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The first few bites of a dessert have the greatest impact.  As you continue eating, your senses get saturated.  The same thing happens when you visit a museum.  It is possible to spend a whole day in a museum but after 90 minutes or so, your feet start to drag and your mind to wander.  And that, my friend, is why you cannot and should not spend more time in an outstanding museum than in a mediocre one.

And that is also why museums should not be charging people $25 to get in.  Museums conserve artifacts but they also have a role to play in educating the public and allowing access to museum pieces.

The Art Institute of Chicago is one of the oldest and largest art museums in the United States.  Its collection is second only to the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s in New York.  Since its beginnings in 1879, it has been connected to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a leading art training ground.  As a result, it developed close relationships with many of its iconic student artists, such as Georgia O’Keefe.

The Art Institute of Chicago is the permanent home of some of the world’s most famous originals.  People are often surprised to learn that the paintings below live in Chicago.

chicago american gothicchicago grande jattechicago hopperchicago renoir

And there are many, many, many, many more that you probably thought were to be found in the Louvre or the Met or the Vatican or the Victoria and Albert.  The Art Institute of Chicago also holds staggering collections of objects in various categories: African, Decorative Arts, Medieval Armour, Byzantine, Public Art, and so on and so forth.

Obviously a single visit to such a collection is an absurdity.  Unfortunately, that’s what some of us have to live with.  For those who have a particular interest in art, history or architecture, with a collection this size, it makes sense to have a plan and to stick to it as much as possible.

The following “must see” things in the museum are based entirely on my personal interests.  If you are in Chicago to see its architecture or public art first hand, a visit to the Art Institute will complement and round out what you are seeing in situ.  Without further ado, in no particular order, my list of highlights:

  • European Impressionism
  • European Post-Impressionism
  • European Modernism
  • European Decorative Arts
  • American Paintings 1900-1955
  • American Modernism
  • American Decorative Arts
  • Architectural Fragments (essential for fans of early skyscrapers)
  • Prairie School
  • Architectural Ornament
  • Chagall Window and Public Art

Let me come back to my point that 90 to 120 minutes is the optimal length of visit.  The price to visit the Art Institute of Chicago is:

  • $25 US/$33 Cdn Adults
  • $19 US/$25 Cdn Seniors/Students/Teens 14-19
  • Free for children under 14

These prices mean that only the most affluent art lovers can enjoy and learn from this world-class museum collection.  Many expensive museums offer a free day once a month or a few free hours per week.  The Art Institute of Chicago offers some free entry dates/times for Illinois residents.

art institute ticket

Citizens of the rest of the world, regardless of how passionately they love art, are out of luck.  Or are they?  Everyone needs a ticket to enter the museum.  Illinois residents will be asked their zip code.  Spit out a valid one, quickly and without hesitation, and that free entrance will be yours.  I chose 60613.  But fair is fair and the museum is a gem of the art world so don’t be a cheapskate.  I would encourage you to make a donation in line with your means to help support the work of the Art Institute of Chicago.  Donation boxes are located inside the museum.  Personally, I think $12 is a fair price.

  • Free weekdays in January/February (January 4 – February 11, 2016)
  • Free Thursdays 5-8 pm all year

Today’s Quote of the Day comes from the International Council of Museums (ICOM):

A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.