Art Institute of Chicago reopens — and returning visitors finally get an art fix

Steve Johnson, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Entertainment News

CHICAGO -- Early visitors, as the Art Institute let the public back in for the first time since mid-March, didn't go to "A Sunday on La Grande Jatte," typically the museum's most crowded work.

At one moment during the first hour of reopening day Thursday, only a security guard stood in front of Georges Seurat's routinely besieged pointillist study of a Parisian waterfront park.

Instead, many headed straight to the Modern Wing and the museum's newly hung Basquiat canvas -- the Art Institute's first by the 1980s art world darling -- and many more queued up to get into the big El Greco special exhibition, which was open only a week before COVID-19 forced the shutdown of most public life in Chicago and the U.S.

But this wasn't your typical, show-me-some-Impressionism crowd. The first folks allowed back in, during the noon hour Thursday, were museum members, people who really have seen it all before.

"We want to see the new painting in the Modern Wing by Basquiat," said Melissa LaMantia, a middle school arts teacher from Glen Ellyn, in line with her husband Steve Crowley.

They weren't just in line. They were first in line -- partly out of eagerness, partly because they thought the museum was opening at 10 a.m. and decided just to wait there, on those famous, lion-flanked front steps, until the actual 12 p.m. opening.


"It's just been so dry for culture," said Crowley, who works in commodities, noting the couple are also "regulars" at the still-shuttered Symphony Center across the street.

"We're starved for art and culture," seconded LaMantia.

The Art Institute was eager to provide it, albeit now with physical distancing, one way doors and stairways, and a mandatory mask requirement.

There were some other changes to be seen in the museum, as well, most notably the removal of the "octagon," the massive wooden information and membership desk that has long greeted visitors as they entered through the Michigan Avenue doors.


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