Art Institute of Chicago Building in Chicago

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The Art Institute of Chicago Building houses the Art Institute of Chicago, and is located in the Chicago Landmark Historic Michigan Boulevard District in the Loop community area of Chicago, Illinois. The building is also located in Grant Park on the east side of Michigan Avenue, and marks the third address for the Art Institute. The building was built for the joint purpose of accommodating the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and subsequently the Art Institute. The core of the current complex, located opposite Adams Street, officially opened to the public on December 8, 1893, and was renamed the Allerton Building in 1968.

There have been numerous building additions over the years. The most recent addition is the Modern Wing funded in part by Pat Ryan. This new building increases gallery space by 33% and accommodates new educational facilities. It opened to the public on May 16, 2009.



The Art Institute of Chicago opened as the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts on May 24, 1879, and changed to its current name on December 23, 1882. It was originally established as both a school and museum, and stood on the southwest corner of Michigan Avenue and Monroe Street, where it rented space. The Art Institute, which moved there at the time it changed names, originally leased and later purchased the space. With the coming of the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and its need for a new home for its expanding collection and growing student body, the Art Institute's trustees negotiated for a new structure at what has come to be the current building.

The new building was funded by the sale of the Van Buren Street building to the Chicago Club for $ 265,000, by donation of the land by the Chicago Park District, by $120,000 public subscription, and by $200,000 contribution of the Fair Corporation in cooperation with the Exposition.

Upon his death in 1905, lumber merchant Benjamin Franklin Ferguson bequeathed almost $1 million for the purpose of establishing a public sculpture fund to be administered by the Art Institute. The first gift from this memorial fund was the Fountain of the Great Lakes, which was commissioned in 1907.


The current building is a classical Beaux-Arts building, by Shepley, Rutan and Coolidge of Boston, Massachusetts. The building has a grand Italian Renaissance facade with a pedimented 5-bayed central section that protrudes forward from the 7-bayed wings on either side. The arcaded entry loggia is topped by three grand palladian arches that are separated by Corinthian half-columns. It was built to seat an audience of 425.

The Grand Staircase was completed in 1910. However, the architectural ornamentation of the neighboring gallery continued intermittently until 1929 without ever being completed. Plans for a great dome over this staircase were abandoned when proper financing never arose.

In 1916, Gunsaulus Hall was built by Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge as a two-story bridge addition spanning the Illinois Central Railroad tracks behind the original building. Today, this court is open for dining during summer months and still contains the Carl Milles bronze fountain in its center.

In 1960, the Stanley McCormick Memorial Court (north garden) was constructed by Holabird & Root & Burgee. The south garden was constructed in 1965, when the Fountain of the Great Lakes was moved and reinstalled. Dan Kiley designed the South garden.

In 1962, The Morton Wing was added south of the central building to provide additional exhibition space and galleries. This balanced the Ferguson building by restoring symmetry.

In the 1970s, the growth of the school and visitor attendance necessitated the Rubloff Building to accommodate new studios, classrooms, and a film center for the school, and new public spaces for the museum.

In 1988, the Daniel F. and Ada L. Rice Building was added to show the dramatically increased contemporary art collection and to exhibit popular large traveling exhibitions.

The Adler & Sullivan-designed Chicago Stock Exchange Building (1893-1972) Trading Room was salvaged from demolition and installed in the Columbus Drive Addition in 1977. This building fragment, which includes Louis Sullivan's exquisite stenciling, is described as the "Wailing Wall of Chicago preservationists". The sunshade, dubbed "The Flying Carpet", is made of white extruded aluminum and is linked to the lighting system to adjust and compensate for incandescent fixtures. The Nichols Bridgeway, a 625-foot (190 m) pedestrian bridge also designed by Piano, links the building to Millennium Park.


Flanking the exterior Michigan Avenue entrance stairs are two bronze lions by sculptor Edward Kemeys that were a gift from Mrs. Henry Field for the Art Institute's opening at its current location in 1893. Although the lions have no official names, the sculptor designated the lions by their poses as "stands in an attitude of defiance" (south lion) and "on the prowl" (north lion). These lions, along with those pairs in front of the Main branch of the New York Public Library on Fifth Avenue and the pair in the grand staircase of the Boston Public Library, are part of an Italian Renaissance revival by 19th-century Romantic artists. Guardian lions had been an important architectural theme of the World Columbian Exposition, where six pairs guarded the entrance of the Palace of Fine Arts. Kemeys had sculpted one of these pairs, which may have served as his model for the Art Institute lions. The lions were moved back 12 ft toward the museum in 1909-10 in conjunction with the widening of Michigan Avenue and the addition of a balustrade and terrace to the east, west and north sides of the building.

When a Chicago sports team makes the playoffs, the lions are frequently dressed in that team’s uniform. This has been done for the Chicago White Sox in 2005, the Chicago Bears in 1986 and 2007, and the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010.


  • Harris, Neil, "Chicago's Dream, a World's Treasure," 1993, The Art Institute of Chicago,
  • Sinkevitch, Alice, "AIA Guide to Chicago" (2nd edition), 2004, Harcourt Books,
  • Steiner, Frances H., "The Architecture of Chicago's Loop", 1998, Sigma Press,
  • "The Art Institute of Chicago Museum Studies'" Volume 14, no. 1, 1988, The Art Institute of Chicago,