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Art Institute of Chicago Opens Holiday Season with New Exhibits

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The Art Institute of Chicago once again embraces the holidays by offering visitors from near and far wondrous new additions to the museum, art-filled events and programs, music, miniatures, mistletoe, and more. The festivities begin with the museum's 22nd annual Wreathing of the Lions ceremony on November 29, 2013 and continue through Wednesday, January 8. This season, the Art Institute offers passion, inspiration, creativity, and contemplation-experiences that will last the whole year.

For a second year, the Art Institute will be showcasing its "Gifts to the City"-a selection of the year's acquisitions and loans that continue to build the museum's collection for residents of and visitors to Chicago. One of the newest masterpieces is a dazzling mid-18th-century Neapolitan crèche, on view in Gallery 209. The crèche, one of very few outside of Naples, is an intricate Nativity scene that reflects the vitality and artisanship that the city is still known for. The Art Institute's crèche features over 200 figures-including no less than 50 animals and 41 items of food and drink-all staged in a spectacular Baroque cabinet with a painted backdrop. Elaborate, complex, and stunning, the Neapolitan crèche is a rare example of the genre and a once-in-a-lifetime acquisition for the Art Institute. Also on view is The Christmas Prayer (1882) by Vincent van Gogh. On loan to the Art Institute from a private collector, this rarely seen drawing expresses what van Gogh called the "special mood" of the holiday season. The Christmas Prayer will be on display in Gallery 241.

The "Gifts to the City" will be featured in a special tour that includes a game for the family, complete with a prize from the Museum Shop.

The season begins begin with a roar at the 22nd Annual Wreathing of the Lions, a cherished Chicago tradition, on November 29, 2013. Immense evergreen wreaths will adorn the necks of the majestic lion statues that stand guard at the entrance to the Art Institute. Wreathing festivities commence at 10:00 a.m. and will include a live performance by Cuerdas Clasicas, complimentary hot chocolate, and an appearance by the Art Institute's mascot, Artie the Lion. The first 50 people in line after the event will receive free admission to the museum at 10:30 a.m. After exploring the galleries, families can visit the Ryan Education Center, where they can create wreaths of their own inspired by the "Gifts to the City" and the major exhibition Art and Appetite.

Another decorating tradition is back-and more festive than ever-with 11 Thorne Miniature Rooms dressed in holiday finery! This year, the 1930s French Library joins the celebration with a tiny taste of Art Deco holiday glamour. Plus, a new long-term loan, a miniature replica of the breakfast room of Frank Lloyd Wright's William Martin House in Oak Park, will be unveiled.

With a full roster of joyous performances, enlightening gallery tours, and engaging activities for young visitors, the Art Institute is the place to spend the holidays with friends and family. Children under 14 always receive free admission to the Art Institute.

Below is a listing of Art Institute holiday events this season. Visit the Art Institute's website at for the latest information.

  • Steal a kiss from your sweetheart or snap a picture with your family under the Great Mistletoe Ball on the Woman's Board Grand Staircase.
  • Listen to the sounds of the season performed by Chicagoland high school choirs, December 9 through 13. All performances will be held at the festively decorated Woman's Board Grand Staircase. Free with museum admission.
  • Celebrate the story of Christmas through paintings, etchings, and illuminated manuscripts from the Middle Ages and beyond in The Christmas Story in Art lecture, November 29 at 1:00 p.m. and December 5 at 12:00 p.m. in Rubloff Auditorium. Free with museum admission.
  • Go on an expedition to learn about the museum's artworks, and collect stickers and stamps, followed by a tea party that includes live entertainment and refreshments at the wildly popular 32nd Annual Treasure Hunt and Tea Party on December 8 at 10:45 a.m., 12:00 p.m., or 1:30 p.m. Call (877) 307-4242 or visit to purchase tickets.
  • Families can enjoy the beauty of winter with a Luminary Walk, December 12, 5:00-7:00 p.m. Take a tour of the Lurie Garden, brightened this season with glowing luminary lanterns. Then, create a luminous ornament in the Ryan Education Center and go on a gallery walk. Meet in the Ryan Education Center for this two-hour program. Free with museum admission.
  • Gather the whole crew and construct an edible dream home with the Build Your Own Gingerbread House workshop in the Millennium Park Room, December 14 and 15, 11:00 a.m. or 2:00 p.m. The cost is $60 per family of four; $50 per Art Institute member with a family of four. Gingerbread kits, frosting, and decorating candy are included. Additional kits and discounted dining vouchers for the Garden Café will be available for purchase. Tax and gratuity not included. Please call (312) 553-9675 for reservations.
  • Take part in a family-oriented afternoon filled with holiday sing-alongs at Caroling Tea events in the Stock Exchange Trading Room, December 14 and 15, 2:00 to 4:00 p.m. Savor complimentary tea sandwiches and festive desserts. Drinks and "mocktails" for kids will be available for purchase at the cash bar. The cost is $25 per person; $15 for children 12 and under; free for children under two; and $20 per person for Art Institute members. Tax and gratuity not included. Please call (312) 553-9675 for reservations.
  • Discover more about the fine works in the collection as Masterpiece of the Day returns this holiday season. Each day at noon from December 16 through 31, take a 30-minute guided gallery tour that focuses on a different jewel in the Art Institute's collection, including Paul Cezanne's The Basket of Apples and Winslow Homer's The Herring Net. These engaging, brief talks give viewers the chance to learn more about their favorite works-and the objects that make the Art Institute's collection world renowned.
  • Family Programs for the holidays include workshops and gallery walks on Saturdays and Sundays in December (except December 24 and 25). The popular Holly Days festival begins Friday, December 27, and continues through Monday, December 30. Holly Days includes a variety of activities daily from 10:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. in the Ryan Education Center. This year, families can create a flexible figure inspired by our new Neopolitan crèche. Art Institute mascot Artie the Lion makes a special appearance on December 27!
  • Find unique, inspired gifts this holiday season. Art Institute gift memberships are available in both the Michigan Avenue and the Modern Wing entrance lobbies. Or stop by the Museum Shop or the Modern Shop and find a wide array of gifts, including jewelry, home décor, clothing, stationery, gift books, and much more. Then, after enjoying art, entertainment, and shopping at the Art Institute, take a break at Terzo Piano in the Modern Wing or at the Museum Café, located in the lower level of the Rubloff Building.

For general museum information, please call (312) 443-3600 or visit For information about specific lectures and family programs, please call the Department of Museum Education at (312) 443-3680. Exhibitions and programs are free with museum admission unless otherwise noted. The Art Institute will be closed Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

Images (left to right): Edward Kemeys. Lions (detail), 1893. Gift of Mrs. Henry Field; Crèche, mid-18th century. Naples. Charles H. and Mary F. Worcester Collection, Ada Turnbull Hertle, Eloise W. Martin Legacy, and Lacy Armour funds; restricted gifts of Mr. and Mrs. James N. Bay, Linda and Vincent Buonanno, and Mrs. Robert O. Levitt; Vincent van Gogh. The Christmas Prayer, 1882. Lent in memory of a boy with whom every day was like Christmas because he shared so much love; Mrs. James Ward Thorne. California Hallway, c. 1940 (detail), c. 1940. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago.

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