If you find yourself in Chicago, you have to stop in at the Chicago Institute of Art. It’s part of the Chicago City Pass, so it’s a deal that can’t be beat. It consistently ranks as one of the top Chicago tourist destinations with its display of modern American art, as well as collections dating back to the Byzantine period. It’s within walking distance of Millenium Park, which is another must-see for every Chicago tourist. It’s also within walking distance of the Chicago Architecture Foundation, so it’s convenient if you plan to spend a day doing museum tours. The café located inside the Institute is very nice compared to the Field Museum or the Shedd Aquarium; they have a limited selection of wine and desserts, as well as typical lunch fare.
The oxidized bronze lions and the classical Roman architecture make the museum stand out from blocks away. I walked to the Institute after my walking tour of the Art Deco skyscrapers, and it was incredibly easy for me to find. Consumed with the thought I might get turned away for being so casually dressed (I wore jean shorts), but I was happy to find that there was no dress code policy at the Institute. I used my Chicago City Pass to get through the line, which easily saved me an hour’s wait since I went on both a Saturday and during lunch hours. I recommend arriving as early as possible if you don’t get the City Pass; if you don’t want to get stuck waiting for tickets – and don’t forget to bring cash.
There are three floors in the museum, all filled with thousands of pieces of pottery, paintings, and sculptures that come from all over the world. After you purchase tickets you can immediately go into the gift shop, or you can delve into the museum’s collections. The first collection I came upon was the Asian/Hindu sculptures and carvings. I recognized so many of the faces, but seeing the real deal moved me in a way little else has. I could imagine the artist at work, sweating and bleeding in the pursuit of reverence.
From there, I wanted to see the Ancient and Byzantine sculptures and American art first, since I had limited time before I needed to get to the airport. I couldn’t stop staring into the many faces of Antinous, Hercules and Sophocles; I tried to imagine the broken sculptures as a whole, being chiseled by the ancient artisans of the day. The detail in the broken faces and limbs are still pristine, after centuries of travel and exposure to the elements. Their preservation is a testament to both the timeless beauty in the work and the Institute’s conservation practices.
I was pleasantly surprised finding multiple works of Diego Rivera on display, Georgia O’Keefe and the infamous Nighthawks painting. I spent the most time in this part of the museum, fascinated by the brush strokes of the masters. The Art Institute gave me a deeper appreciation for art as a benchmark of history and means of expression.
The next time you’re in Chicago, make time to stop in at the Art Institute. Even if art isn’t your thing, the sheer talent and mastery behind the works will captivate and inspire you.