It’s taken way longer than any of us anticipated, but the world is returning to normal.
As of June 8, about 42 percent of Americans have been vaccinated against the coronavirus that unended all of our lives. The economy is reopening, restaurants are welcoming back diners, and Americans are desperate to gather with friends and family, many for the first time in over a year.
And finally, we can go back to museums again.
I realize that not all of us were desperate to return to the institutions that house our country’s greatest treasures, but I urge all the Chicagoans reading this to take a moment to consider taking a day to simply enjoy the art that has been out of reach for so long.
I suggest starting with the crown jewel of Chicago’s art museums: The Art Institute of Chicago.
Summer has arrived in Chicago, and with the opportunity to explore again, it’s time to revisit the places that remained closed to us for so long.
Though the museum reopened to visitors in February, there’s a distinctly different feeling in the air with another four months of vaccine rollout since then.
After a year and a half, the Art Institute has reopened its doors to the public, and they already have new exhibits to entice back those of use who might have forgotten how nourishing it is to spend a day at the museum.
The Society for Contemporary Art (SCA) has supported contemporary art at the Art Institute of Chicago since 1940, mostly through donating artwork, as well as exhibitions, lectures, and other programs.
They select a new group of contemporary artists every year, purchasing their artwork and donating it to the Art Institute’s permanent collection.
The group also clearly sees the importance of bringing the city together after the pandemic, and this year they chose five artists who either live in Chicago or have close ties to the city.
The artists are: Candida Alvarez, Torkwase Dyson, Tony Lewis, Julia Phillips, and Catherine Sullivan. Their artworks are installed in various locations in the museum’s galleries of contemporary art and are identified with a special label.
These five works will be voted on by the entire SCA membership at the annual meeting on June 14, 2021. Two of them will be selected to be purchased and added to the permanent collection of the Art Institute — “extending the society’s long and distinguished history of advocacy for the art and artists of our time,” according to the Art Institute website.
The Obama Portraits also go on display starting June 18, which will likely draw many visitors back to the museum.
If you’re wondering what a trip to the Art Institute looks like at this point in the pandemic, Chicago publication Time Out has a great article about the current Covid-19 policies and general ambience of the museum, part of an ongoing series called Back at It, in which editors have been “chronicling their experiences returning to beloved haunts” of the city.
According to writer Emma Krupp’s summary of her experience, returning to the Art Institute during this time is a rewarding experience, despite the continued rules about wearing masks and social distancing.
For one thing, you’ll need to buy your museum tickets ahead of time unless you’re eligible for free entry or you’re a museum member. You can see a list of the museum’s current policies here.
As the Time Out article pointed out, the Art Institute did a “commendable job” of moving exhibitions online and creating content to interact with during lockdown, but it’s nice to “take in art in person again.”
From the article: “Changes aside, most of the museum’s features have remained refreshingly constant, from favorite and long-held artworks to the bingo card of tourist activities you’ll inevitably spot during a weekend visit: Tourists searching for the cafe (it’s still closed); tourists snapping photos of “American Gothic” in a rote, obligatory sort of way; and tourists asking docents questions like, “Where’s the Picasso?” Nature is healing, as they say, and it’s kind of nice to see.”