With the addition of the new Modern Wing, how does the AIC rank against its peers?
The Art Institute of Chicago’s new, Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing opens to the public on May 16, and with it come many references to flight: the “flying carpet” sunscreen hovering above the roof; the pedestrian bridge soaring from the wing’s third floor terrace and touching down in Millennium Park; the heightened visibility granted to the museum’s modern and contemporary collections. Some art lovers will surely gripe about those soaring admission prices, too. Certainly this addition elevates the AIC as a cultural institution, but how does the art museum now stack up to others around the globe?
The 264,000-square-foot Modern Wing expands the museum’s gallery space by 30 percent, bringing the total square footage to around 1 million. That’s half the size of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, making the AIC the second largest cultural institution in the U.S. By comparison, The Louvre occupies some 1.6 million square feet, with 652,300 square feet of exhibition space. According to The Art Newspaper, in 2008 The Louvre maintained its status as the world’s most visited museum, with the British Museum in London, the National Gallery in D.C., and the Tate Modern in London also ranking high. In terms of the size of the collection, the AIC houses 300,000 works of art, while The Met boasts 2 million, and The State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia, is well-stocked with more than 3 million pieces. Okay, so the AIC is bigger than before, but nowhere near the biggest.
But quality over quantity, right? What really distinguishes the Art Institute, explains Erin Hogan, the museum’s Director of Public Affairs, is the range of its collection—from ancient Chinese bronzes to 15th century Renaissance paintings, from Wood’s American Gothic to Magritte’s Time Transfixed. “Nationally, there are excellent museums of modern art, like The Museum of Modern Art, and excellent contemporary museums, like the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Chicago, but there are very few encyclopedic museums that also have a commitment to contemporary art,” she says. “We’ve had that since our founding.” The AIC contends that quality of the modern (1900–1945) and contemporary (from 1945 on) collections are on par with those of New York’s MoMA and the Pompidou Centre in Paris. It may come as a surprise, but approximately 10 percent of the modern works at the AIC haven’t been on view until now, and 90 percent of the contemporary pieces are new or have been on very limited display. When exhibited more comprehensively in the airy new space, the AIC assures, their quality and scope will be “a revelation.” And not just to Chicagoans.
Here they come
Like many Chicagoans, Ra Joy, Executive Director of the Illinois Art Alliance, is prepared for something revelatory. He also anticipates a lot more visitors (to keep with the winged imagery) flying in. “Our arts sector is the cornerstone of tourism,” he said. “I think the Modern Wing will, without a doubt, help to sharpen our state’s competitive edge and boost our international reputation.”