The Art Institute Unveils New Exhibits, Reopens Gardens

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix“Epping II” (pictured) is a tapestry featured in the Art Institute’s “Desire Lines” exhibit, one of many new additions to The Art Institute of Chicago.

The sun shines over the Art Institute of Chicago on a brisk Thursday afternoon in April. A teacher announces she is going to be taking attendance to the large group of students huddled around her on the front steps. Despite the chilling wind, families are milling about taking selfies and tourists are lingering on the steps enjoying the drumming street performers. 

The Art Institute has reopened their public gardens as well as added two new exhibits, “Life and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt” and “Desire Lines.”


Heather Higgins | The Phoenix The gardens of the Art Institute of Chicago have re-opened for the spring season.

After two years of COVID-19 and a long winter, The Art Institute finally seems to be blossoming again. In an April 7 Instagram post, The Art Institute announced the north and south gardens would be reopened after being closed for the winter season.

The south garden has not yet started to bloom and the large fountain, the main feature of the garden, is still shut off. However, green grass poking up from the ground and freshly planted yellow flowers hint at the warm spring days to come.

In the north garden, many of the trees still appear bare and lifeless from a distance, but closer examination reveals small buds beginning to sprout from the branches. On a sunny day the garden is a welcoming place of respite, with many patrons sitting by themselves enjoying the warmth of the sun — a rare moment of tranquility in the heart of bustling Michigan Avenue. 

The gardens are free and open to the public during museum hours, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday-Monday. Once inside, Loyola students must present their student ID to the ticket office to gain free entry.

“Life and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt”

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix “Life and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt” displays pieces representing more than 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history.

“Life and Afterlife in Ancient Egypt” opened Feb. 11 and features more than 80 objects, primarily from the museum’s permanent collection, many of which haven’t been on display for a decade. The gallery includes statues, textiles and coffins representing more than 3,000 years of ancient Egyptian history. 

Each object featured in the new permanent exhibit has been in the collection for more than 100 years. Charles Hutchison, the first president of the modern Art Institute, began collecting ancient Egyptian artifacts as early as 1890, according to the Art Institute.

The gallery is a long dark corridor with display cases lining the walls. In a large glass case situated in the center of the exhibit is the coffin of Nesi-pa-her-hat, which dates from about 1069-945 BCE. The empty wooden coffin is shaped like a human with crossed arms, both the inside and outside of the coffin are covered in complex colorful designs. The painted decoration depicts the owner of the coffin, Nesi-pa-her-hat, with gods and goddesses who would protect him in the afterlife. 

The vibrancy of the colors is astounding considering the age of the piece and begs the viewer to imagine the coffin as it was when it was freshly painted thousands of years ago.

History feels so close to the present in this exhibit with the inclusion of personal items like jewelry and a delicately rendered lifelike portrait of a man wearing a laurel wreath.

Nestled in the very back of the exhibit hall is a coffin containing the mummified body of Pa-ankh-en-Amun, which dates to about 945-715 BCE. The brightly colored coffin, with its gilded golden face and intricate designs, leaves viewers only to imagine the ancient human remains contained within. 

Both of these exhibits are worthy additions to the impressive works featured by The Art Institute. “Desire Lines” will be running from April 2 through Aug. 1. 

“Desire Lines”

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix “Desire Lines” is the first major solo exhibit in the U.S. by South African artist Igshaan Adams.

In the modern wing, the new installation “Desire Lines” is the first major solo exhibit in the United States by South African artist Igshaan Adams. 

The exhibit brings together more than 20 works spanning from 2014 and includes “Epping II”— an intricate tapestry piece commissioned by The Art Institute. 

The exhibit’s name refers to desire lines, or informal pathways created by pedestrians choosing to create a more convenient route. As people choose to cut through a grassy field instead of using a paved walkway, the path created by their footsteps over time is a desire line. Adams’ uniquely weaved tapestries integrate many unusual materials such as shells, beads and thin gold chains to create complex forms. Beyond the immediately obvious beauty of his creations, there’s a deeply personal and political dimension. 

His work is heavily influenced by his hometown, the working class township of Bonteheuwel, South Africa, as well as his Sufi faith. Adams’ work fuses childhood experiences of growing up under the oppression of an apartheid state with memories of family and community connection. 

The tapestries sprawling across the floor and walls create a fantastical environment out of a simple gallery space. “Epping II” consists of a broken-up tapestry spread out across the floor, the gaps in the tapestry making paths so viewers can walk through the piece. Above the floor, airy wire sculptures hang from the ceiling, resembling whimsical clouds of smoke rising from the ground. 

The patterns in the tapestry of “Epping II” are created to resemble the landscape of the artist’s hometown and the desire lines created by pedestrians as they cross between separated neighborhoods. 

It’s easy to feel transported when walking among “Epping II.” The open nature of the piece invites the viewer to walk amongst its elements and feel engulfed in their beauty. It’s a piece not simply to be viewed but to be experienced and studied. 

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