photo: daniel shea

Art school is like an experimental science lab. Spring is MFA exhibition season in Chicago, and a chance to see some of the freshest, most inquisitive art in the city. Some of it is probably still wet.

The best times to go are the opening receptions, where you can meet the excitable, newly liberated artists. (Just don't mention the mountain of tuition debt they'll soon be facing.) Here are a few strong picks for this spring:

University of Chicago

This year’s crop of artists from the U of C are deeply entrenched in some very traditional methods such as painting and sculpture. But, they’re embracing the traditions only to radically alter them—no doubt an influence of the intellectually adventurous faculty.

Attend one of the four rotating exhibitions: “Diegesis,” on Friday, April 5 at 6 p.m., “Ply,” on April 19, “Wayward,” on May 3, and “Sway,” on May 18, at the impressive Logan Center, University of Chicago, 915 E 60th.


School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Seeing the work of 108 artists—that’s a lot of artists!—across the entire seventh floor of the former Carson’s department store is always a blast. This is an exhibition worth exploring. It took no less than fifteen curators to wrangle this wild creature of an MFA show.

The opening party is a scene, which means there is usually a line to get in. Better to pop in during a lunch break (the show runs through May 17) and have the whole jungle of art to yourself. Opening reception is Friday, April 12, 7–9 p.m. 33 S State, seventh floor. The school also hosts an impressive fashion show.

University of Illinois at Chicago

UIC’s grad program tends to be academically rigorous, so expect to be engaged by artists who have a message for you. They have three days to show their artworks in rotating, short-run exhibitions. The third installment opens this Tuesday, April 9 and closes with a reception on Friday, April 12, from 5–8pm.

A fragment from Marx lends the show’s title: A Spectre Is Haunting. Daniel Shea’s photographs and Daniel Tucker’s premier screening of “Local Control: Are We All Anarcho-Capitalists Now?” are not to be missed. You won’t see this type of political art in River North. Gallery 400 at UIC, 400 S Peoria.


Columbia College Chicago

Columbia’s graduate photography program consistently produces high quality artwork. Five photographers graduate this year. Their work ranges from the political to the poetic. Friday, May 17, 5–8 p.m., through June 15. Glass Curtain Gallery at Columbia College Chicago, 1104 S Wabash, first floor.


Northwestern University

This highly selective program launches artists’ careers (such as Michelle Grabner, Cameron Crawford, and Rachel Niffenegger). For their MFA show, they get to exhibit in the Block Museum, the prestigious university museum. See “CLOWNFLANEUR” May 3–June 23 at the Block Museum of Art, Northwestern University, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston.