CHICAGO | The iconic pair of bronze lions, created by artist Edward Kemeys, have guarded the entrance to Art Institute of Chicago since 1894. The lions weigh in at more than two tons each and have become symbolic when the City is celebrating; the lions can be seen wearing a holiday wreath in December or, most recently, a Cub’s hat following a championship win in the fall of 2016.
The Art Institute of Chicago is a world-renowned museum for good reason, it is the second-largest in the United States (following The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City), housing more than 300,000 pieces including rotating special exhibitions, and is a permanent home to some of the most famous artworks in the world.
One of the celebrated paintings that you need to see when visiting The Art Institute is Georges Seurat’s A Sunday on La Grande Jatte. The artist used Pointillism to create a scene along the Seine River in suburban Paris, the details are mesmerizing and there are always people surrounding the painting, taking it all in. Another European artist, Claude Monet, has several famed pieces in the museum, including part of his Water Lilies collection which showcase the gardens in his home in Giverny, France. When perusing the American Art Collection in the museum, make sure to take a look at Grant Wood. His American Gothic piece completed in 1930 is one of the most iconic created in the US, depicting a farmer and a woman on a rural farm. The artist has said that this work illustrated his appreciation of the American pioneer spirit during the era of the Great Depression.
Relatively new to The Art Institute, is The Modern Wing, which opened in May of 2009. In contrast to the stone facade along Michigan Avenue’s entrance to the original structure, the addition of the modern wing includes glass, steel, and a green roof. One of the unique parts of the design is the “flying carpet” which filters light into the building. The architecture takes advantage of the natural light at various times of the day in this particular location, providing for a bright atmosphere to enjoy the art while saving electricity. The Modern Wing offers fantastic views of Millennium Park – make sure to look north to catch a glimpse.
The Art Institute was originally a product of the World’s Fair in Chicago in 1893. It served as an auxiliary building for international assemblies and conferences in the opening months of the fair and was eventually converted to the Art Institute, to house an expanding art collection to be showcased at the fair. Check out the Chicago Architecture Foundation’s tours of the museum to learn more about the history. The Campus and Modern Wing Tour offers insight into the building’s unique design.
A long day at the museum is best completed with cocktails or a meal. There are great options within the museum: Terzo Piano is a high-end restaurant located in the Modern Wing, and there are two cafes, offering both indoor and outdoor seating. Nearby, you can’t beat the views and atmosphere at Cindy’s Rooftop and we crave the English Pub fare at The Gage restaurant, housed in the historic Gage Brothers & Co. building at 24 South Michigan Avenue.
More than 1.5 million people pass through the museum each year, so it’s important that you enter the museum with a plan, so as to not miss the exhibitions, galleries, lectures, and performances of your choice. Museum admission is $25, with various discounts for residents and when purchased in combination with other Chicago sights. General admission is free to Illinois residents weekly on Thursdays between 5:00pm and 8:00pm.
If you appreciate art and live near Chicago, various membership levels are offered at The Art Institute, starting at $75/year for students. Membership perks include complimentary admission, discounts at the museum store and restaurants, as well as publications and access to the Member Lounge. Volunteering at the museum is another option, with more than 800 volunteers, there’s so many ways to be involved.
What’s your favorite exhibit or piece of artwork at the Art Institute? Make sure to comment with your recommendations so we can check them out.
Art Institute of Chicago
111 S Michigan Avenue
Telephone: 312 443 3600