Writing about The Art Institute of Chicago stirs up the same feelings I have upon walking between the two lion statues and into the museum's grand entrance: Where do I start? Where should I focus? What am I in the mood for? As with any world-renowned art museum, I find it best to approach the experience gradually and calmly, all in the name of avoiding headaches, confusion and a general sense of overwhelming cultural stimulation. Whether you prefer stopping at the help desk for a floor plan to map out your visit or would rather just start wandering, you are bound to encounter much more than the well-known Impressionist paintings of Seurat and Monet.
Heading straight down the main corridor you'll find the Arms and Armor collection, a gallery that never fails to divert my attention from the sights I have set on other galleries beyond the shining armor. From Photography to African and Ancient American sculpture and Indian and Southeast Asian art, the permanent collection's astounding range (spanning more than 5,000 years) moves all the way to contemporary works of the last century from such major figures as Andy Warhol.
The Paperweight Collection is a surprising stop worth making, including hundreds of vibrant glass designs displayed for a purely shape- and color-based visual experience. The Department of Architecture concentrates on works by Chicago architects; while it presents a diverse range of art and architecture from the past, it also develops exhibits concerned with future visions of art and progress.
Visit the museum's Web site often to keep up with the numerous gallery talks, lectures, events and family programs offered to the public. If a "free Tuesday" comes around and you arrive only to realize your mood is not one for crowds or decisions, sitting on the museum's front steps and not venturing past the lion statues remains a great alternative.
The museum's brand-new Modern Wing, designed by noted architect Renzo Piano, opened in May 2009, featuring works from 20th- and 21st-century artists. The wing is home to the Terzo Piano restaurant.
Thursday evenings are free to all from 5-8 p.m..
Admission price for non-members: Adults $18; children, students and seniors $12; free admission for children under age 14.
Centerstage Reviewer: Heather Blaha