Art Institute of Chicago Modern Wing

I visited the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago. If I had been there a week earlier I would have taken advantage of the free day, sponsored by our friends at Target. Did you know that Target partners with museums and cultural facilities around the country offering free days? This is an excellent example of good corporate citizenry. I find it more universally suited than Wal-Mart’s “Labor Unions and You: Hands Out of Your Pockets” – the traveling motorcoach/museum awareness event taking place in Wal-Mart parking lots.

This was my first visit to the Art Institute. I pass through Chicago often and always try to take in at least one cultural item each time. However in recent trips the excellent performances by the Steppenwolf Theater crew, or the cute penguins at the Shedd Aquarium have always won out.

I only had a few hours to visit. I grabbed the museum guide and lucky for me on the back was a section “What to do in one hour.” I loosely followed it with my primary intention to see the much hyped Modern Wing, which recently completed its constructed in the rear portion adjacent to Millennium Park.

When I arrived at the Modern Wing I noted the abrupt transition from the elegant wide stone staircases of the main building to the clean lines and minimal interiors. It’s a drastic change, from stone pillars and cluttered glass cases on pedestals to a wide main hallway with borg-like rooms on each side of the three stories.

There’s a lot of open and empty space, which I suppose is good because modern art is in fact minimal. Off the grand hall of the new wing is a beautiful courtyard, where I took a break before going upstairs to the exhibit rooms. In retrospect I might have appreciated the exhibits more had I partaken in some mind altering substances. But before I could ask around for some a nice lady from Rockford informed me that the door had locked behind us, so together we walked across the courtyard to the attempt reentry.

My first impression of the new wing was that the space devoted to exhibits was disproportionate to the vast amount of open space in general. A full review by Lee Rosenbaum of the Wall Street Journal had this to say:

There is much to admire about the new Modern Wing: its sleek blond oak floors, the Miesian suspended staircase, skylights through which you can perceive sun, clouds or rainwater, and expansive floor-to-ceiling windows that offer attractive views of the city. But it leaves much to be desired in terms of audience-friendly, art-enhancing design. Visitor flow is impeded by the too-narrow staircase (single-file, both ways). This main circulation pathway leads to a similarly tight two-lane hallway outside the galleries. The rooms for large-scale contemporary work are more reminiscent of cramped office cubicles than expansive artists’ lofts.

I appreciate modern art, however I tend to prefer photography as some works of modern art take the term “art” a bit casually. Of course I’m not one to judge what makes modern art art, but I can have a personal opinion and say “that’s ridiculous,” while a more adept artist might would return “that’s because you just don’t understand.” Conversely many might find the photography of Catherine Opie strange and absurd – but I’m a big fan.

I’ve always joked with friends that my modern piece would be a group of small, various TV sets in a rotating restaurant pie case, running videos of the more horrific news reels over the past years. Point being that these life changing major events are being filtered through the sanitized “pie case” of the media. While there are plenty of diner style pie displays for sale, I wouldn’t know how to keep the cords from getting tangled up as it rotates. But whenever I view exhibits like these my idea doesn’t seem that far fetched.

Left: This untitled piece by Robert Gober displays a wedding dress (sans head) in a room surrounded by small bags of kitty litter.
Right: I’m not sure of this is an exhibit with the items strategically placed for a purpose, or if some kid just dropped their stuffed toy.

Here’s a box of tissue with some sort of pipe through it, and a more interesting sculpture of a headless lady in a bathtub. (She looked pretty cool up close.)

The piece, which I took a short video of, is titled “Clown Torture,” and is the work of three local artists. It’s set inside of a dark room with video loops of three clowns, all in a state of frenzied maniacal panic over something. One clown is sitting on the toilet, while another bursts through a door – over and over again. With my limited time I didn’t stay in this dark room too long appreciate it. I took more interest in a couple kids that were actually sitting down watching it – wondering what they were thinking. Or if they perhaps knew something I didn’t. Chicago’s Decider has the details on this one.

Less scary – the view of Millennium Park from the Modern Wing.
And all workstations use my old iMac G5!

Below: The beautiful traditional staircase in the main foyer. I found this much more impressive than some of the new pieces. Its architectural beauty and elegance is stunning.

And two works by Grant Wood, at left the original “American Gothic.”

There are thousands more categories and items to view than the select ones I’ve mentioned, and while I make light of the modern pieces I will definitely be returning to further explore the paintings and photography. The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 South Michigan Avenue
Full info at

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