Art Institute of Chicago

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As the second largest art museum in the United States (behind New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art) the one million square foot Art Institute of Chicago is a monster of an attraction. Featuring work that spans over 5,000 years of human history, this is one of the most comprehensive collections or fine art in the world and a great way to spend a windy day in Chicago.

History

The Art Institute of Chicago traces its history back to the 19th century when a group of 35 local artists sought to create a European-style art academy called the Chicago Academy of Design. With a charter granted in 1867, this is one of the oldest fine arts institutions in the U.S.

The original home of the Academy was located at a small studio on Dearborn Street. In addition to displaying a small collection, the Academy offered classes at the price of $10 per month. Its immediate success warranted a move to a five-story building on West Adams Street only a few years later in 1870.

The fate of the Chicago Academy of Design as it was originally founded was not meant to be, however, as debt caused by the destruction of the West Adams Street building in the Great Chicago Fire caused the Academy to fail. Its collections were immediately acquired at auction by the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts in 1879, however, allowing the concept of those original 35 artists to live on in a new form. The new academy officially changed its name to the Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) in 1882. That same year it bought a lot on the corner of Van Buren and Michigan Avenues to use as its new facilities.

1892 offered yet another advance to the AIC with the coming of the World’s Columbian Exposition to Chicago. Given the press coming from the Exhibition, the Institute pushed for a new location on the lakefront. Using funds generated from the sale of the original Michigan Avenue property, the new location of the AIC was established at 111 South Michigan Avenue. The building was officially opened on 31 October 1893; it still stands there today.

Over the years, curators of the AIC have made several improvements and advancements to the Institute itself as well as the art community at large. This includes the work of Hugh Edwards in the 1960s to gain a place for documentary and artistic photography within the halls of art galleries worldwide. Curator James N. Wood also made major acquisitions for the AIC’s collections which included exhibitions of works by the likes of Van Gogh, Gauguin, and Monet which also served to set records for museum attendance in the 1980s and 1990s. Shortly after Wood retired in 2004, the AIC underwent major renovations which included an expansion called the “Modern Wing.” This was a major contribution to its title as the second largest art museum in the U.S. Opening on 16 May 2009, the Modern Wing added 264,000 square feet of exhibit space to AIC and is dedicated to artists of the 20th and 21st centuries.

Main Attraction

The holdings of the AIC span over 5,000 years of human history and include works from just about every culture in the world. Briefly, this includes more than 260,000 works of art from ancient Japanese prints to works from up-and-coming (and yet-unknown) young artists of the 21st century.

AIC is best known for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist work as well as American paintings. This include more than 30 works from Claude Monet as well as much-loved names that include Renoir, Matisse, Cezanne, Toulouse-Lautrec, and George Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, the painting which inspired the musical Sunday in the Park with George.

AIC is located between Grant Park and Millennium Park and offers its guests four floors of galleries that could constitute a vacation itself. For those with limited time at AIC, mini tours which can be downloaded onto smartphones, give some direction as well as inside looks at some of the most famous pieces in the collection.

Children under the age of 14 are admitted to AIC free of charge and there are additional activities as well as a touch gallery designed especially for younger visitors just beginning to appreciate the world of art. As an educational institution, AIC also offers resources for all age groups from toddlers to teens and beyond. The AIC also includes the renown Ryerson and Burnham Libraries and associated Reading Rooms.

Why It’s a Must-See

The Art Institute of Chicago is more than just another art museum; it is one of the premier art museums in the country. With opportunities for all ages to engage head on with some of the greatest art created by all cultures throughout human artistic history, it offers more chances for learning, exploration, and fun than most other art museums in the country, and stands out among Chicago’s bevy of cultural institutions.

Where to Buy It

There are a number of ways you can enjoy admission to this attraction.

Save up to 20% online at Smart Destinations. If you add more than one attraction to the cart, you will get an automatic savings of up to 20%. It’s called Make Your Own Pass.

Pay Full Price and purchase a ticket from Art Institute of Chicago either online or in person.

Purchase a Tourist pass. The Art Institute of Chicago is available on the Go Chicago Card and Chicago CityPass.