There are some galleries on this planet that have an advantage over other gatherings of fine art — wide pop culture appeal.
While art lovers can find something special in any number of venues featuring everything from historical decorations to modern works, the more casual gallery visitor will naturally be on the lookout for pieces they know from posters, ads, movies or TV. That doesn’t make those folks Philistines or poorly educated. It simply means they’re probably new to the art world or still learning what they like.
For both the veteran expert and the star-struck rookie, the Art Institute of Chicago remains one of the elite museum spaces on the entire planet. Containing some of the most iconic pieces from the last 200 years alongside paintings, sculptures, decorative arts and photography from around the world, the space offers something for every expertise level, age and cultural background.
The stars of the Art Institute Show have to be the major international masterpieces collected there from Pablo Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, Edward Hopper, Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, Toulouse Lautrec, Frank Lloyd Wright and countless others, the museum is filled with those iconic images that even the most casual visitor will recognize.
While Hopper’s Nighthawks (above) or Van Gogh’s Bedroom in Arles immediately catch the eye as endlessly familiar, there’s also American Gothic and Picasso’s Red Armchair.
The gathering of such unmistakable works does the yeoman’s job of bringing the uninitiated into the gallery. The art outsider can be at peace seeing masterpieces they already know.
Then, those same people can wander into the photography, architecture or cultural and historical exhibits throughout the sprawling lakefront complex to see what else might catch the eye.
Part school and part elite gallery, The Art Institute of Chicago is one of those galleries providing an infinitely valuable service to the world — using a powerful collection to bring in people who might otherwise never step foot inside a museum.