The Art Institute of Chicago boasts one of the finest holdings in the United States of medieval and Renaissance art, but the public hasn’t been able to see much of it in recent years. That will dramatically change March 20 with the opening of the 8,000-square-foot Deering Family Galleries, which will house nearly 700 objects, including new acquisitions and works that have not been shown since the 1980s.

“This is wonderful material that is very exciting in the way that it is coming together, and we think people will really enjoy it,” said Martha Wolff, curator of European painting and sculpture before 1750.

"Dish (Coppa Amatoria)," about 1530/45. Italian, Urbino or Castel Durante. | Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.

“Dish (Coppa Amatoria),” about 1530/45. Italian, Urbino or Castel Durante. | Courtesy The Art Institute of Chicago, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.

Of particular interest will be the return of the museum’s popular arms and armor collection to comprehensive view after a decade or so. Two mounted, armor-clad figures will highlight the grand Armor Court, which will also include an array of swords, crossbows, firearms and other implements of battle and sport.

The rest of the display, titled “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe,” will encompass not just paintings and sculptures but also functional objects like textiles, illuminated manuscripts and stained glass. They will be presented in architectural environments with a sense of their social and historical context.

“It’s really going to suggest atmosphere and the life of the time,” Wolff said, “which is something different from what we do in the museological sequence of the galleries on Michigan Avenue.”

The Deering Family Galleries will be located on the re-opened second floor of the Morton Wing, which is part of the Art Institute’s complex at 111 S. Michigan, (visit artic.edu).

Through May 7, “Kings and Queens: Pinball, Imagists and Chicago,” Elmhurst Art Museum, 150 Cottage Hill Ave., Elmhurst (visit elmhurstartmuseum.org). This fun, imaginative exhibition brings together two great Chicago exports – locally built pinball machines from the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s and works by Imagists like Roger Brown, Gladys Nilsson and Karl Wirsum who were inspired by them. A bonus is the opportunity to play pinball on some of the machines.

Through June 11, “Vostell Concrete 1969-1973,” University of Chicago, Smart Museum of Art, 5550 S. Greenwood, (visit smartmuseum.uchicago.edu). Following four years of conservation, Wolf Vostell’s 46-year-old sculpture, “Concrete Traffic,” a 1957 Cadillac de Ville encased in concrete, was moved to its permanent home at the University of Chicago on Sept. 30. This context-setting show, which features nearly 50 works by the Fluxus artist in a range of media, is part of a series of related exhibitions and other events, titled “Concrete Happenings.”

Through July 30, “Wall of Respect,” Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington (visit chicagoculturalcenter.org), through Oct. 31; “Project RESPECT,” DuSable Museum of African American History, 740 E. 56th Place (visit dusablemuseum.org); and April 21-June 18, “The Wall of Respect and Chicago’s Mural Movement,” Northwestern University, Block Museum of Art, 40 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston, (visit blockmuseum.northwestern.edu). The Wall of Respect, a now-lost mural depicting such notable African-American figures as John Coltrane, Ossie Davis and Sarah Vaughan, was unveiled in 1967 on the side of a building at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue. These three exhibitions mark the 50th anniversary of this important milestone in Chicago’s public-art history.

"Arrangement in Grey and Black No, 1," most famously known as "Whistler's Mother," the iconic James Abbott McNeill Whistler painting, is returning to Chicago for the first time in 60 years. | COURTESY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

“Arrangement in Grey and Black No, 1,” most famously known as “Whistler’s Mother,” the iconic James Abbott McNeill Whistler painting, is returning to Chicago for the first time in 60 years. | COURTESY THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO

March 4-May 21, “Whistler’s Mother: An American Icon Returns to Chicago,” Art Institute of Chicago, (visit artic.edu). James McNeill Whistler’s “Arrangement in Grey and Black No.1,” or as it is colloquially known, “The Artist’s Mother,” is one of the most iconic American paintings of the 19th century. Housed at the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, it will be shown in Chicago for first time in more than 60 years in a small, focused exhibition that includes related paintings, prints, drawings, posters and ephemera.

Ai Weiwei, New York Photographs, 1983-1993, Ai Weiwei. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1983.

Ai Weiwei, New York Photographs, 1983-1993, Ai Weiwei. Williamsburg, Brooklyn, 1983.

April 13-July 2, “#AiWeiwei,” Museum of Contemporary Photography, Columbia College Chicago, 600 S. Michigan, (visit mocp.org). One of China’s best-known artists and most ardent dissenters, Ai was held in secret detainment in 2011 by government authorities for 81 days. On view in his first solo exhibition in Chicago will be photo-based works ranging from his early images of New York and Beijing to his current activism on social media, including several series that will be seen for the first time in the United States.

April 12-Sept. 4, “Betwixt-and-Between: Henry Darger’s Vivian Girls,” Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art, 756 N. Milwaukee, (visit art.org). Not only perhaps the most celebrated outsider artist to emerge from Chicago, Darger ranks among the city’s most recognized artists of any kind. Intuit is marking the 125th anniversary of this provocative creator’s birth with a series of five exhibitions, including this show, which examines the Vivian girls, some of the best known if most puzzling characters in his highly complex, narrative scenes.

April 15-Aug. 20, “Tania Pérez Córdova: Smoke, Nearby,” Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago, (visit mcachicago.org). “Can an object be an event? If the answer is ‘yes’, then what kind of event might it be? Has it happened already, or will it occur in the future? Has it occurred here, or elsewhere?” According to frieze.com critic Colin Perry, these are some of the questions posed in the sculptural work of Córdova, who will featured be in her first solo museum exhibition in the United States.

Jim Dine, "Coming from the Darkness, I Hear Your Laugh!," 2016. | COURTESY RICHARD GRAY GALLERY

Jim Dine, “Coming from the Darkness, I Hear Your Laugh!,” 2016. | COURTESY RICHARD GRAY GALLERY

April 28-June 10, Jim Dine, Richard Gray Gallery, 2044 W. Carroll, (visit richardgraygallery.com) One of Chicago’s oldest and most prestigious galleries is opening a 5,000-square-foot exhibition space in a renovated, late 19th-century warehouse in the West Town neighborhood. To inaugurate this new location, the gallery is hosting an exhibition of large-scale paintings by Dine, who came to fame during the Pop Art movement in the 1960s.

"The City" by Bettina Pousttchi. | COURTESY OF THE ARTS CLUB OF CHICAGO

“The City” by Bettina Pousttchi. | COURTESY OF THE ARTS CLUB OF CHICAGO

May 18-Aug. 5, Bettina Pousttchi, Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario, (visit artsclubchicago.org). The Berlin-based artist is best known for her massive photographic installations in which she re-imagines entire building facades in eye-opening and unexpected ways. In this indoor exhibition, she will draw on the history of the institution and its setting in downtown Chicago, blending photography, sculpture and architecture.

June 6-Sept. 24, “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. (visit mcachicago.org) With his hugely popular, animé-inspired creations and his collaborations with Louis Vuitton and pop icon Kanye West, Murakami is easily one of the best-known artists in the world. This major retrospective, likely to be one of the biggest events of the year in the Chicago art world, will feature 50 paintings spanning three decades of his career, many being shown in North America for the first time.

Kyle MacMillan is a local freelance writer.