Free Art Exhibits for a Gray Chicago Day

Written by Erin Roux


Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP): 600 S. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL

Monday-Saturday: 10 a.m. –5 p.m.

Thursday: 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.

Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Cost: Free and open to the public


Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA): 820 N. Michigan Avenue, Chicago, IL

Tuesday: 11 a.m. – 8 p.m. (free to Illinois residents)

Wednesday-Saturday: 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

($9 general admission, $6 seniors 65 and older, $3 non-Loyola students under 25 with student ID, free for Loyola students)


DePaul Art Museum (DPAM): 935 W Fullerton Avenue, Chicago, IL

Monday-Tuesday: Closed

Wednesday-Thursday: 11 a.m. – 7 p.m.

Friday: 11 a.m. – 5 p.m.

Saturday-Sunday: 12 p.m. – 5 p.m.

Cost: Free and open to the public


Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago; Photo Courtesy of Megan Stringer 

Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago; Photo Courtesy of Megan Stringer 

For days when you have to get out of the apartment and think new thoughts, for days when navigating the Art Institute feels overwhelming and far too expensive for your worn wallet -  three university art museums offer us their new collections for free viewings and without the pressure of navigating a museum map.


This collection of smaller art museums in the city is fairly quiet, and also fairly new. The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), The Museum of Contemporary Photography (MoCP) affiliated with Columbia College, and the DePaul Art Museum (DPAM) are all in the midst of new, incredible exhibition showings that can be easily accessed off the Red Line, and all for free.


The Museum of Contemporary Photography, affiliated with Columbia College Chicago, stands a little hidden about two blocks east of the Harrison Red Line. They recently opened a new exhibit showing from April 21  — July 10 called “Burnt Generation: Contemporary Iranian Photography.” This exhibit of photographic storytelling is off-putting, and shows the political unrest of Iran through its unique citizens while also prompting the viewer to forget misconceptions and stereotypes of Iran. The pieces are able to speak with each other to tell viewers about an Iran that they don’t get to see.


Some particularly interesting collections within this exhibit include the “Look” series by Newsha Tavakolian, which consists of staged, solitary portraits of Iranian youth. We see, according to the MoCP, the young, Iranian middle class as an “isolated society battling with their lack of hope for the future.” These unsettling, larger-than-life images portray the isolation, loneliness, and desolation of Iran, as well as an innate human need to bond with others.


Hossein Fatemi, Iranian native and Chicago-based photojournalist, journeyed through Iran and photographed the people he saw. His photographs portray primarily the young women, taking casual, yet intense snapshots of their private lives and illegal activities. This photographer was present the day of our visit, and was seen walking around on opening night. He spoke about the order of the photos on the wall, and how the landscapes are alternated to show images inside and outside. This series is real, naked, and a little raunchy, but so honestly relatable, showing that humans are humans no matter the continent they come from.


Upcoming events regarding this exhibit include a “Video Playlist” with Soheila Azadi on Wednesday, May 18, at 6 p.m. Soheila Azadi is a visual artist and filmmaker with connections in Chicago and Iran. She works through a feminist lens. There will also be an Artist Talk on Thursday, June 30, at 6 p.m. An artist with work in the current exhibit, Azadeh Akhlaghi will talk about her conceptual photography as it relates to Iran.

Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago; Photo Courtesy of Megan Stringer 

Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago; Photo Courtesy of Megan Stringer 

The Loyola University Museum of Art (LUMA), is right near Chicago Red Line stop and across from Historic Water Tower. The quiet museum is the lucky and temporary home to collections “A Persistence of Memory” by William Utermohlen and “South Williamsburg” by William Castellana. They show from February 6 until July 23, 2016.


Utermohlen’s collection inhabits three full galleries, resulting in an impressive dialogue. “A Persistence of Memory” has pieces from his entire career, visually communicating his battle with Alzheimer’s and Dementia, and allowing the viewer to see the impact of this disease. This is a particularly jarring exhibit. The viewer stands vis à vis with unsettling images. We see a lot of oil, charcoal, watercolor, and some mixed media with harsh contrasts from colorful to mundane. We see charcoal drawings of heads in the middle of being erased, suggestions of a face, like looking into a mirror in a nightmare.


These initial Alzheimer portraits lead into a room of oil paintings that are vibrant, but not necessarily happy. This then leads to his latest drawings, which are much more ominous and dark.


Though Utermohlen was alive and active in the art world from 1933 – 2007, we see a lot of interesting qualities in his art that suggest impressionism, post-impressionism and bits of fauvism. These styles exist in the bright oil paintings in the middle gallery, which play with color, space, and dimension.


Overall, the experience is very solitary; you feel alone in this particular museum as Utermohlen felt with his art, leaving an interesting yet powerful impression on the viewer while still interacting with all of the pieces as a whole.


The back two galleries at LUMA hold the street photography of William Castellana and his collection “South Williamsburg.” These black and white images show the culture, religion, and isolation of the Jewish Hasidic community in Brooklyn, New York, and their complete separation from Secular society. These images are very odd. They were taken in 2013, but feel a hundred years older, showing a culture not normally depicted in modern media. The photos in the gallery surround you in an even line around the walls and seem to look at you as we look at them.

The Loyola University Museum of Art; Photo Courtesy of Erin Roux

The Loyola University Museum of Art; Photo Courtesy of Erin Roux

The DePaul Art Museum, located right next to the Fullerton Red and Brown Line stop, is a small, quiet space inhabited by primarily modern art from Chicagoan artists and curated by DePaul professors. This museum is free and open to the public, offering access to the current collections as well as any programs and events. DPAM is currently in the midst of preparing the upcoming spring and summer collections.


DPAM just closed their winter/spring exhibitions on April 24, 2016. These consisted of “Split Complementary” by Dianna Frid and Richard Rezac, an interesting juxtaposition of art pieces and mundane objects, and “Nexo/Nexus: Latino Artists in the Midwest,” a collection of Latin-American artists and their connections to the Midwest.


Two new exhibits from Chicagoan artists are in the works right now. The first,“Poor Traits” by Barbara Rossi, runs May 12 until August 21. This exhibit is a selection of colorful graphite and pencil drawings from the 1960s –‘70s, focusing on shapes and pop imagery. These pieces show sickly, distorted bodies and though nauseating, demand to be looked at.


Starting May 14 until August 14, 2016, the DePaul Art Museum will be hosting a colorful, complex collection by Chicago-based artist Tony Fitzpatrick called “The Secret Birds.” Regarding this exhibit, the DPAM pamphlets tell us that “Fitzpatrick celebrates the colorful world of birds encircling us earthbound beings…The birds…play multiple symbolic roles, some delivering otherworldly message and cautionary tales, while others serve to commemorate and eulogize late writers, artists and musicians.”


Tony Fitzpatrick will speak at DPAM on May 23 from 6–7:30 p.m. with a Chicago Tribune reporter about this collection. These colorfully drawn collages depict different types of birds, words, and other images to portray different ideas and messages, as well as Fitzpatrick’s internal journey of self exploration. The collection provides a vibrant and productive dialogue.

All slideshow photos courtesy of Megan Stringer 

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