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The Ultimate Survival Guide to September Gallery Openings

What you need to know before hitting the scene, including the don’t-miss shows.

Wangechi Mutu, “Riding Death in My Sleep” (detail), 2002, on view at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 9/19-12/7.   Wangechi Mutu/Collection of Peter Norton, New York

At least a hundred new art exhibitions are opening across Chicago this month. Here’s a guide to navigating the scene, for the art-curious and the seasoned alike.

1. Pace yourself. There’s a lot to see this month. 

It used to be that Chicago’s galleries coordinated to kick off the fall gallery season on the first Friday night of September. Many galleries still do follow this tradition, but now that Chicago’s gallery scene is so widespread, from the West Loop to East Garfield Park, the entire month of September (usually Thursday—Sunday each week) boasts excellent and noteworthy new shows, with free, lively opening receptions.

2. Stay on top of what’s opening and when.

Of course, Chicago has 15 critic’s picks each month, but you may be in need of a comprehensive list of openings. Each Thursday, independent blogger and artist Stephanie Burke updates The Weekly Gallery Crawl on Art Talk Chicago, including everything from top-tier galleries to artist-run spaces. Other indispensable listings are published by The Visualist and Chicago Gallery News.

3. Don’t miss these standouts.

If you only have time to browse a few shows this season, don’t miss Bryan Zanisnik’s conceptual upcycling at Aspect/Ratio (opens 9/5); Selina Trepp’s new drawing animations at Comfort Station (opens 9/5); “Burn It Down,” a large group show of local artists at Heaven (opens 9/5); Carol Jackson’s sculptures at Threewalls (opens 9/5); Alexander Valentine’s luscious prints at Circa Modern (opens 9/5); Magalie Guerin’s abstract paintings at Corbett vs. Dempsey (opens 9/5); Robert Burner’s crumpled aluminum sculptures at Andrew Rafacz Gallery (opens 9/19); Mickalene Thomas’ homage to her mother at Kavi Gupta Gallery (opens 9/19); and Wangechi Mutu’s retrospective at the Block Museum (opens 9/27).

4. Bring something to read.

For the cross-town bus ride in rush hour traffic, bring the new book on everyone’s reading list this month: Lise Haller Baggesen’s Mothernism. The Chicago-based artist’s collection of texts are presented as letters to women in Baggesen’s life. “At the intersection of feminism, science fiction, and disco, Mothernism aims to locate the mother-shaped hole in contemporary art discourse,” describes the book’s co-publishers, Green Lantern Press and Poor Farm. ($19.79, available at Green Lantern Press.)

5. Don’t forget your earbuds.

Chicago stays up to date on art conversation, from the heady to the funny, with Bad at Sports, the weekly podcast that lets you hear what artists have to say.

6. Eat on-site when possible.

The Hyde Park Art Center is celebrating its 75th anniversary with new exhibitions and a nine-hour BBQ and block party on Saturday, September 13, 12–9 p.m. 5020 S Cornell.

7. Check out the rookie gallery.

Regards is a new West Town gallery featuring contemporary art. They open the fall with a solo show by Megan Greene, and Aline Cautis in November. 2216 W Chicago, regardsgallery.com.

8. Attend a séance. Or sing in a musical. Or both.

Don’t be turned off by the idea of performance art or you’ll miss some of Chicago’s most exciting happenings. For starters, artist Zachary Cahill is hosting a participatory séance at the Museum of Contemporary Art on Saturday, September 13 at midnight. Or get schooled in the topics of the day with a Marxist musical by My Barbarian fresh from the Whitney Biennial, at Gallery 400 on Friday, September 19 at 7pm and Saturday, September 20 at 3pm. 

9. Follow the right people on social media.

Chicago’s street art scene can’t be can’t be ignored. See what’s getting painted before it gets painted over by following Oscar Arriola and Drew on Instagram.

10. Tune in even from home.

Skip the Housewives re-runs and turn on some artist-made TV. A curated selection of video-art projects made by artists is on view regularly on ACRE-TV (a project by Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions.) Sometimes the shows are live, so expect the unexpected. Full lineup and schedule at acretv.org.

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