Museum Hack Tour at the Art Institute of Chicago

The foyer of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Have you ever taken a tour of a museum, excited to learn the backstories of notable artifacts, only to have the tour guide spend 45 excruciating minutes on the first piece of art — instantly reminding you why you hated Art History in college? We’ve all been there — and many of us have sworn off tours since.

Enter Museum Hack, whose goal is to switch up museum tours to be, well, exciting. They hold tours in Chicago, New York City, San Francisco and Washington, D.C. at some of the country’s (and world’s) best museums. But instead of taking you piece-by-piece through each gallery, they skip around to the exciting stuff — and I’m not talking about A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.

Museum Hack Tour of the Art Institute of Chicago

A Sunday on La Grande Jatte at the Art Institute of Chicago.
A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, one of the Art Institute of Chicago’s most famous pieces.

About Museum Hack Tours

Instead, Museum Hack tours carefully look at about 8 artifacts spread throughout the museum over 2 hours. At a recent Museum Hack tour of the Art Institute of Chicago, that meant going from an easily-overlooked but strikingly beautiful impressionist painting to a gory but hilarious Renaissance panel. We hit a very flamboyant teapot, then a phallic-shaped statue in the Asian wing, winding our way through boldly colorful American art and ending at a very contemporary “portrait” that was actually a pile of candy that we picked off the floor to eat. And yes, we skipped the famous Ferris Bueller painting that’s arguably the Art Institute’s most popular piece.

Museum Hack Tour Guide Elise at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Museum Hack tour guide Elise explaining some tidbits about Renaissance art.

The tour wasn’t quite as sarcastic as this hilarious Honest Museum Audio Tour article in the New Yorker, but it was equally parts funny, informative and self-aware. (Come on, we can all admit that this all-blue canvas is not really museum-worthy art, right?

Museum Hack tours are limited to 8-10 people, preventing the lecture hall-like groups that many tours suffer, and double as a sort of team-building, get-to-know-each-other activity. I’m normally weary of group participation that make me cringe with cheesiness, but I actually had fun getting to know my fellow tour-mates.

Two Sisters by Pierre-Auguste Renoir at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Two Sisters, by Pierre-Auguste Renoir, was my favorite of the day.

Why Museum Hack Tours are Great

The best part about the Museum Hack tour was that we jumped all over the entire museum. Yes, we passed by some essentials that I was anxious to see (like Renoir’s Two Sisters), but I also discovered areas of the massive museum that I’ve never seen before. So once the two-hour tour finished, I backtracked to the areas of the museum I wanted to see — and knew what galleries I preferred to skip.

For first-timers in a museum as large as the Art Institute, Museum Hack tours are a great way to get a sense of the entire collection, plus some fun not-your-average-tour tidbits along the way. It’s easy to rush-rush-rush through the museum to try to see it all, but spending time on just a few pieces made me realize how much I was missing by just skimming the art.

Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, with The Solitude of the Soul in the background at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Zenobia, Queen of Palmyra, with The Solitude of the Soul in the background.


Museum Hack tours are $39 plus the price of admission to the museum ($25 at the Art Institute) and are currently held on Thursdays at 6 pm and Saturdays at 2:30 pm. Tickets are available online here.

Disclaimer :: I was graciously treated to my Museum Hack tour as a guest of Museum Hack. As always, all opinions are my own.

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