The Art Institute of Chicago

111 South Michigan Avenue , Chicago
Illinois, United States
Phone: +1 (312) 443-3600
closed on: Open daily except Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day
Museum Type: Art, Decorative arts / Handicraft

The Art Institute of Chicago is an art museum, the second largest in the United States, which conserves and displays an encyclopedic collection of artworks and objects of decorative arts spanning nearly 5,000 years.

History and building
The Art Institute of Chicago was founded in 1879 as both a school and a museum with the name Chicago Academy of Fine Arts and took its current name three years later.
The institute is aimed to “collect, preserve, and interpret works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, for the inspiration and education of the public”.

In 1893, the institution moved to its current location in Grant Park, in a new neoclassical building designed by architects Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. The two popular bronze lions which flank the museum entrance on South Michigan Avenue were installed in 1898 after a design by American sculptor Edward Kemeys.


The facade of the 1893 building on South Michigan Avenue with the two lion sculptures by Edward Kemeys; photo courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago


The Women’s Board Grand Staircase, located after the entrance hall, built in 1910; photo Mike Norton

Over time, through gifts and acquisitions, the museum evolved from a plaster cast collection into one of the world-leading museums of art, while progressively expanding and renovating its home with the additions of the McKinlock Jr. Memorial Court (1924), the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman Theater (1925), the B. F. Ferguson Memorial Building (1958), the Morton Wing (1962), the East Wing in the 1970s, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Building (1988), the Japanese Screens Gallery – designed by Tadao Ando in 1992, and the Kraft Education Center opened in 1993. The latest, imposing expansion of the Chicago Art Institute, the Modern Wing, was completed in 2009 after a design by renowned Italian architect Renzo Piano.


Site plan with the Art Institute of Chicago on the left (old building and South Michigan Avenue above and Modern Wing bottom-right) and Millenium Park with the curvilinear Pritzker Pavilion designed by Frank Gehry facing the Modern Wing on the right; image © RPBW

On 264,000 square feet, Piano’s expansion accommodates a new double-height entrance lobby; the Ryan Education Center; the museum gift shop; temporary exhibition rooms; spaces for the museum collections of 20th- and 21st-century art, architecture, design, and photography; and a garden.

The new building is mostly made of steel and glass, a reference to the architecture of Chicago’s skyscrapers, with the addition of solid limestone walls which visually links it to the architecture of the 1893 building of the Institute.

As in other works by Piano, light, and transparency played a crucial role in the design of the museum expansion. The exhibition galleries on the upper floors of the Modern Wing are naturally lit through a semi-transparent light-filtering glass and aluminum roof, dubbed Flying Carpet, similar to that designed by Piano for the Pinacoteca Agnelli in Turin and, although at a lesser extent, to those of the Beyeler Foundation in Basel and the Menil Collection in Houston.

The Modern Wing can be reached from Millenium Park through a 620-foot-long footbridge, the Nichols Bridgeway, which crosses the park and leads to the upper floor of the museum.


View of Modern Wing from Millennium Park. Photo credit: Charles G. Young, Interactive Design Architects




Art Institute of Chicago, Modern Wing, north elevation,  general section, and transverse section; images © RPBW


The Art Institute of Chicago. Flying Carpet. Photo by Dave Jordano


The Modern Wing, view from Nichols Bridgeway; photo by Dave Jordano


Modern Wing, interior view, photo Bill Dickinson

As mentioned earlier, the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago is encyclopedic by nature; it comprises about 300,000 pieces dating from the third millennium B.C. to the present.

The collection encompasses various art, design, and decorative arts subjects: African, American, and Asian art; Ancient and Byzantine art; Indian art of the Americas; European Painting and Sculpture; Modern and Contemporary art; Photography; Prints and Drawings; Miniatures; Architecture and Design; European Decorative Arts; Arms and Armor; and Textiles.

The fine art collection includes notable holdings, with remarkable works by Correggio, Perugino, El Greco, Antonio Canova, John Singer Sargent, James McNeill Whistler, Grant Wood (including his famous painting American Gothic), Georgia O’Keeffe, Claude Monet (including one of his Water Lilies), Paul Cézanne, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Vincent van Gogh (including one of his three Bedroom in Arles), Georges Seurat, Paul Gauguin, Henri Matisse (including Bathers by a River), Wassily Kandinsky, Constantin Brâncusi, Pablo Picasso (including the Old Guitarist), Paul Klee, Edvard Munch, Man Ray, René Magritte, Salvador Dalí, Joan Miró, Edward Hopper, Diego Rivera, Jasper Johns, Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, Ellsworth Kelly, Cy Twombly. Gerhard Richter, and Bruce Nauman, among others.


Vincent Van Gogh, Bedroom in Arles, 1889, Oil on Canvas;  image courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago


Grant Wood, American Gothic, 1930, Oil on Beaver Board; image courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago


Gerhard Richter, Woman Descending the Staircase (detail), 1965. oil on canvas; courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Yet, after visiting the famous collections of American and European fine arts, we invite the visitor to take their time to explore all the Chicago Art Institute’s galleries – including those dedicated to Asian and African art, decorative arts, design, and architecture, which are truly worth their worldwide fame.


Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago


Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), from the series “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjûrokkei)”, c. 1830 – 1831. Color woodblock print; The Art Institute of Chicago, Clarence Buckingham Collection


Gallery of African Art; courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Activities at the Art Institute of Chicago includes temporary exhibitions, lectures, talks, concerts, live performances, screenings, special events, and learning programs and workshops for people of all ages.

In 1956, the institute established a Department of Conservation for the care and state-of-the-art restoration of its artworks and artifacts.

The museum complex includes a library specialized in art and architecture – the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries – three gardens, a gourmet restaurant, two cafes, and a shop.


The Art Institute of Chicago. The Franke Reading Room at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries; courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago


South Stanley McCormick Memorial Garden; courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Cover photo by Nic Lehoux

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copyright Inexhibit 2023 - ISSN: 2283-5474