Guide to the Art Institute of Chicago. As discussed in other posts certain Illinois Museums are required to offer free admission to Illinois residents for 52 days a year.
Admission to the Art Institute of Chicago is free to Illinois residents every Thursday evening from 5-8pm. A valid ID with an Illinois address is required for free admission. All children under age 14 are always free. When you go on Thursday evenings always check the AIC Calendar as they usually have lectures open to the general public.
Free Admission for teens ages 14-17
Beginning Jan 2, 2017 children ages 14-17, who are residents of the City of Chicago, are now free. The AIC received a grant to fund these admissions for the next 25 years! Children ages 14-17 must present a school ID, drivers license, report card or other document indicating that they are a resident of the City of Chicago to get free admission
Special Winter Weekdays
Free ALL day on all weekdays for Illinois Residents from Jan 9, 2017 to Feb 16, 2017.
Another way to get in for free is if you have a Bank of America credit card. Free days are the first full weekend of every month.
Where: 111 S Michigan Ave, (312) 443-3600
What you get on Free Day
Unlike some other institutions in Chicago when you get into the AIC for free you get access to nearly everything except the Members Lounge and Member exclusive lectures. From time-to-time there are also special ticketed exhibits that you will have to pay an extra fee to gain access, such as the recent (and now departed) Van Gogh exhibit. The ticket price was $15 when you entered the museum admission free. The charge if you paid full admission was $5.
Fast ticket sales
On the Sunday I went (which was a Bank of America free day) just as I was approaching the entrance line about 25 people crossed Michigan Avenue at Adams and got in line in front of me. Uh oh! Well actually as soon as the doors opened I was processed through in about six minutes. Kudos to the AIC for having seven cashiers processing tickets.
On another Sunday (which was also a Bank of America free day) I arrived a little after opening at the Modern Wing entrance (159 E. Monroe). It took about 10 minutes to get through the line. When I left through the Main entrance at 1PM there was an enormous line to get in snaking down Michigan Avenue. So you may want to walk around the corner to the Modern Wing entrance if there’s a big line on the Michigan Ave. side.
Audio tours: Spend the $7
The AIC has a free App that you can use however it has no audio so you have to read as you progress through the galleries. The verbiage is the same as the verbiage beside the works on plaques and stenciled on the wall in the galleries. At some exhibits there are free laminated brochures with additional info you can read while in the gallery. Splurge on the$7 audio tour. It’s much more informative and also a much better experience to hear the curator talk about the work while you look at it rather than having to read it on your phone.
Museum Layout: 1 million square feet
The AIC collection is housed in eight buildings comprising nearly one million square feet. Like many old institutions it’s been added onto creating an almost maze like floor plan.
- The Addition, Architect, Year of addition:
- Ryerson & Burnham Libraries, Shepley, Rutan & Coolidge, 1901
- McKinlock Court, Coolidge & Hodgdon, 1924
- Goodman Theater, Howard Van Doren Shaw, 1926
- Ferguson Building, Holabird & Root & Burgee, 1958
- Morton Wing, Shaw, Metz, & Assoc., 1962
- Columbus Drive Addition and School of the Art Institute, Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, 1977
- Daniel F. & Ada Rice Building, Hammond, Beeby & Babka, 1988
- Fullerton Hall Restoration, Weese Langley Weese: Gilmore, Franzen Architects, 2001
- Modern Wing, Renzo Piano, 2009 (264,000 sq feet)
Pre-plan what you want to see or you may wander aimlessly until exhausted without seeing what you want to see
You will be given a free map when you get your ticket. I pulled aside at the Information Desk at the Michigan Avenue Entrance and circled the galleries containing the works and exhibits I wanted to see. Of course you don’t have to do this but you may find yourself wandering aimlessly until you’re exhausted – remember 1 million square feet.
You can figure out what you want to see and where it is located by using the excellent AIC website. You can search by:
- Art Institute Icons: this will tell you where iconic works like Seurat’s Sunday on Le Grand Jatte or American Gothic are located.
- Artist Name:
- Collections: search 87,000 online works and get basic information about works of art.
- Exhibitions: i.e. The New Contemporary
- Quick and Advanced Search: Search by work name or artist name and then refine your search on the right side to “On Display”. as well as their location if they are on display.
All buildings have two levels and a lower level except the Modern Wing which has three levels and a basement. I also found taking elevators quite helpful as short cuts. There are docents everywhere and they are knowledgeable about helping you find your way through the maze as well as to stairs and elevators.
Check the website calendar ahead of time so you can take part in free gallery talks and tours given by highly trained docents.
The New Contemporary Exhibit
The new Modern Wing exhibit of the Edlis and Neeson art work is quite amazing. I’m no expert but there were your standard modern art works on display including Lichtensteins, Koons, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman and the 10 Warhol’s. We’re really lucky to have these amazing works. That said, apparently part of the terms for the donation is that the same works of art have to stay on display for 25 years!
You cannot bring any food or beverages into the AIC. Just be sure to keep your ticket and you can go in and out. There are many options across the street from inexpensive Shake Shack and Potbelly to more pricey but reasonable Tesori ($10 pizza and glass of wine Saturdays from 12–3pm and Sundays 1–3pm.), 7 Lions and Acanto.
In the main Museum you can dine at the Museum Cafe in the basement and during the summer outdoors at McKinlok Court. In the Modern Wing is Caffe Moderno and Terzo Piano. I ate at Terzo Piano a few years ago during restaurant week. It’s very pricey. But you should head up there anyway and go out onto the Bluhm Terrace and check out the great view of the Lurie Garden. You are allowed to do this even if you’re not dining there. The Lurie Garden’s topography was designed with view from the Modern Wing in mind, even though the expansion was still in its planning stage at the time of the Lurie Garden installation.
Other ticket options
If you are thinking about visiting more than one attraction the City Pass or Go Chicago Card both offer the best discount you can find. Using these passes takes some planning but you will save a lot of money which you can reallocate to dining or hotel costs or something else.
Other Museum Posts
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Adler Planetarium
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Field Museum
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Museum of Science and Industry
- Here’s the deal on Free Day at the Shedd Aquarium
- Guide to Chicago History Museum