The Incredible Art Institute in Chicago

Unfortunately I visited this museum on the last day of my trip to Chicago. Had I known how incredibly huge and impressive it is, I definitely would have dedicated double the time to soak all of it up.

Think of the most famous iconic artwork you can, and it’s probably sitting at the Art Institute. I felt like every corner I turned led me to another piece of art history – everything from “American Gothic” to tons of Picassos to van Gogh’s “The Room” – all of my favorites and a couple of new ones too.

Paris Street; Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte, 1877
American Gothic by Grant Wood, 1930

New favorite! The Eventuality of Destiny by Giorgio de Chirico, 1927

It’s a funny thing finding a painting in a museum that you’ve studied and learned about through slides and textbooks. I imagine meeting up with someone from an online dating site would give you a similar feeling. Because you know so much about this piece and sometimes even the person who made it, which makes meeting it in person kind of phenomenal. Since its appearance never changes, I guess it’s more like meeting an old friend that always surpasses your expectations. 

Whatever the feeling that I can’t do justice describing, it’s one I felt dozens of times at the Art Institute. Three straight floors of glass and slick pale wood was the perfect environment to see the works in; nothing extra where it wasn’t necessary. The rooms and hallways of beauty and masterpieces just kept coming and coming, so I’m just going to focus on my absolute favorites.

Nighthawks by Edward Hopper, 1942

The third floor European Modern Art gallery, from 1900-1950, was one of the greatest collections I’ve seen in so long. It could have been a substantial collection of work all on its own; maybe it’s own mini-museum. There were so many Picasso’s, Mattisse’s, and Dali’s – it always amazes me how much work those artists actually completed over the course of their lives, that they can be featured numerous times in hundreds of museums all around the world.

Detail of van Gogh’s The Room, 1888

American Modern Art was almost as great, well actually it was just as great, but in a different way. It’s really clear how different the styles of those two continents are after seeing these exhibits in succession. Right next to this space on the second floor was the featured exhibition, and when I visited I saw the Roy Lichtenstein retrospective.

I never really appreciated Roy Lichtenstein’s contributions until seeing this show, mostly because it was so hard for me to believe that they were actually oil paintings and not just pop art. But after seeing it as up close as the guards would let me, it was one part surprising and one part impressive to be wrong about how talented that man was. The show works chronologically, allowing us to really see how Lichtenstein developed his style and the different phases he went through during his progression as an artist. My favorite phase came later in his life, when he began to apply his own technique and style to the works of different artists and time periods. It really showed how great Lichtenstein had become – he had created such a unique visual language that could be applied to previous masterpieces, and it was so clear which aspects had come from where.

Masterpiece by Roy Lichtenstein, 1962
Laocoon by Roy Lichtenstein, 1988

Someday soon I’ll visit the Art Institute again. Comment if you’ve been – I want to hear what you thought of it!

You can see more of my pictures from the Art Institute in my Flickr set here

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