Chicago museums: belugas, art, a ‘smart house' and splendor of the Gilded Age
St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MCT) - How do you get seven beluga whales from Chicago to Connecticut?
Germann is the spokesman for the Shedd Aquarium, which had to move its seven belugas and four dolphins in September before starting a restoration project at its Oceanarium.
"We put them in custom-designed transport cradles with hammocks suspended over water and took them to the airport," Germann said. "We FedEx'd them to the Mystic Aquarium in Connecticut. The whole thing took 12 hours."
The whales and dolphins, plus five sea otters shipped to the Minneapolis Zoo, will be on their way back to Chicago in time for the May 22 reopening of the Oceanarium.
Also in May, The Art Institute of Chicago will unveil its Modern Wing. The institute is raising its general admission price to $18 from $12 on May 23, but admission will be free May 16-22 to give the public a look at the new wing.
Add the retooled Smart Home at the Museum of Science and Industry and the new Driehaus Museum, which shows off the interior of an incredible mansion built during the Gilded Age, and even veteran visitors to Chicago will have fresh vistas to explore this summer.
"The new Oceanarium is worth the trip if you're from out of town," said Michael Delfini, the Shedd's senior vice president. "It's a completely new space."
The project began when the aquarium decided that its 3 million-gallon Oceanarium pool needed a new coating of epoxy, Delfini said during a hard-hat tour last month. Ultimately, the entire Oceanarium received a face lift at a total cost of $50 million.
This spring and in early summer, visitors will be able to watch marine mammal training sessions in the big pool, kind of like dress rehearsals for a show that will debut in July. "We created a new gate, stage left, that allows multi-species shows _ dolphins, belugas, sea lions, penguins, birds of prey," Delfini said. "They don't intermix; the belugas will come in, the dolphins will move out.
"But before, you could look out onto Lake Michigan, it was a big distraction. Now there will be a curtain with a projection system that will show beautiful seascapes of where these animals came from. The show we're going to do, nobody's ever done before. All we had before was a basic sound system."
Other improvements include a larger sea lion habitat and an expanded area where visitors can sit and watch belugas and dolphins underwater. The Oceanarium will have fish for the first time in a river exhibit with water rushing down to an estuary holding Northwest Coast species.
Kids will be able to explore a yellow submarine, dress up like penguins and get wet touching sea stars in a tidal pool at the Polar Play Zone, the Shedd's first permanent children's exhibit.
But what promises to be the most popular addition will be the "beluga encounter," where small groups will don waist-high waders and enter a pool holding the cream-colored whales. "Guests will take three or four steps down into the water, the belugas will swim up, guided by our animal-care staff," Delfini said. "You'll get to touch them. A beluga encounter is something else altogether."
The Grainger Beluga Encounter Habitat and Experience will require reservations and an additional ticket.
Architect Renzo Piano designed the $300 million Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, and his work is as beautiful as the art that was being carted in during my walk though the building. White oak floors, white walls and glass-lined staircases give the sun- and shadow-filled space an airy lightness. "To let it levitate" is how Piano described it.
Walls of windows look out on the Chicago skyline and a 620-foot pedestrian bridge, with a design inspired by the hull of a boat or a sleek racing shell, that crosses over Monroe Avenue and leads to the hugely successful Millennium Park.
Covering the wing is a roof that Piano describes as "a kind of flying carpet made of aluminum leaves that perform the same job as the tree canopies all around the park."
Louvres on the roof work like a sun screen. The cantilevered blades are controlled by an automated dimming system that adjusts to fluctuations in daylight. Natural light fills the third floor of the building. The result is consistent light levels in the galleries and a lower electric bill.
The first floor will house a museum shop, information center and galleries showing photography and electronic media. The second floor is devoted to contemporary art and to galleries for architecture and design. The third floor features European painting and sculptures since 1900, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Brancusi and Giacometti.
The new wing is the centerpiece of a building project that will reorganize the entire museum by next year and increase gallery space by 35 percent. Many of the reinstallations are complete, including a new, colorful space for the Asian collection that opened up ...
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