The Art Institute of Chicago is planning a major overhaul.
The main entrance to the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Gorup de Besanez, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) is plotting a major overhaul of its campus and facilities, and has brought on the Barcelona-based architectural firm Barozzi/Veiga to oversee the process. Although nothing has been decided yet, the company firm hopes to modernize the 140-year-old institution through interventions that may include adding new buildings, renovating existing ones, and changing the presentation of the art.
The firm’s founders, Fabrizio Barozzi and Alberto Veiga, were introduced to the museum’s full board and the hiring was announced to the staff on Tuesday. The AIC is the second largest art museum in the United States, after the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Museum Director James Rondeau, who took over in 2016, stressed to the Chicago Tribune that the museum was moving forward cautiously. He referenced concerns over the Met’s 2017 postponement of major renovations due to a lack of funds. He expects Barozzi/Veiga will come up with a 5-, 10-, or 15-year plan for the museum within the next 18 months. Funding for the project is already underway thanks to a $50 million donation from trustee Janet Duchossois and her husband Craig in 2018 (the largest cash donation in the AIC’s history), and a $20 million donation from board chair Robert Levy and his wife Diane v.S. Levy.
We’re really just at the point of saying that we’ve enlisted thought partners to dream the future. [. . .] It’s not a kind of megalomania for space. It is always about refining facilities, better visitor experience, better connectivity and access to collections that are not on view.
Train tracks pass beneath part of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photo by Antonio Vernon, via Wikimedia Commons.
The Art Institute of Chicago was founded as a museum and a fine arts school in 1879; eight major expansions have taken place since then, the most recent of which was the 2009 expansion of the Modern Wing designed by Renzo Piano. However, the museum is still plagued with navigation issues; it currently has two large buildings connected by one thin hall built over train tracks.
Barozzi and Veiga have not disclosed many specific plans, but they hope to make this skinny passageway between the two main buildings more of a focal point. They’re emphasizing making the AIC easier to navigate, but will most likely not build any additional spaces over the train tracks that bisect its campus.
While details of the project remain unknown, one thing is certain: The iconic lion statues framing the museum’s main entrance on Michigan Avenue will stay put.