Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago, Illinois | C.1879

Photo Credit: Maren Robinson

The Art Institute of Chicago was founded as both a museum and school for the fine arts in 1879. Originally named the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts, the name was changed in 1882. The museum and school quickly grew its collection and student body until a new building was needed less than a decade later.

As the city prepared to host the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition, the Art Institute’s trustees negotiated with the city’s civic bodies for a new structure on a park site at Michigan Avenue and Adams Street.

By 1916, expansion of the museum was again required to suitably display a collection that now included nearly every artistic medium. The bold solution was to build over the Illinois Central Railroad tracks that bordered the Art Institute’s east wall. Additions for both the school and museum were added and included memorials to two young men who died in World War I: the George Alexander McKinlock Jr. Memorial Court (est. 1924) and the Kenneth Sawyer Goodman Theater (est. 1925).

The current building is a classical Beaux-Arts design by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston, Massachusetts. Composed of 273 galleries that total 562,000 square feet (52,200 square meters), the structure has a grand Italian Renaissance facade with a pedimented five-bayed central section that protrudes forward from the seven-bayed wings on either side. The arcade entry loggia is topped by three grand palladian arches that are separated by Corinthian half-columns.

The permanent collection has grown from plaster casts to nearly 300,000 works of art in fields ranging from Chinese bronzes to contemporary design and from textiles to installation art. Together, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the museum of the Art Institute of Chicago are now internationally recognized as two of the leading fine-arts institutions in the United States.

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