Seeking Art Across The Lake: Southwest Michigan


Southwest Michigan is a scenic and creative destination just a short drive from Chicago’s city limits but refreshingly a world away. On the other side of Lake Michigan, the area is known for charming small towns and beautiful beaches. Its unique art scene offers some stellar exhibitions and dynamic institutions. Now that the start of summer is upon us, a day or stay in Michigan is on the list! 

– GV


New Buffalo, over the border from Michigan City (which is in Indiana), is a historic Lake Michigan beach town that has seen rapid development in recent years as many Chicagoans opt to use the freedom of remote work, or retirement, as an excuse to spend more time in Michigan, just 70 miles from Chicago’s downtown. Plans are in the works for Kavi Gupta to open a gallery outpost in summer 2024, just a mile from the late artist Roger Brown’s home and studio. The River Pavilion and Guest House, built in 1977 with Brown’s partner George Veronda, now hosts a year-round residency for students of the School of the Art Institute.

East of New Buffalo is the town of Three Oaks, a “picker’s” dream for sourcing vintage finds and antiques. Several galleries are located here as well. Arbor3arts opened in 2020 and celebrates contemporary female artists creating affordable art and working in a range of mediums. Many have Chicago connections, from Jessica Tampas to Janis Kanter and Maggie Meiners. Next door is Trilogy Antiques; across the street is Judy Ferrara Gallery

Travel north along the lakefront through Union Pier, Lakeside, Harbert and Sawyer along the Red Arrow Highway where many side trips  and diversons beckon. Judith Racht has long led the way for serious art in the area; her eponymous gallery’s focus has been on Outsider Art for years. Local Color Gallery, housed in a converted barn in Union Pier, has featured local artists since the ‘80s.


The Krasl Art Center and Richard Hunt's sculptures


The Krasl Art Center in St. Joseph is a hub for contemporary art, showcasing a range of exhibitions, workshops, and events. They host the lively Art Fair on the Bluff each July. KAC also publishes an online Sculpture Map featuring public art throughout St. Joseph and Benton Harbor. Two soaring sculptures by Richard Hunt, who has a studio nearby, greet visitors to KAC.

Saugatuck and Douglas are popular all year long, in part because there are so many galleries and creative opportunities. Through its affiliation with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the more than 100 year-old Ox-Bow offers one and two-week credit and non-credit courses for beginning, intermediate, and advanced students. The Saugatuck Center for the Arts focuses on contemporary art that engages with social and cultural issues. 

And on the “Art Coast of Michigan” in Douglas J. Petter Galleries blends wine with art, featuring a collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures, jewelry, and glass plus boutique wines, artisan cheeses, and hand-poured chocolates in the onsite wine bar and shop. The gallery is hosting several events this summer in honor of its 50th anniversary.

Many Chicago-based artists have ties to the area, such as Michael Hedges, whose colorful painting fills out the Lower Peninsula of Michigan pictured at the top of this page. Candida Alvarez opened a studio in Baroda, MI during the pandemic. And Anna Kunz has a home/studio in Buchanan.


A the Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Gardens


The immensley impressive Frederik Meijer Gardens and Sculpture Gardens in Grand Rapids is conveniently right off of I-96. The welcome center’s mezmerizing figurative marble walls were sculpted by world reknown artist Jaume Plensa (pictured at left). The sculpture park, inside and out, amazed at each turn. Nina Akamu’s large scale bronze horse from 1998 was as captivating as the history behind the commission. Additional sculptures by Deborah Butterfield, Roxy Paine, Keith Haring, and many others invite visitors to wander the grounds and enjoy fabulous, accessible works meant to be enjoyed in all seasons and by everyone who visits.