto: "become a collector."
Established in 2004 as Bucket Rider Gallery, Andrew Rafacz features emerging and mid-career artists working in video, painting, photography, sculpture and other media. The roster includes photographer Jason Lazarus, painter Wendy White, prolific designer Cody Hudson and more.
Founded in 1983 within the College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts at the University of Illinois at Chicago, Gallery 400 has established itself as a venue for cutting-edge contemporary art, architecture and design. Featuring local, national and international artists, the university gallery combines intellectual exhibitions with an approachable atmosphere, offering a diverse program of lectures and events for students, professional artists and the general public alike.
A former storefront performance-art "gallery" that has since moved into the Zhou B Art Center in Bridgeport, DFBRL8R hosts events that range from avant-garde dance to live art creation. Offering a place for performance artists of all stripes, this is one of the only places in Chicago where you can walk into a room and witness someone deconstructing furniture with a chainsaw or traversing a runway in a complex, sculpture-esque costume.
A small, one-room gallery near Garfield Park, Julius Caesar is an artist-run space that presents makes the most of its relatively tiny footprint. Most of the exhibitions here are centered around the work of young, emerging artists who are taking their first steps into Chicago's crowded art scene.
Carrie Secrist Gallery has focused on established contemporary artists, with a recently renewed interest in adding new, emerging artists to its roster. Among our favorite works the gallery has exhibited are Kim Keever's water tank diorama photography; Megan Greene's recontextualized Audubon prints and Anne Lindberg's intricate colored pencil drawings.
Founded in 2013, the Video Game Art Gallery presents exhibitions that explore the artistic contributions to digital games and new media. The gallery hosts the work of artists and game developers; hosts talks and lectures; and also houses the VGA fine art print collection, which allows collectors to purchase high-quality prints of art created for a variety of games.
American design takes the spotlight at Volume Gallery, encompassing furniture design, interior design and sculpture. In addition to exhibitions, Volume also releases editions and publications that explore the work of the designers showcased within its walls.
Founded in 1973, ARC Gallery is a woman-run nonprofit art space in Noble Square that showcases experimental work made by women and provides mentors for emerging artists. The gallery also hosts workshops, discussion groups and programs for underserved populations.
Returning to Chicago in 2018 after a nine-year hiatus, Melanee Cooper Gallery displays contemporary paintings, fiber art, photographer and ceramics in a River North space (the very same venue that hosted the gallery previously). Cooper is a veteran of Chicago's art scene, having run galleries in Lakeview and Lincoln Park that highlighted work by Midwestern artists.
Featuring locations in the West Loop and Lincoln Park, Shane Campbell Gallery was founded by a former professor at the School of the Art Institute and exhibits emerging and mid-career contemporary artists specializing in painting, drawing, sculpture, photography and abstract and conceptual art.
Western Exhibitions was founded in 2002 by Scott Speh and moved to West Town in 2017, where it shares a building with galleries like Document and Volume Gallery. Featuring emerging and established contemporary artists, the gallery exhibits work in all media and, via WesternXeditions, demonstrates arguably the strongest commitment of any Chicago gallery to showcase artists books, prints and multiples.
You'll find sculptures, paintings, photography, collages and other recontextualized works lining the walls of this River North gallery, which has been hosting exhibitions and representing emerging and established artists since 1986.
DOCUMENT, founded and directed by Aron Gent, is an exhibition space featuring contemporary photography and video works, as well as a scanning and printing studio specializing in large-scale photographs for museum and gallery exhibitions.
Founded in 2007 as a curatorial effort, devening projects + editions now includes a Garfield Park gallery space showcasing exhibitions by international contemporary artists in every medium. Much of the programming involves site-specific installations, unexpected artist pairings and sales of experimental artists’ editions.
One of the newest additions to Chicago gallery community, Hofheimer Gallery represents an eclectic array of painters, from the bright, geometric canvases of Betty Cleeland to the subtle, textured work of Charles Gniech. The exhibitions you'll find here are equally varied, including paintings, drawings and sculpture from artists in various stages of their careers.
Situated on the Magnificent Mile, Artspace 8 focuses on contemporary fine art paintings, prints and sculptures by emerging and established artists from around the world. Yes, it's usually a destination for those looking for something to hang on the wall of their Gold Coast penthouse, but it's also a great place to stop in and see an exhibition.
Another transplant from the West Loop to West Toan, Aspect/Ratio is a commercial gallery that showcases an international cast of contemporary artists, including local visual artist Nick Albertson, New York-based videographer Casilda Sánchez and Cuban conceptual artist Alejandro Figueredo Díaz-Perera.
Stephen Daiter Gallery showcases important American and European photography from the 20th century, including avant-garde, experimental, documentary and photojournalistic work. The adjoining space, Daiter Contemporary, features work by emerging and established contemporary photographers.