The Art Institute of Chicago

First thing’s first, there are two very good reasons why I wanted to visit The Art Institute of Chicago:

Still from the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986

As you can see, I’m a fan of the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. I’ve also always wanted to see the work American Gothic by Grant Wood. Both did not disappoint. Now for a few more details about our visit.

Ticket Tip

We arrived at The Institute when it opened, 10.30 am. It was a particularly rainy and grim day so I was expecting quite a crowd. As soon as we entered the building, it became clear that pre-booking our tickets was the right move. The line (for a Monday) was almost out the door! We were able to walk past the huge crowd and go straight into the exhibitions. Cannot stress enough how grateful you’ll be if you pre-book.

In saying this, you do have to select a date when booking tickets online. If you don’t like feeling locked in, fair enough. It is, however, worth it.

Maps

Right at the entrance of The Institute is an information counter where you can find visitor maps. I did find the map a bit confusing as it often didn’t match the actual layout. For example, on the map there were a few long straight corridors that looked easy to follow. However, the corridors ended up having a few twists and turns along the way. For this reason, I strongly recommend following the signs displayed in The Institute and referring to the map for specific highlights.

Tours

We had hoped to join an overall highlights tour so we could get orientated and not miss anything significant. Unfortunately, it seems as though these tours are few and far between. There was a highlights tour available, but, just of the modern gallery.

We had a look at the events page handed to us at the entrance and were a little confused by the highlight tours. In terms of overall tours, they all seem to be quite late in the afternoon with none in the morning. I much preferred how the Philadelphia Museum of Art and Getty Museum operated with a morning highlights tour. If you are hoping to catch one, double check times on the website before visiting.

Audience

The Institute has made a concerted effort to appeal to a wide audience. There are monthly free teen hang out sessions and teen audio guides on offer. How popular they are is a good question. We also noticed a very large number of visiting education groups. One thing is clear, The Institute attracts a huge international audience.

Chances are, no matter where you’re visiting from, your age or learning style, there will be something on offer to suit. That is except for highlight tours.

Highlights

Apart from a few glitches, The Institute is an incredible place to explore. Here are the twelve highlights recommended. Note: we didn’t get around to seeing all of them.

1. Andõ Gallery

2. The Assumption of the Virgin, El Greco, 1577

This work was originally above an altar in Toledo. It depicts angels welcoming Mary as she rises from her grave.

3. Armour for Man and Horse

4. A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, Georges Seurat, 1884

Imagine spending your afternoon relaxing on the La Grande Jatte island in the Seine River. This work is a prime example of pointillism – using patterns of small coloured dots to build an image. The term pointillism appears on the artwork label but is not explained. It continues to frustrate me how art galleries write their labels, but, I won’t go down that path yet again.

5. Stacks of Wheat, Claude Monet, 1891

6. Sky above Clouds IV, Georgia O’Keeffe

7. American Gothic, Grant Wood, 1930

Artist Grant Wood was in Eldon, Iowa when he found a house built in the style of Carpenter Gothic. It inspired him to paint this work. In the image are his sister (Nan Wood) and dentist (Dr McKeeby). They are portrayed here as clinging onto the old America – a couple stuck in the past and conforming to their gendered roles. You have probably seen this image parodied many times.

8. Nightlife, Archibald J. Motley Jnr., 1943

A work highlighting the vibrancy of African American culture in Chicago. Motley plays with artificial light to capture the liveliness of the scene.

9. America Windows, Marc Chagall, 1975

After World War II, Chagall began experimenting with stained glass. These windows are a merge of Chicago and wider American identity.

10. The Old Guitarist, Pablo Picasso, 1903-1904

Painted during a time when Picasso preferred cool blue tones, the Old Guitarist represents Picasso’s sympathy for the downtrodden in society.

11. City Landscape, Joan Mitchell, 1955

This painting reflects the lights of a metropolitan city. The use of colour is quite striking and it definitely captures the effect of all city lights combining together at night.

12. Liz #3, Andy Warhol, 1963

Personal Highlights

While I agree with the twelve highlights on the map, there are some others that stood out to me. Hence why we didn’t get around to seeing all the ‘official’ highlights.

1. Nighthawks, Edward Hopper, 1942

I absolutely love this work. It captures the emotion of loneliness so well by being both beautiful yet sad to observe. I had this image as my desktop background for so long when I was younger so it was really great to see in person.

2. Thorne Miniature Room Gallery, Mrs James Ward Thorne

This is quite an amazing collection to stumble across in the basement. Originally, Thorne created these displays of miniature rooms to showcase her collection of miniature furniture. Over time, and due to exposure at World Fairs, she was commissioned to create more. In total, 68 rooms were donated to The Institute and continue to be on permanent display. It’s hard to judge their size from the images but think of a small room from a standard dollhouse.

Pullman Observation Car, World’s Columbian Exposition, 1893 Chicago
California Hallway, 1940

French Library, 1720

3. Artist’s Studio “Foot Medication”, Roy Lichtenstein, 1974

It’s a fun painting that spoke to me because of all the walking we’ve done this holiday.

4. Summer, Joan Snyder, 1970

I’m always drawn to paintings/images that portray colour palettes. That’s pretty much why I’ve included this work on my list.

Additional Information

The Art Institute of Chicago is open daily from 10.30 am to 5 pm (Thursday until 8 pm). It is a fully accessible museum with a couple of cafes and museum shop onsite. If you are visiting more than one museum in Chicago I’d recommend looking into a CityPass card. Finally, the Museum is located on the edge of Millennium Park. So, after, or before your visit, take the time to wander through the park and see other sights such as Cloudgate.

Author: Rebecca Lush

Curator, Integrated Pathology Learning Centre.

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