Madeleine Grynsztejn’s perfect weekend in Chicago

The Pritzker director of Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) dives into independent bookshops, exhibitions and a colourful food scene

Madeleine Grynsztejn in the gardens of the MCA Chicago
Madeleine Grynsztejn in the gardens of the MCA Chicago | Image: Lyndon French

“After a long week spent travelling to art fairs and exhibitions, there is something quite zen about watching a gorilla relaxing. One of my favourite things to do on Saturday morning is to walk around our neighbourhood, taking an amble through Lincoln Park to the farmers’ market, then on to the Lincoln Park Zoo, where you could explore from sun-up to sundown: it’s possibly my favourite place in the city – for people-watching as well as the amazing variety of animals.

In the afternoon, I catch up on Chicago’s vibrant art scene. I am on the road so much that weekends allow me to fully enjoy the art and architecture that make this city so uniquely urban and urbane. We have amazing cultural spaces, including Theaster Gates’s Stony Island Arts Bank, as well as The Arts Club, the DePaul Art Museum, the Graham Foundation and Wrightwood 659. I’m also excited about getting to know performance artist and sculptor Nick Cave’s new multidisciplinary space, Facility. 

My husband Tom Shapiro and I also love the city’s theatres – from the legendary Steppenwolf to tiny storefronts like Chopin Theatre, where we just saw It is Magic by Mickle Maher, a hilarious mash-up of Macbeth and The Three Little Pigs. We’re smitten with the acrobatic productions by the small-but-mighty Lookingglass theatre – and the fact that we can walk over to the MCA’s Marisol restaurant for an aperitif after a show. The restaurant is a point of pride for me, as the Chris Ofili artwork was commissioned specifically for the space – and the sunflower hummus with homemade crackers is outstanding.

If we are further west, we might go for a late snack of oysters and champagne at The Publican in the Fulton Market area. For special occasions, we’re huge fans of the American-Danish cuisine at Elske – especially their cured hamachi with crispy potatoes and dill pickles, or smoked fjord trout. It’s a place where the atmosphere matches the cuisine: it’s spare, relaxed and a perfect reflection of Chicago. We also love Mi Tocaya Antojería in Logan Square, which is our version of Brooklyn, for the best Mexican food in town.

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Sunday starts with brunch at Lula Café, where Jason Hammel makes things like rhubarb wholewheat French toast and granola strewn with edible flowers. City Lit Books is next door, which is a real bonus. I’m crazy for books and love supporting independent stores such as Women and Children First and Myopic Books. 

Tom and I usually spend the afternoon preparing a meal for friends. Chicago is chock-a-block with amazing people, and we tend to mix in guests who are in town for events at the MCA. Recently we introduced the playwright and actor Anna Deavere Smith to the choreographer and Whitney Biennial sensation Brendan Fernandes and the fashion designer Duro Olowu. We had a wonderful time over rosé, homemade gazpacho and pasta, and a seasonal berry pie from the Hoosier Mama bakery, a Chicago institution. I love expressing my thanks to friends through a delicious meal and an evening of lively discussion.

Afterwards, we might binge on Stranger Things or The Marvellous Mrs Maisel before I pack my bags for the week ahead.”

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