I thought I’d offer a walking tour of Renzo Piano’s new addition to the Art Institute of Chicago, which they call the Modern Wing because it now houses much of the museum’s 20th and 21st century collections. All pictures here are by me, so don’t look for professional standards.
As I mentioned in the piece I wrote this week about the addition, one of things the building had to do was accommodate a working commuter railway that separates it from the Institute’s original Beaux Art building from 1893. Chicago is one of the cities that invented the idea of architecture that drew from industrial models, so the proximity of the Institute to the railroad tracks has always felt right to me.
The way the railway passes now between the old and new buildings reminds me of the (relatively) new Olympic Sculpture Park of the Seattle Art Museum, which also co-exists with a railway line (and a four-lane highway). The Modern Wing connects to the older building by way of Gunsaulus Hall, a two story addition dating from about 1916 that spans the tracks like a covered bridge.
Though you can get to the Modern Wing from Millennium Park at ground level by crossing Monroe Street, it also connects to the park by way of a slender pedestrian bridge. In this picture taken from inside the new building you can see the bridge at left. That billowing silver thing to the right is Frank Gehry’s Pritzker band shell.
In the pictures below you can see at left the roof canopy of diagonal louvers that Piano designed to admit northern light into the third floor galleries but to block the more harmful southern light. The people at right are standing in the third floor rooftop sculpture court where the pedestrian bridge deposits you.
If you enter the Modern Wing at ground level, you come first into Griffin Court, an atrium flanked by galleries, with a free-standing stairway to one side.
Here’s the stairway. In the first picture that’s an untitled Cy Twombly sculpture in the foreground.
Just beyond that stairway is an outdoor courtyard with an Ellsworth Kelly sculpture, White Curve — you can see part of it at right — that was commissioned to honor James Wood, the former Art Institute director who initiated the Modern Wing expansion.
The stairway continues up to third floor galleries…
At the northern end of the Modern Wing the glass curtain walls admit views of Millennium Park. On overcast days those fabric scrims can be raised. That’s a Felix Gonzales-Torres in the foreground.
Okay, class dismissed.