The Art Institute is well known for being the home of one-of-a-kind artistic masterpieces like Nighthawks, American Gothic, The Old Guitarist, and one of the best Impressionist and Post-Impressionist collections this side of the Atlantic. But the collection didn’t start out that way. It started out as many 19th-century museums do: with copies.
When the Art Institute of Chicago opened its doors on Michigan Avenue in 1893, the collection consisted of a “significant” group of reproductions of famous sculptures and plaster casts of architectural statuary, donated by the French government at the close of the Columbian Exposition.
Yes, you heard me right. Plaster casts. Reproductions of Venus de Milo and Winged Victory. We had tons of them.
We had so many because the Art Institute of Chicago was formed as a museum where School of the Art Institute students could study art. And at the time, “studying art” meant copying famous works of art. But also, at the time, plaster casts were actually quite the rage. They were intended to bring the history of art, in the pre-internet age, to the uncultured, non-European world.
This is not to say there is anything wrong with copies. Today, many artists appropriate or recreate works by other artists, as evidenced by this work by Sherrie Levine, which is on view right now in the Modern Wing.
2 days 12 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Congratulations to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture on their grand opening this weekend. The building, designed by architect David Adjaye, is a truly historic addition to the National Mall in Washington D.C. #APeoplesJourney #MakingHistory
2 days 15 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Time machines, superheroes, wild creatures, and more… JourneyMaker makes every visit to the museum an adventure.
Try this new digital interactive for families in the museum’s Ryan Learning Center, located in the Modern Wing, or print out a tour at home.
3 days 13 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago Today marks the autumn equinox and the official end of summer. Celebrate the changing of the seasons with the latest in ARTicle’s Sound and Vision series, matching songs from around the world with our encyclopedic collection.