Chagall’s America Windows return to Chicago Art Institute

The monumental stained glass windows created by Marc Chagall for the Art Institute of Chicago were returned to public view today after 5 years. They were removed from their spot in the Marc Chagall Gallery overlooking McKinlock Court in May 2005 to keep them safe from the vibration and dirt during the construction of the new Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing which opened last year.

While they were in storage, the museum’s conservation team took advantage of the opportunity to deep clean the 36 panels. After nearly 30 years, the windows had developed a white film from atmospheric pollutants that muted their deep color. It was like looking at the street through a dirty windshield. So the conservators whipped out their Q-tips, baby shampoo and water and revealed the original brilliance of the windows.


Chagall's America Windows


Marc Chagall (French; b. Byelorussia, present-day Belarus, 1887-1985) first conceived of the idea for the America Windows in 1974 when he visited Chicago for the unveiling of his mosaic in the First National Bank Plaza. At that time, Chagall learned that a gallery in his honor was being planned as part of the Art Institute’s 1970′s expansion program and offered to create the windows for the gallery. After working on the windows’ design, Chagall announced that the theme for the windows would be the American Bicentennial, and, when he learned of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s death in 1976, he decided that the windows would also serve as a memorial to the late mayor.

Chagall designed the America Windows expressly for the Art Institute and created them in collaboration with the French stained-glass artist Charles Marq. Marq fabricated 36 colored glass panels to Chagall’s specifications, and Chagall himself painted his design onto the glass using metallic oxide paints that were permanently fused to the glass through a subsequent heating process. The windows, measuring more than eight feet in height and more than 30 feet in width, are each made up of three parts, each with 12 separate sections. The images on the panels are unmistakably from the hand of Chagall, who infused his landscape of familiar American icons, references to Chicago, and symbols of the fine arts with an ethereality that suggests the creative expansiveness made possible by American freedom and liberty.

Sloane and Ferris romancin' in front of Chagall's America WindowsThe America Windows have been a huge draw ever since. An estimated 38 million viewers enjoyed the windows between their 1977 dedication and 2005 removal. Museum staff were peppered with requests for them during the long 5 years of their absence. Also, Ferris and Sloane kissed in front of them during the art museum sequence in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, so you know fan pilgrimages have been involved.

Now that they’re back, they’ve been placed in a new location — the east end of the Arthur Rubloff building — and reframed according to Chagall’s original plan, which apparently focuses the light in a special way.

Edit: Here’s a breathtaking video by artist and blogger Shellie Lewis of the refreshed Chagall America Windows looking like they might explode from their own beauty: