One thing most people don’t know about me is that I minored in Art History in undergrad. Here’s how it happened. One quarter, I stumbled into an Introduction to Art History course because it suited my schedule and fulfilled a fine arts requirement. I enjoyed it so much, the next quarter I took another, and another, and another. Next thing I knew, I was picking my study abroad programs based on Art History courses (I chose Rome) and by the end of school, I had accumulated enough credits to declare it as a minor.
I even interned at the Museum of Contemporary Art of San Diego to explore the area further. While I didn’t pursue a career in the arts industry, it remains one of my biggest passion areas in life.
As such, when I accepted my Booth offer of admission, one of the things I was most excited about (besides Booth itself) was the prospect of living so closely to The Art Institute. I had visited the museum before and was blown away by the collection. So many of the paintings I studied throughout undergrad are housed there. Simply put, it’s one of the world’s finest museums and it’s a stone’s throw away from where the majority of Boothies live in The Loop.
Imagine my joy when I found out that as University of Chicago students, we get free admission to the museum.
Having visited the museum about 10 times now, I’ve officially perfected my tour and so I want to share it with you all to help you maximize your route for seeing the best of the collection.
Let me begin by sharing the ultimate pro tip – before you go, download The Art Institute app and pack your headphones. It’s a free audio guide and you can search for individual pieces by the numbers designated on their labels to learn more about them.
When arriving at The Art Institute I recommend you enter at The Modern Wing which is the entrance is closest to where most Boothies live and is usually less crowded than the main entrance. Show your UChicago ID and collect your free ticket.
Now that you’re inside, follow my ideal route:
First Stop: The Modern Wing
Head to the 3rd Floor – Start at my favorite piece in the entire museum, the gorgeous and huge Picabia painting, Edtaonisl (Ecclesiastic). Be sure the read the label to learn more about the cheeky story behind the painting. Stroll onwards to the Picasso collection to take in the range of his style.
Head to the 2nd Floor – Take in the amazing, colorful, and emotional modern works by De Kooning, Pollock and Rothko. Don’t forget to see the room that I call Warhol Women (three paintings featuring powerful women from Jackie O to Liz Taylor to Mona Lisa).
Use the 2nd floor walk way to cross over from the Modern Wing to the Main Wing and towards the Impressionist masterpieces. (FUN FACT, did you know The Art Institute has the largest collection of Impressionist works outside of Paris).
Second Stop: Impressionist and Post-Impressionists
The first major sight to see in this section is the Monet room. It’s nothing short of beautiful.
Keep walking inwards and you’ll see crowds gathering around the Van Gogh’s on your right, but don’t miss some very famous pieces by Toulouse-Lautrec on the left hand side.
Next up, the big boys: Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte (or the pointy painting from “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and Caillebotte’s Paris Street; Rainy Day. These pieces are all encompassing in their scale and are very impressive
Now, I know this isn’t a very good tour guide move, but you’ll want to turn back and go the way you just came from. Yes, pass by Van Gogh and Monet again until you get to the staircase that you walked by earlier. From there, head downstairs and make your way to your next stop in the oldest part of the museum.
Third Stop: Modern American Art
I have three personal favorite pieces housed in this section that I’d love to invite you to check out:
- American Gothic – one of the most iconic and satirized images of all time. You’ll recognize it instantly.
- Nighthawks – when looking at this piece, ask yourself, do you find this lonely and cold or warm and cozy? Search the piece on the museum app to hear the artists intent for the work (I won’t spoil it for you).
- Nightlife – The most charming piece in all of the museum. It captures the soul of Chicago’s jazz scene and resembles my favorite blues bar in town, Blue Chicago.
At this point, you’re probably getting pretty tired. However, you’ve got one more iconic piece to see: Chagall’s stained glass windows.
Final Stop: America Windows by Chagall
Your last stop on my tour is Chagall’s stain glass windows designed especially for The Art Institute. The colors are mesmerizing and you’ll pass the incredible Greek and Roman Statues Hall to get there.
So there you have it, my handcrafted tour of one of the best museums in the world. We only scratched the surface here, but I hope this will be a good start for you. After that, you may be a bit tired and so you can grab a coffee at one of my favorite nearby spots Dollop, Fairground or Intelligentsia. Cheers!
P.S. For my fellow art loving Boothies or prospective Boothies, you’ll also be pleased to know that Booth offers a course called: Arts Leadership: Exemplary is Not Enough. The class takes the perspective of various executive positions within arts institutions (museums, theatres, dance companies and more). I’m taking it this quarter and really enjoying it. Stay tuned on my write up of my favorite classes at Booth to read my review.