Art Institute of Chicago

Along with the Science and Industry Museum and the Field Museum of Natural History, the Art Institute of Chicago is probably among Chicago’s top 3 museums.  Additionally, it probably ranks among the best art museums in the United States.  Fortunately, for Illinois residents, the Museum is participating in Illinois’ free museum days.  That means that admission for Illinois residents will be free there until March 4th.  However, throughout the entire year, the Museum also has a free evening each week for Illinois residents.  Although the free evening has not always been the same day of the week, currently, it is on Wednesdays from 5:00 to 8:00 P.M.

The Art Institute of Chicago originally began as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879, which provided both art education and art displays.  When Chicago won the bid to host the 1893 World’s Fair, known as the World’s Columbian Exposition, it decided to build the current structure of the Art Institute of Chicago, in order to impress visitors.  Ever since then, the Museum’s collection and reputation has continued to grow, as has its affiliated university, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC).

The Art Institute of Chicago’s strongest collections are from Europe and the United States.  For example, the Art Institute of Chicago probably has the largest collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings (such as Monet and Van Gogh) outside of France.  Despite the majority of the art being from Europe or the United States (including some Native American art), there are some sections specifically focused on East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa.  Additionally, there is an even smaller section with archaeology.  These are all on the main floor.

If you visit the Art Institute of Chicago, you must visit the Thorne Miniature Rooms.  They are made up of 68 dollhouse-like rooms, each with extensive details of homes from different time periods.  A wealthy woman named Narcissa Thorne designed them between 1937-1940, and donated them to the Museum.  This collection is located in the basement of the Museum, so is often overlooked by visitors.  It is also worth visiting the Arms and Armor room on the second floor. 

Grant Wood’s famous painting, “American Gothic” can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago on the second floor.  You can also visit the painting used in the 1945 film The Picture of Dorian Gray, which is based on the 1891 novel of the same name, by the Irish author Oscar Wilde.  I will not provide further information about it, because it is worth reading and watching. 

In 2009, the Art Institute of Chicago added a Modern Wing, which houses most of the contemporary art.  My favorite art piece there is “White Crucifixion,” which was painted by the French-Jewish artist, Marc Chagall, in 1938.  What I especially find fascinating about it is that it was painted in 1938, right before the outbreak of WWII and the Holocaust.  The painting depicts Jesus in the center, with a Jewish prayer shawl (tallit) as a loincloth, thus emphasizing his Jewishness.  Surrounding him are difference scenes of Jewish persecution in Europe.  One way to interpret this painting is that Chagall was reminding people that, if they are persecuting Jews, it is like persecuting Jesus, who was himself Jewish. 

If you like art, and are in Chicago, then the Art Institute of Chicago is worth the visit.

Sources and Further Reading

“American Gothic.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/6565/american-gothic (accessed January 25, 2020).

Dillon, Diane. “Art Institute of Chicago.” Encyclopedia of Chicago, 2005. http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/79.html (accessed February 23, 2020).

Kogan, Rick. “Thorne Rooms Full of Small Wonders.” Chicago Tribune, December 3, 2012. https://www.chicagotribune.com/entertainment/ct-xpm-2012-12-03-chi-kogan-sidewalks-thorne-rooms-20121130-story.html (accessed February 23, 2020).

“Mission and History.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/about-us/mission-and-history (accessed January 25, 2020).

“Picture of Dorian Gray.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/93798/picture-of-dorian-gray (accessed February 23, 2020).

“Thorne Miniature Rooms.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/departments/PC-15/thorne-miniature-rooms (accessed January 25, 2020).

“White Crucifixion.” Art Institute of Chicago. https://www.artic.edu/artworks/59426/white-crucifixion (accessed February 23, 2020).