on October 31, 2006
From its very humble begins as the Chicago Academy of Design in 1866, the Art Institute of Chicago has grown into a world-class Art Museum and School. It has hosted many traveling exhibits over the years, in addition to its own very fine collection. The current main building was designed in 1893 by the Boston firm of Shepley, Rutan, and Coolidge. The building has been expanded and added to over the years but still holds true to its neoclassical design. What they are known for in particular is their collection of Impressionists, both American and French. Though their first major acquisition was a collection of Dutch masters. Visiting here does not come cheap, with entrance at $12 a person. Thursday evenings from 5 to 8pm are free. In addition, you will want to take the headphone tour, which is an additional $6. There are discounted rates for seniors and children. There is a special tour, especially for children. We accidentally listen to several of the offerings, and they are very good. We found the director's tour particularly interesting.Let me begin by saying this is a beautiful museum, and the rooms are light and bright and well set up. Having said that, this has got to be the most confusing museum I have ever visited. Because it is made up of several different buildings, the flow is not easy. It is very difficult to find some of the galleries, and the maps are not much help. There are two different sets of elevators to the upper floors, and to see the full collections you need to use both of them. Don’t be afraid to ask for directions. We began our visit in the café, which is in the far rear of the lower floor. When we left, it seemed natural to view what was the closest which was the ancient art section. There was a beautiful collection of Egyptian, Greek, and Roman items. I am always in awe of the glassware that has survived 2,000 years; mine at home seldom survives 10 years. The audio tour was our guide to the import pieces in the collection.From here, we passed through a small exhibit of Renaissance jewelry, which led right into the modern furniture of Frank Lloyd Wright. The desk is of particular interest, since he didn’t do a lot of office furniture and this was done for the Johnson Wax Co.There is a particularly nice section of American historic paintings and furniture. It is done very well and highlights the work of Winslow Homer on one whole wall. If you have ever wondered where Grant Wood’s "American Gothic" is located, look no further. The Old Masters Collection is very deep here. Two Rembrandts, Rubens, Goya, Cranach, and much more. Allow 3 or more hours for your visit here.Go to Art Institute for general information. The Art Institute does not have its own parking—keep that in mind.
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