Thanks to our sponsors:

View all sponsors

The Art Institute of Chicago Celebrates 125th Anniversary


Saturday marks 125 years since the opening of the historic building that houses the Art Institute of Chicago. To celebrate that milestone, the museum is inviting the public to recreate a photograph from Dec. 8, 1893 – its opening day. The event takes place at 10 a.m. Saturday on the steps of the museum at 111 S. Michigan Ave., and the new photo will be added to the museum archives.

The Art Institute of Chicago opened its new home soon after the World’s Columbian Exposition, which ran from May through October of 1893. Early collectors endowed the museum, and it is now routinely listed as one of the top three museums in the world.

In February 2016, James Rondeau became the museum’s 12th director (his full title: President and Eloise W. Martin Director). Rondeau had been with the museum for 18 years as chair and curator of modern and contemporary art.

The Art Institute’s most recent renovation was the addition of the Modern Wing, which opened in May 2009.

  • The Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

    The Art Institute of Chicago in the 1950s (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

  • (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

    (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

  • (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

    (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

  • (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

    (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

  • Opening day of the museum, Dec. 8, 1893 (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

    Opening day of the museum, Dec. 8, 1893 (Courtesy of The Art Institute of Chicago)

  • The Art Institute of Chicago, December 2018 (Chicago Tonight)

    The Art Institute of Chicago, December 2018 (Chicago Tonight)

  • The Art Institute of Chicago, December 2018 (Chicago Tonight)

    The Art Institute of Chicago, December 2018 (Chicago Tonight)

We asked Rondeau whether he thinks future expansions to the museum are possible, given that it’s landlocked by Michigan Avenue and Columbus Drive (to the west and east) and Monroe Street and Jackson Drive (north and south).

“We have a hard stop on five sides actually,” he said. “Those four streets and also the height restriction imposed by the city in the 1920s, and that is the apex of the 1893 building. So we can’t go any higher. In fact, the most recent addition, Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing, is calibrated to the millimeter of the height of the 1893 building. We’re finite, but there is negative space.”

Also affecting that space is a railway, which Rondeau sees as a point-of-interest. “We’re bisected by an active rail line. I share the view of many of my predecessors that the trains are one of our greatest assets, after our collection and after our staff. There’s hardly a museum in the world where you can look at great works of art and then watch this intersection on our campus all day long,” Rondeau said.

“Chicago was built by the trains, and so we don’t want to take that space of the trains. That said, there probably is space, but [any potential expansion] is probably not going to be tomorrow or the day after, but we are always thinking about ways in which we can improve visitor experience and provide greater access to the collections.”

Exhibitions opening at the Art Institute in 2019 include “Textiles of the Andes,” new photography by Chicagoan and MacArthur “genius” grant recipient Dawoud Bey, and “Chicago by the Book: Pivotal Works that Changed Chicago” in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries. The museum’s big summer show will be “Manet and Modern Beauty,” opening May 26.

Also on Saturday, in honor of the museum’s anniversary, our sister station 98.7 WFMT will broadcast art-inspired music from 6-11 a.m. During the 10 a.m. hour, they will recreate the concert program performed by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 125 years ago.


Related stories:

The Weird and Fanciful Art of the Hairy Who

At the Art Institute, the Opulent Paintings of John Singer Sargent

Rediscovering Influential Chicago Artist Charles White at the Art Institute


Neighborhood: 
randomness