A wassailing bowl and a Yule log greet visitors in the Great English Hall, while mistletoe and garlands on the staircase decorate the Virginia Entrance Hall just steps away. Nearby, the Chinese room is filled with shadow puppets and I can almost hear the musical instruments play in celebration of the New Year. The Thorne Miniature Rooms at the Art Institute of Chicago, especially the eight rooms decorated for the holidays, never fail to delight.
On a shopping trip or visit in the new year to Chicago, discover art treasures that will add joy and memories to your holidays. You’ll find wonderful art galore at the Art Institute, the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Driehaus Museum, all located conveniently on or near Michigan Avenue.
Your first stop should be the Art Institute, where you’ll be greeted by the museum’s beloved lions, decorated in festive evergreen wreaths for the season. The museum is just south of Millennium Park, where Chicago’s official Christmas tree is located.
Besides the 68 miniature interiors of the Thorne Rooms, another fabulous holiday attraction is the museum’s 18th-century Neapolitan crèche that features more than 200 figures, including 50 animals, on view through Jan. 10.
From there, you’ll want to browse through the museum’s fabulous collection of Impressionist art that can transport you to Monet’s garden in France or scenes along the Seine. A special exhibition of Edgar Degas’ paintings and sculptures is nearby, as well as a special exhibit of art from the Spanish-governed Andes from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.
You’ll also enjoy the museum’s Modern Wing and the exhibit about David Adjaye, the architect who designed the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture which opens in 2016 in Washington, D.C. His architectural drawings and building models captivate both adults and children. Adjaye also has been mentioned as a possible designer of the Obama presidential library in Chicago.
The museum offers families with young children a free drop-in activity every day at the Artist’s Studio located in the Modern Wing, with a special Holly Days program offered Dec. 27-30. Inspired by photographs of winter scenes and holiday-themed exhibits, children can have fun creating mini shadow boxes. No registration is required and children under 14 are admitted free to the museum every day. Free admission is offered to all Illinois residents on Thursday evenings, from 5 to 8 p.m.
Stunning modern art can be found at the Museum of Contemporary Art, located on Chicago Avenue east of Water Tower. The interplay of art with musical rehearsals, concerts and dance events may awaken your own creativity.
On a recent visit, I enjoyed the special exhibition on Surrealism that features more than 100 paintings, sculptures and other artwork from that deeply emotional and psychological movement. Just across the hall is the “Run for President” exhibit that offers pieces by Los Angeles-based artist Kathryn Andrews, whose take on politics made me laugh.
Among Andrews’ works are three sculptures of Bozo the clown, a giant mural of the Oval Office at the White House during the Ronald Reagan administration and a photograph of Nancy Reagan and the actor Mr. T. If you’re suffering from shopping or sightseeing fatigue, these pieces will pick you up in a flash.
At the MCA, the arts come together. On my visit, members of the Third Coast Percussion, a Chicago-based musical group, experimented on drums, cymbals and a variety of percussion instruments in a gallery near a sculpture that invited people to touch and play. The MCA offers free admission to Illinois residents every Tuesday and offers free tours every day.
The Driehaus Museum, housed in a magnificent mansion located at 40 E. Erie, just west of Michigan Avenue, is also worth a visit. The three-story house, built in the late 19th century during Chicago’s Gilded Age, has lavish interiors with period furniture, stained glass and wall coverings. This month you can view the popular Maker & Muse exhibition that features women and art jewelry from the early 20th century, listen to live music on weekends while touring the museum or come for a Santa Saturday on Dec. 12 or 19. The museum offers free admission to children 5 and younger every day.
The Driehaus offers fans of the popular PBS series “Downton Abbey” a special treat in the new year. The “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times” exhibition will present more than 35 costumes from the series from Feb. 9 through May 8. Timed admission tickets and reservations for tea are on sale now.
The three museums are wheelchair accessible to visitors. For more information, including admission prices, hours and special events, visit:
Mary C. Galligan is a freelance writer and editor in Chicago. She alternates writing the monthly IT travel column with Mary Bohlen of Springfield.