Art Institute of Chicago: The Museum
Contrary to the opinion of many a Chi-town fashionista, Michigan Avenue’s most treasured goods do not lie behind the doors of its many high-end clothing stores. Instead they reside in a sprawling building with an entrance guarded by two impervious-looking bronze lions. The goods in question are over 260,000 pieces of art, ranging from paintings and sculptures to antique furniture and china; and the building that houses them, a work of art itself, is the Art Institute of Chicago.
Founded in 1897 as both a museum and school, the Art Institute has grown to become the second largest art museum in the country after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. It hosts over 40 exhibitions and upwards of 1,400 special events and programs each year and boasts an impressive permanent collection of work that spans 5,000 years of human artistic expression. Meandering through its one million square feet of space, one sometimes feels lost in a never ending maze that reveals a new masterful work of art with every turn.
The Art Institute is widely known for its large collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist pieces, but its extensive repertoire offers something for everyone, regardless of your knowledge of art history. The piece most associated with the Institute is Georges-Pierre Seurat’s Neo-Impressionist work entitled Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (1884-1886). This large piece, a poster-child for the pointillism technique of painting which creates shapes using small dots of color, is prominently displayed near the top of the grand staircase. Other famous pieces that are likely recognized by art connoisseurs and laymen alike include Claude Monet’s Water Lilies, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s At the Moulin Rouge, Vincent Van Gough’s Self Portrait, 1987, and Grant Wood’s American Gothic.
Though people often flock to the museum for the paintings, its many other unique collections should not be overlooked. Some highlights include the Thorne Miniature rooms, which are small (obviously shocking due to their name), accurately scaled dioramas that showcase architectural, furniture, and design trends from the Middle Ages through the 1930’s, and the extensive collection of Medieval European armor. The Art Institute also houses a comprehensive collection of African-American art that charts the journeys and struggles of African Americans over the years.
On May 16, 2009 the Art Institute opened the architecturally stunning and environmentally friendly Modern Wing. The new wing, which has a more spacious and contemporary feel than the rest of the museum, is the permanent home to almost 1,000 works of 20th century art created by masters such as Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Willem de Kooning. In case the brilliant artworks and avant-garde architecture are not enough to hold your interest, there’s an escape route via the Nichols Bridgeway which connects the Modern Wing’s rooftop sculpture garden with a courtyard in the neighboring Millennium Park.
More than just a museum, the Art Institute is also a catalyst for learning. Its highly regarded accredited school, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), offers classes at both undergraduate and graduate levels for students pursuing degrees in the arts. Its Ryerson & Burnham Libraries possess books and resources that explore all facets of art history and are open to the public. Additionally, family programs and workshops geared toward children ages 3-19 are offered throughout the year.
The Art Institute accommodates guests of all ages and capabilities. For a fee, audio guides may be rented and listened to as one walks through the museum. Several different versions of the audio tours are available, including one for children ages 5 – 10 and one in Spanish. Audio tours are free for visually impaired visitors and their companions. For groups of 15 or more, tours guided by a museum docent are available. Several check rooms, shops, and cafes are located throughout the museum for guests’ convenience.
Regardless of your interest in art, visiting the Art Institute is a unique Chicago experience and should not be missed!
Address: 111 S. Michigan Avenue
L: Brown, Green, Orange, Pink, and Purple lines all stop above ground at Adams/Wabash. The Red and Blue lines stop underground at Monroe, just a few blocks away.
Bus: #1, #3, #4, #6, #7, #14, #26, #X28, #126, #145, #147, #148, #151,
For more detailed directions, click here.
Admission Hours & Prices:
Thursday, 10:30–8:00 (Free Admission 5:00–8:00)
Children, Students, and Seniors (65 and up): $12
Children under 14: Free