Art by Tracy Kostenbader at Cole's in Logan Square.
Love art but intimated by the gallery scene? Luckily, there's a wealth of art on display in unlikely locations throughout Chicago, from sushi restaurants to dive bars and public murals. You don't need to pay museum fees or worry about your outfit in order to see compelling exhibits. Simply follow this guide and you'll find art right under your nose.
Hot Woks Cool Sushi (Loop)
Look at contemporary art over your culturally evolved plate of Obama-nami maki rolls or shrimp with lobster sauce and rice at this Asian restaurant located directly across from Millenium Park. Works by Chinese artists like Jie Tann and Chicago artist Glenn Bates grace the walls in a brightly colorful, harmonious display, allowing patrons to check out (and even buy) the art in a laid-back and serene environment.
Nelson Algren parked himself here regularly to refuel; currently, you'll find a bevy of locals in skinny jeans and retro glasses relaxing here pretty much every night of the week. Hipsters are always looking for something new, so the selection of art here rotates monthly, but it usually includes photographs, drawings and paintings by local artists - like photographer Jeremy Bolen, also the vocalist in Chicago avant rock band Chin Up Chin Up. Regular receptions provide networking opportunities for artists, and for the crowd, the chance to view emerging art free without sterile white walls and pretentious vibes.
This popular Logan Square spot is home to fancy vintage cocktails and no-cover artsy entertainment, including DJs spinning soul and indie rock, readings by local authors and a storefront gallery displaying monthly exhibitions by local artists like photographer carlsweets and painter/designer Mark Benson. Low-key artist receptions feel more like gatherings (with DJ or band accompaniment) and precede all art shows. Check the website for details on upcoming shows.
A breath of fresh air amid much generic gentrification in Logan Square, Cole's is a dive bar with benefits. Local artist Tracy Kostenbader graces the walls with striking photographs and drawings, and local indie bands perform on a well-equipped stage in the spacious back room on Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to the music and art perks, cheap beers ($5 drafts and $2 PBRs, every day) keep folks firmly planted on bar stools.
Three Peas Art Lounge
More of a relaxing, hip lounge/cafe than a gallery, this haven for art lovers and collectors frequently displays work by local standouts. Exhibitions often feature emerging artists such as Dawn Okoro, who does pop art, and Amanda Williams, who creates contemporary paintings that explore the racial and economic boundaries of the city's neighborhoods. Check the website for details on upcoming shows and artist receptions.
Riverwalk Gateway Murals, Lake Shore Drive and Wacker Drive
Nestled in a passageway on the south bank of Chicago River at the corner of Lake Shore Drive and Wacker Drive is a promenade with free art on display. This lovely strolling area presents the painted tile murals of Ellen Lanyon, which depict the history of Chicago from its inception, and show how the river played a major role in the city's growth. Go here for a romantic first date or just an afternoon reprieve. Free to the public, open 24 hours.
Chicago Cultural Center
If you're downtown and get the itch for art, but don't feel like paying $18 to get into the Art Institute, head a bit north for tons of free fun. Multiple art exhibitions - black-and-white photography of Chicago landmarks, contemporary artwork from China and shows by locals like painter Nicole Gordon and venerable photographer Barbara Crane, to name a few - are on display in this landmark building, which is a work of art in itself, with Doric columns and Romanesque arches.