Staying In and Out of the Loop: Chicago's Public Art

Vol 6, Issue 1

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Staying In and Out of the Loop: Chicago's Public Art

by Marisa Lerer

Chicago’s cultural offerings extend beyond its grand architectural heritage, esteemed universities, and major art collections. The city’s historic and diverse selection of public artworks range from beaux-arts traditions, 1960s installed pop art, to more current notions of how art can shape the public sphere. The College Art Association conference hotel is located along The Loop, the heart of Chicago’s downtown business and cultural district, which offers conference participants a multitude of public art experiences within easy walking distance.

Within the loop, and a 5-minute walk from the conference is Grant Park where visitors can view Magdalena Abakanowicz’s Agora, the artist’s largest permanent installation. Also located at Grant Park is Icelandic artist Steinunn Thórarinsdóttir’s temporary installation Borders.

Venturing north, Millenium Park is a fifteen-minute walk from the hotel. There the city installed Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (2006), more commonly referred to as “the bean.” The park is also home to Jaume Plensa’s interactive Crown Fountain (2004), which combines images of the faces of 1,000 Chicago residents projected onto LED screens.

Perhaps Chicago’s most famous sculpture is Pablo Picasso’s first major public artwork, commonly known as the Chicago Picasso (1967) located in Daley Plaza (several blocks from Millenium Park). The city’s eventual embrace of the Picasso led to later commissions of public works by well-known modernists such as Alexander Calder’s stabile Flamingo (1974) in front of federal buildings by Mies van der Rohe at Federal Plaza, March Chagall’s The Fours Seasons (1972) mosaic in Chase Plaza (a seven minute walk from Federal Plaza), and Jean Dubuffet’s Monument with Standing Beast (1984), which is one of three of the artist’s public sculptures in the U.S. Close by are the monumental sculptures on Michigan Avenue Bridge and Esplanade Dating from the 1920s.

If you would like to explore outside of Chicago’s city center consider Claes Oldenburg’s Bat Column (1972) and Mary Broegger’s The Haymarket Memorial (1992), which commemorates and marks the site of the 1886 Haymarket Riot. Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time (1920) in Washington Park is close to the University of Chicago and its art institutions including the Smart Museum of Art and the Arts Incubator.

For more information on public art in Chicago take a look at the Chicago Public Art Program. While traveling on the “L,” the Chicago Transportation Authority (CTA) website indicates locations of public art works along each line and offers a downloadable booklet on the CTA’s commissioned works. In addition, Wiki Travel Loop Art Tour provides a clear, self-guided public art and architectural walking tour of the city.

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