By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Jul 13, 2023 at 9:02 AM

In addition to being the top museum attraction in Chicago, The Art Institute is also the second largest art museum in the United States, with nearly a million square feet of exhibition space packed with an impressive range of treasures.

One hardly needs more reason to visit.

But if you ever felt you did need an excuse, what could be a better one than a new Van Gogh exhibition?

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“Van Gogh and the Avant-Garde: The Modern Landscape,” features works by five artists who spent nearly a decade painting the suburbs on the edge of Paris, from 1882 until 1890. While some of the works – like Georges Seurat’s “La Grande Jatte” – have become instantly recognizable artistic masterpieces, they’re not the only fruits of this era.

The show, which includes more than 75 works by Van Gogh, Seurat, Paul Signac, Charles Angrand and Emile Bernard – fully a third of them by Van Gogh – opened in mid-May and runs through Sept. 4.

These artists' works show the interesting dichotomy of fringe communities at the time like Asnieres, Clichy, Courbevoie and the island of La Grande Jatte, which was a mix of idyllic riverside spaces and modern industrial sites, including factories, coal yards and gas tanks.

And as you might expect, the artistic results are similarly varied. There are mind-boggling examples of Pointillism, of the contrasts and bold lines of Divisionism, and of the large fields of bright colors of Cloisonnism that would later evolve into Fauvism and Expressionism.

While 75 works may not sound like an exhaustive exhibition, don’t be fooled. The show fills a number of gallery spaces and by the end it feels like plenty, because there is so much to see and process in each of the works.

A Paul Signac work in the show.

You might come for Van Gogh, but you’ll marvel at the talents of the other painters – if you weren’t already familiar with their work – and the numerous Seurat studies, in various media, for “La Grande Jatte” are especially fascinating.

Personally, I loved seeing Van Gogh preparatory drawings and watercolors. One pencil sketch is especially intriguing as we can see the painter’s own notes showing which colors he planned to use in a painted version.

The show – for which you can purchase tickets here – is well worth not only the journey, but making a weekend of it. Here are a few ideas, should you decide to do that.

Where to eat

Whether or not you’re staying over, you’ll likely need some sustenance, and just a couple blocks’ walk from The Art Institute is The Dearborn, 145 N. Dearborn St., in the heart of The Loop’s theater district.

Opened in 2016 by Irish immigrant sisters Amy and Clodagh Lawless, The Dearborn has just about everything going for it.

The atmosphere is festive, modern and casual – and especially alluring at night when the lights from the theater marquees on Randolph Street glimmer through the windows – the staff warm and welcoming, and the food pitch-perfect.

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Don’t miss the prosciutto and white cheddar croquettes and steak tartare & bone marrow appetizers. The latter is a sort of sweet and sour combination of marinated Wagyu beef, Korean pears, house-made pickles and other flavors.

The mac and cheese is made with Wisconsin Hook’s cheddar and Nueske’s bacon and is as delectable as that sounds, but also don’t miss the parmesan gnocchi, with a pesto that’s laced with spicy Italian sausage and rapini.

Splurge-worthy is The Whole Block, a cutting board presentation of four-ounce tastes of New York Strip, porcini-crusted ribeye, filet and marinated short rib. You’ll be the star of the table as your companions’ forks all head toward your plate.

Where to Stay

If you decide to make a weekend of it, consider the Renaissance Chicago, just above the Riverwalk at 1 W. Upper Wacker Dr.

In addition to being within walking distance of The Dearborn and The Art Institute, there’s also an art focus – in addition to a rail transit decor theme, which I love – with a giant mural on a walkway outside and original artwork installed in the comfortable guest rooms (which also boast great views).


Plus, in the lobby, there is the Staytion Market & Bar, which serves a buffet breakfast and has a great coffee and pastry station in the mornings, as well as great dinner options – including delectable short rib tacos and tasty and unique shrimp rings – in the evening.

But that’s just the start. The hotel also has a fitness center with what has become an increasingly rare amenity – a heated pool.

Shrimp rings (above) and short tib taquitos (below) at Staytion.
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Best of all, perhaps, is Raised rooftop bar.

While it’s not the highest rooftop bar you’ll find, it is surely among the best thanks to its fabulous position above Wacker Drive, with a view over the Chicago River and a classic skyline vista, with Mies van der Rohe’s IBM Building, the Wrigley Building, the Merchandise Mart and the landmark Marina Place – to name but a few – standing tall on the opposite bank.

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I admit I’m also more than a little sentimental about the Renaissance, which was our base the first time we took our kids to Chicago, and thus it houses wonderful memories.

What else to see

If you haven’t yet, make time to visit Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St., occupying an 1883 mansion in River North.

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This art museum is located in the stunning house that banker Samuel Nickerson had built – to plans by Burling & Whitehouse’s Edward J. Burling – at a cost of $450,000, or about $10.5 million today.

And it shows ... but it didn’t always.

After having been home to the American College of Surgeons, an art gallery and others for decades, the mansion was in need of some love. In 2003, businessman and art collector Richard H. Driehaus bought the mansion and spent five years restoring it and installing artwork to open it as a museum.

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At the moment, there’s a fascinating exhibition of the work of French Art Nouveau (and affordable housing) pioneer Hector Guimard. The show, which remains on view until Nov. 5, has jewelry, metalwork (including pieces of Guimard’s landmark Paris Metro entrances), drawings, textiles, ceramics and more.

The building itself, however, is the perennial star of the show with stunningly beautiful woodwork, tilework, marble and more. Especially striking is the Maher Gallery, with its stained glass skylight dome and iridescent stained glass tile fireplace surround.

Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He has be heard on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories, in that station's most popular podcast.