The Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago
"I believe that the language of architecture is not a question of a specific style. Every building is built for a specific use in a specific place and for a specific society." - Thinking Architecture by Peter Zumthor
My first trip to Chicago was during a freezing winter day in 1980, and I will never forget the beautiful perspective looking down Adams Street as I climbed out of Union Station. It was bitterly cold, but I forced my family to accompany me to the end of Adams to the Art Institute of Chicago. At the time, the institute was hosting 5000 years of Korean traditional art.
It was important for me to attend the show, but it was not my main reason to visit the Art Institute, which housed Paris Street: Rainy Day by Gustav Caillebotte, Self Portrait by Vincent Van Gogh, Water Lilies by Claude Monet, and other masterpieces I have always admired. Ever since my first visit, rain or shine, I’ve always found the art institute to be a shelter from any mundane uninspiring days, or when it was too cold outside, I felt the warmth as soon as I stepped into the gallery.
Fast forward to a cold, windy, snowy, and dull grey day in Chicago during December of 2009, while I am visiting and realizing how typical the weather is in Chicago—uninspiring. I reminded myself to visit the newly opened architectural expansion to overturn my depressed mood. This successful architecture was opened in May of 2009, designed by living master, Renzo Piano, a past winner of the Pritzker Prize. Piano runs a global architectural group, Renzo Piano Building Workshop, from Paris, Genoa, and New York. He has also worked with some of the modern masters, such as Louis Kahn, Richard Rogers, and Makowsky. Piano’s signature, a simple modern elegant architectural style, is truly appropriate for Chicago, and timely appropriate for the Art Institute of Chicago’s expansion.
The Modern Wing consists of 264,000 square feet, with 60,000 square feet of gallery space. The design is subtle with a slick Italiano stare at the instantly recognizable Jay Pritzker Pavilion by Frank Gehry in Millennium Park. Although the flat sunscreen roof may be a repeated vocabulary for Piano (“flying carpet”), the element embellishes well with the modern surroundings of the Chicago skyline.
As soon as I stepped into the Modern Wing, I felt the warmth and thoughtfulness from this approachable austere architecture. I quickly forgot about the nasty weather, and became excited about the galleries I was about to visit. The space is a gift to visitors, where one can submerge into arts and be inspired.
Photos by D.B. Kim.