The Art Institute of Chicago suffers from the same embarrassment of riches as other large metropolitan museums: a collection so large that only a small portion can be displayed at any one time. Visitors, especially returning visitors and members, want to see more of the collection and want to see “new” objects or exhibitions at a rate befitting today’s fast-paced, ever changing world. How does a large metropolitan art museum meet that challenge?

The Art Institute reorganized its galleries and added more paintings and sculptures. The popularity of decorative arts exhibitions at nearby museums seems to have inspired the Art Institute to re-think its decorative arts galleries.

In previous years, the decorative arts galleries featured tables, chairs, other furniture, and some art objects lined up for their mug shots on white or gray risers. The objects were isolated – a very unwelcoming presentation. Perhaps inspired by historic house museums’ ability to create in situ vignettes for their decorative arts objects, the Art Institute now creates little scenes on its risers. You might see Frank Lloyd Wright chairs and table with a period lamp on the table. John Singer Sargent landscapes now hang above Herter Brothers desks. Tiffany lamps now contain bulbs, are lit from within and are displayed on other Herter Brothers pieces.

The next step would be adding period wall coverings and floor coverings to differentiate further the vignettes. With a textiles department in the lower level, the Art Institute could take that next step.