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See the Art Institute of Chicago's Modern Wing - Free!

By Jen Hazen in Arts & Entertainment on May 14, 2009 6:40PM

We're keyed up about Saturday's grand opening of the AIC's new Modern Wing. As the largest expansion in the museum’s history (with a price tag of - holy shit - about $290 million), this new three-floor facility offers 65,000 feet of new galleries that will house both modern and contemporary works, photography, as well as architecture and design collections. It's sheer magnitude will make the Art Institute the second largest museum in the United States. And perhaps we should mention that the New York Times has given the Modern Wing an absolutely glowing review. (For a peep at their lovely photo slideshow, click here.)

Actually, we’re a bit obsesso about the architectural and environmental aspects of the AIC's newest addition. Pritzker Prize-winning Italian architect Renzo Piano created a light-infused, airy identity for the museum with a dramatic, avant-garde design that's subtle enough not to steal the show from the art. A pale limestone and glass exterior covered by a “flying carpet” sun-screen roof keeps Chicago’s reputation for progressive architecture (à la Frank Lloyd Wright, Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier) intact. Piano’s Nichols Bridgeway, arches a 620-foot-long steel pedestrian walkway from Millennium Park to the third floor of the Modern Wing. And the Bluhm Family Terrace offers outdoor sculpture exhibitions along with a gorgeous skyline view.

Ultimately, all good design is functional, too, and the Modern Wing doesn’t disappoint. The curved roof actually creates a light filtration system which works with an automated dimming system to harness as much natural light into the galleries as possible, thus conserving energy. And the double curtainwall construction that insulates the galleries is expected to use ½ the amount of energy as AIC’s existing building. As a result of these practices, as well as recycling, the carbon dioxide emitted by the museum’s buildings has been reduced 9.6%.

Celebrate the Modern Wing’s public unveiling with AIC on Saturday from 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. Good times include a dedication with architect Renzo Piano at 9 a.m., a ribbon-cutting ceremony at 10 a.m., and live music/dancing from acts like Swing Gitan, Maxwell Street Klezmer Band, and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. The grand opening exhibit is Cy Twombly’s “Natural World”, which will be on display through September 13 at The Abbott Galleries—the Modern Wing’s special exhibition space located on the first floor.

Art Institute of Chicago, 111 S. Michigan Ave. Grand Opening May 16, 2009, 9 a.m. - 5 p.m. General Museum Hours: Monday - Wednesday, 10:30 a.m. - 5 p.m., Thursday 10:30 a.m. - 8 p.m. (with free general admission 5 p.m. - 8 p.m.), Friday 10:30 a.m. - 5:30 p.m. and Saturday/Sunday 10 a.m. - 5 p.m.

**Free Museum Admission May 16 - 22. Grand Opening events are free. General Admission: Adults: $12, Children, Students, and Seniors (65 and up): $7, Children under 12: Free, and Members: Free. For admission increase information after May 22, click here.