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The Windy City Part 5: Art and Entertainment

Updated: Sep 20, 2023

The Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago is the second largest museum in the United States and was voted "One of the Top Museums in the World." The Institute was opened in 1979 as both a museum and a school of fine arts. Today it has a permanent collection containing nearly 300,000 works of art and is visited by 1.5 million people per year.

The ceiling over the entryway at the Art Institute is covered by a skylight. It just so happened that I was lucky enough to visit when a new art installation, consisting of various colored glass gels, was covering each of the skylight's 126 glass panes, casting different hues throughout the foyer.

I was also fortunate enough to visit when the Institute was featuring an exhibit celebrating the works of Van Gogh and his contemporaries. In 1887, Vincent Van Gogh spent three months visiting the suburbs along the Seine. He was one of five avant-garde artists who journeyed from Paris to the suburbs. In his company were George Seurat, Paul Signac, Emile Bernard and Charles Angrand. These were some of the extraordinary works I viewed in that exhibit.

Self Portrait

Vincent Van Gogh, 1887

It is said that Van Gogh painted this and other self portraits because he wanted to practice painting people and was short on money so he couldn't afford to hire models.

Restaurant de la Sirène à Asnières

Vincent Van Gogh, 1887

Asnières Study (Laundry Boat)

Paul Signac, 1882

Man Painting a Boat

Georges Seurat, About 1883

Separate wings of the Institute held various other treasures. Below are some of the pieces that I especially enjoyed:

Henry Ossawa Tanner

Hermann Dudley Murphy 1891/96

Hermann Dudley Murphy painted this portrait of his roommate and friend, Henry Ossawa Tanner while both were studying art in Paris.


Archibald John Motley Jr., 1943

I have seen other pieces by this artist and, like this one, they are all alive with vibrant color and movement.

American Gothic

Grant Wood, 1930

The artist painted this piece of a stiffly posed farmer and his daughter which he said reminded him of “tintypes from my old family album.” He used his sister and his dentist as models for the painting. This painting has been used in advertising to sell everything from cereal to beer.

Self Portrait

Beauford Delaney, 1944

Beauford Delaney was the son of a Tennessee preacher who relocated to New York in 1929 where he befriended artistic geniuses including Jackson Pollack, Georgia O'Keeffe and author, James Baldwin.

Picture of Dorian Gray

Ivan Albright, 1943-44

If you haven't read Oscar Wilde's book, "The Picture of Dorian Gray," which he published in 1890, I recommend it. It was the film adaptation released in 1945 for which Ivan Albright painted this piece.

Swing Music (Louis Armstrong)

Arthur Dove, 1938

This piece is the artist's "visual portrayal of the trumpeter's [Louis Armstrong] improvisatory genius."

Maquette for "Constellation"

Santiago Calatrava 2018-19

If this looks familiar to most Chicagoans, it is because a much larger version is at River Point Park.

Santiago Calatreva made a scale version of "Constellation" which is at the Institute of Art. The original, 30-foot sculpture was his first Chicago work.

The America Windows

Marc Chagall, 1976

Marc Chagall is a Russian-born artist who fled to the U.S. during World War II. He created these 8x30 foot windows for the U.S. bicentennial to give thanks for a gallery named in his honor. For the movie buffs out there, these windows were the backdrop in the Ferris Bueller's Day Off scene where Ferris and Sloane kiss.

Chicago Culture Center

The building that has been home to Chicago's Cultural Center since 1991, was originally opened in 1897 as Chicago's first, central public library.

The walls are adorned with Cosmati mosaics set into white, Italian Carrara marble celebrating famous authors and philosophers such as Homer, Plato and Cicero, as seen above. The marble was sourced from the same quarries that Michelangelo used to create his sculptures.

A closer view shows the detail and just how many tiles were required to create this masterpiece.

The imperfections in the tile reveal that each piece was indeed painstakingly, hand cut and put into place.

Preston Bradley Hall, Tiffany Dome

This dome, and its kaleidoscope of colors, was created collaboratively by architects Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston and the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York City. Sadly, this pictures does not convey just how breathtaking this 38-foot, diameter, glass dome is.

Grand Army of the Republic Rotunda and Memorial Hall

This second, leaded glass dome, is another collaboration by architects Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge of Boston and the Tiffany Glass and Decorating Company of New York City. Different in style, but equally beautiful, this is another example of the masterful way Tiffany creates luxurious, stratified and gilded colors.


From the Chicago Cultural Center, I headed around the corner to visit one of the city's famous landmarks. The Chicago Theater is a French Baroque style theater that opened as a movie palace in 1921. The vertical CHICAGO sign is a replica of the original sign and is as famous as the theater itself. It measures 74 feet in height and holds 2,400 incandescent lamps.

The current sign replaced the original in 1996 because the latter was found to have significant interior deterioration. The original sign was thereafter donated to the Smithsonian Museum. This theater was titled the "Wonder Theater of the World" when it was built. Over 100 years, and thousands of performances later, it is still a spectacle.

The Nederlander Theater, originally named the Oriental Theater, opened just after the Chicago Theater in 1926. It was owned by Balaban and Katz and designed by the architecture firm of Katz and Katz, the same team behind the Chicago Theater. The inside has been described as an East Asian inspired art museum. Though the theater fell into disrepair for many years, it was resurrected in 1996 and renamed the Nederlander after James M. Nederlander, the founder of Broadway in Chicago.

Though I tried, I did not find time to see a performance at either the Chicago or Nederlander Theater. I will have to save that for my next trip to Chicago. This Chicago adventure is about to draw to a close. My last post, about a world renowned Chicago restaurant, is up next and will conclude this series on the Windy City.

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