Masterpiece 17: A Gala Concept for the AIC






If the invitation said to dress as your favorite Art Institute masterpiece, what would you choose? The question was artfully answered in 1952 by the festive attendees of the Masterpiece Ball.


A clipping from the first Masterpiece Ball in 1952.

For Masterpiece 17 at the AIC on May 6, you don’t have to dress like a masterpiece, but you will be celebrating in grand fashion throughout the museum with iconic works of art as a showstopping backdrop.

With Jay Krehbiel and Meredith Bluhm-Wolf as co-chairs, a new generation of gala leadership emerges, adding an after-party starring a local Chicago powerhouse who happens to be one of Chance the Rapper’s favorite singing partners.

The Board of Trustees and Woman’s Board will co-host the benefit gala that reimagines the first Masterpiece Ball and boasts the next generation of leaders. Krehbiel serves on the Board of Trustees, and his parents Kay and Fred have been involved in almost all aspects of the museum over the years.


Meredith Bluhm-Wolf. Photo by Sheri Whitock Photography.

Meredith is a member the Woman’s Board, and both parents, Barbara Bluhm Kaul and Neil Bluhm, are on the Board of Trustees.

Jay said recently:

“Our President, James Rondeau, at one point threatened to come as a Monet haystack, and I would struggle between Georgia O’Keeffe’s Sky Above Clouds IV or Charles Ray’s Hinoki—I like both trees and clouds. Fortunately, it is black tie, but people can definitely take an artistic approach.  

“We are hoping it will become our major event for the year, so that when a new year begins, people will put it on their calendars for the first week of May.

“We are delighted that Shirley and Pat Ryan serve as our Honorary Chairs. The party will be very intergenerational in leadership with Stephanie Field Harris as a second-generation member of an AIC family on the committee as well.”


James Rondeau by Anna Knott.

For Rondeau, Masterpiece 17 it is a time to celebrate the museum’s entire collection: 

“The first Masterpiece Ball had that focus, and it was the single most important event of the year. We are shifting from an events-based fundraising approach where we celebrated each opening with a party. It is interesting to remember that the board game, Masterpiece, was based entirely on our collection. At Masterpiece 17, we will be celebrating iconic works from antiquity to the present.”

Meredith Bluhm-Wolf’s recalled her joy as a child visiting the Thorne Rooms with her mother, Barbara, and states that her own teenagers, Anna and James, found the Van Gogh exhibit one to revisit several times.

“We will be using parts of the museum that have not been used before for parties and hope to have 500 guests. My mother has been a docent there for 30 years, and it is wonderful to be following her footsteps. The party will definitely be intergenerational. 

“If I had to choose a costume, I would think back to the guests in 1952 who might have collected the Impressionists, including Claude Monet and Mary Cassatt, or the Post-Impressionist, Toulouse- Lautrec. I would have dressed as a dancer or singer at the Moulin Rouge.”

While he enjoys visiting art collections around the world with his bride, Sylvia, Krehbiel extolls his Art Institute roots:

“I was very lucky to grow up in a household where my brother, Liam, and I could learn from parents who have a passion for art, design, and architecture. My mother, Kay, is on the Woman’s Board and the Antiquarian Society, and my father served as treasurer of the Board. The Art Institute is my premiere cultural home.”


Sylvia and Jay Krehbiel by Cheri Eisenberg.

Funds raised from Masterpiece 17 will support the museum’s mission to inspire and educate the community and worldwide audiences.

Rondeau echoes Krehbiel’s sense of identity and pride associated with the AIC:

“At its core is the museum’s civic identity, and we serve the public identity in Chicago and the world beyond. We have recently changed the name of the Department of Museum Education to the Department of Learning and Public Engagement. We are talking broadly about our program access, whether it is school tours, adult education, teen docenting, in-gallery interaction, live arts, or a number of other offerings.

“We feel that Masterpiece 17 can foster a sense of engagement and a real sense of civic pride in being a part of the Art Institute.”

Having served as president for just over a year, Rondeau is enjoying all aspects of his job and has represented the Art Institute recently in Cape Town, Mexico City, New York, and Los Angeles.

“When I was the curator of modern and contemporary art, I was research- and acquisition-driven. Now I am representing the Art Institute as a whole. Part of my role is to serve as an ambassador for our projects with other museums, bringing Chicago to the world. At home, there is probably a new surprise every day, and I have found my emerging interest in matters of finance.”

Serving on the Host Committee (as of earlier this month) are Anne Searle Bent and Stephen Bent, The Bluhm Family Foundation, Neil Bluhm, Janet and Craig Duchossois, Jay Franke and David Herro, Andrea and Jim Gordon, Ken Griffin, Caryn and King Harris, Stephanie and John Harris, George Lucas and Mellody Hobson, The Krehbiel Family, Liz and Eric Lefkofsky, Diane and Robert Levy, Ann and Samuel Mencoff, Alexandra and John Nichols, Margot and Tom Pritzker, Anne and Chris Reyes, Betsy and Andy Rosenfield, Shirley and Patrick Ryan, Cari and Michael Sacks, Nancy and E. Scott Santi, Brenda Shapiro, Marilynn and Carl Thoma, and Pamela and Roger Weston.

From the first Masterpiece Ball until the present, the AIC has hosted glorious galas to fund its mission. Take a look back at these moments captured from parties past and accompanying invitations and other mementos in preparation for this hotly anticipated spring event.


A colorful invitation from 1961.


The Art Institute’s signature lion imagery appears again in 1963 in a welcoming note for the event.


Mr. and Mrs. James W. Alsdorf enjoy an ancient work at a gala years ago.


A description of attractions from a past event.


A glamorous group from the 1983 gala.


A whimsical hand-drawn map guides guests through the event.


Additional maps also lead guests through the museum to entertainment and refreshments.


A tableau from the 1986 gala.


Glamorous women fit for an oil portrait at a past event.