The Art Institute of Chicago features a large international artwork collection composed of European paintings, mosaics from Classical Antiquity, Native American pottery, medieval armor, Modern and Contemporary art, photographs, textiles and much more. Besides its world-class art collection on display inside, the Art Institute also has three outdoor courts, a garden and a courtyard restaurant with several sculptures and art installations to see among them. These five areas not only give visitors a chance to breathe some fresh air after exploring the museum’s interior, but also to see several outdoor sculptures, plants and fountains as well.
Founded in 1879, the Art Institute moved into its permanent home inside a building used for the World's Columbian Exposition in 1893. The building, located in Grant Park, uses the Beaux-Arts style as seen in many other museums and large public structures from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. As you approach the Art Institute, take some time to admire its fabulous architectural design. Finally, before entering the museum, make sure to see its two famous lion statutes outside the entrance and take a few photos of them!
In this article, I specifically want to highlight the Art Institute’s four outdoor areas. The first of the these is the Pritzker Garden in the Modern Wing. Founded in 2009, this small space includes a few plants and the following works of art: Luxembourg Chair by French designer Frédéric Sofia, White Curve by American artist Ellsworth Kelly, Vater Staat by German artist Thomas Schütte and the Pritzker Garden’s newest edition, the installation MENDED PETAL, by the world-famous Yoko Ono in 2016. The Pritzker Garden and the surrounding Modern Wing are both known for their unique architectural design by famous Italian architect Renzo Piano.
There are two different Stanley McCormick Memorial Courts – North and South. The North Stanley McCormick Memorial Court is much larger than the Pritzker Garden and features a grassy lawn and numerous trees. This area is home to four sculptures: Flying Dragon by American sculptor Alexander Calder, one the Cubi series, Cubi VII, by American sculptor David Smith, Large Interior Form by English sculptor Henry Moore and Untitled by German sculptor Ulrich Rückriem. With its exquisite landscape architecture decorated by the four sculptures, the North Stanley McCormick Memorial Court is reminiscent of a public park.
In addition to its many trees, visitors to the South Stanley McCormick Memorial Court can enjoy a large fountain in the middle of the area. This fountain, however, is not only for aesthetic purposes, but is also a work of art itself. Created in 1913 by American sculptor Lorado Taft, the five women in Fountain of the Great Lakes represent the Great Lakes themselves (Lakes Superior, Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie and Lake Ontario). With nearby Lake Michigan's importance to the history and economy of Chicago and the surrounding area, it is quite fitting that the Art Institute features a work inspired in part by the massive lake.
The Brooks McCormick Court is the permanent home to Dankmar Adler and Louis Sullivan’s Chicago Stock Exchange Building Entrance Arch. The arch was originally part of its now-demolished namesake building, however, following the Chicago Stock Exchange Building’s demise, the arch now resides at the Art Institute. Besides the arch, the Brooks McCormick Court includes several varieties of flowers.
With several different sections in which to enjoy the outdoors, I recommend you visit the Art Institute during warm weather in late spring, summer or early fall. Chicago’s winters are quite cold and snow often continues to fall into the early spring months. Because of this, you should take advantage of the pleasant warmer weather while the plants are blooming.
Besides exploring the outdoor spaces, I assume you will see the Art Institute’s world-class art collection inside. I will mention a few of my personal favorites that I recommend you look for during your visit. Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein has several works on display including Ohhh...Alright... and Artist's Studio "Foot Medication.” Also, as a fan of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, I suggest you look for the portrait of Beata Beatrix by Dante Gabriel Rossetti. This portrait depicts Beatrice, made famous in the works of poet Dante Alighieri, and is a copy of the original version at the Tate Britain. Beata Beatrix is a good example of some of the recurring themes in the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood’s artwork, such as women with red hair. In the Asian art section, look for the Japanese woodblock prints on display including Shower Below the Summit (Sanka hakuu), from the world-famous artist Hokusai’s iconic series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei). Finally, visitors of all ages and interests should take some time to see the medieval armor collection. This section features several artifacts from the Middle Ages and Renaissance including full suits of armor from Germany and Italy.
After exploring both insides and outside, the Art Institute has a few different options to eat at. The first choice is Terzo Piano. This Italian-style restaurant features pasta, seafood, wine and an excellent window view of the surrounding area. However, visitors either with children or simply looking for something a little bit quicker and less formal should consider the variety of different foods available at the Museum Café. Finally, if the weather is good, you are hungry for lunch and you still haven’t had enough of the Art Institute’s wonderful outdoor areas, then visit the McKinlock Court Restaurant. This outdoor restaurant has several options to choose from along with cocktails and a fountain to enjoy.
Next time you visit the Art Institute of Chicago, remember that there is more to its art collection than what you see inside it. From the lion statues outside the entrance, to its courts and garden areas, make sure to see everything you can at this world-famous museum!