Art Museums of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago is renowned for its magnificent, world-class art collections. Two major museums have helped establish this reputation: The Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Contemporary Art.

The Art Institute’s Michigan Avenue building first opened in 1893, and to this day the lion sculptures stationed on either side of the entrance are instantly recognized as symbols of Chicago’s commitment to the arts. Each year thousands of visitors flock to view the museum’s collection comprising masterpieces from ancient to modern times. In 2009, the museum debuted its Modern Wing. Designed by the architect Renzo Piano, this addition makes the Art Institute the second-largest art museum in the United States.

The museum’s European collection boasts more than 3,500 works dating from the twelfth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Major impressionists, post-impressionists, and classic modern artists are among the museum’s most significant holdings. Arguably as iconic as the lions at the museum’s entrance is Georges Seurat’s pointillist masterpiece A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte. The American collection houses one of the best-known paintings in our continent’s history, Grant Wood’s American Gothic. Also on view are significant works by United States painters Mary Cassatt, Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, Jacob Lawrence, Georgia O’Keeffe, and Romare Bearden, and the Mexican painter Diego Rivera.

The Asian collection spans nearly five millennia and includes over 35,000 objects, from household objects of ancient times to nineteenth century woodblock prints, including the familiar Great Wave Off Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai. Other highlights include Chinese and Japanese textiles; Chinese bronzes, ceramics, and jades; and Indian and Southeast Asian sculpture. Smaller but no less exciting is the museum’s collection of African art, with emphasis on the sculpture of West and Central Africa. Masks, figurines, headdresses, ritual objects, ceramics, and furniture reflect the culture and daily life of each nation and region, as well as their unique modes of expression.

With the addition of the Modern Wing, the museum doubled its education facilities. The new Ryan Education Center offers enlarged space where teachers and museum staff can orient student groups during museum visits and where students participate in hands-on art projects.

The Museum of Contemporary Art

The Museum of Contemporary Art has stayed true to its mission since its 1967 founding: “to be an innovative and compelling center of contemporary art where the public can directly experience the work and ideas of living artists, understanding the historical, social, and cultural context of the art of our time.” Its current residence located just east of Michigan Avenue near the old Water Tower, was built in the 1990s, establishing the MCA as one of the largest contemporary art museums in the country.

The museum’s holdings consist of artwork created primarily after 1945. Though the MCA has a strong and varied permanent collection, it does not permanently exhibit many of its pieces. Instead, the galleries are chiefly devoted to rotating exhibits that feature not only the museum’s own collection but other important artwork on the local, national, and international scene.

The MCA’s commitment to all aspects of contemporary art—including painting, sculpture, photography, video, performance, and installations—has helped increase the public’s appetite for works that challenge and expand the definition of art and its place in the world. Artists featured have included the more established contemporary names, such as such as Claes Oldenburg, George Segal, Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, and David Hockney; and artists whose legacies are still being shaped, such as H.C. Westermann, Chuck Close, Richard Hunt, Cindy Sherman, Jeff Koons, and Kerry James Marshall.