Art Everywhere: A Walking Tour of Chicago’s Public Art

Crown Fountain

Crown Fountain: Image from Flickr’s Creative Commons by Serge Melki

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Good art on display in public places is a major hallmark of a great city and Chicago is no exception. Chicago is home to a fantastic collection of public art, and there is no need to pay admission to an art gallery to see it — all you need to do is take a walk around the city to view a number of impressive masterpieces.

The renaissance of public art in Chicago began in 1967, when the Mayor Richard J. Daley first dedicated the sculpture that stands in front of the Civic Center Plaza that bears his name. Since then, downtown Chicago has become somewhat of a sculpture gallery. Some of the most well-known artists in the world have works on display — and not just the Art Institute of Chicago, but also all around the streets. The beautiful works of public art bring the streets, parks and neighborhoods to life, and they are completely free to view.

The area of the city known as The Loop is somewhat of an open-air museum with sculptures by Miró, Calder and Picasso. If you are looking to find vacation ideas in Chicago, it is possible to take a walk through the Loop over the course of around 2-4 hours, depending on how much time you allow for lingering at each stop. Don’t forget to bring your camera and download a map on your phone so that you can find your way back to your hotel after wandering through the city. It is a good idea to start your walk in the morning or the afternoon, as some of the sculptures are located inside buildings that will be closed in the evenings.

Art Institute of Chicago

A great place to start your walk is at the Art Institute of Chicago, the world-famous art gallery. You can take a couple of hours to enjoy the gallery collection, or save it for another day if you don’t want to wear yourself out before walking around the rest of the city.

From there, take a look at the interesting sculptures in the North Garden of the Art Institute, such as the “Flying Dragon” by Calder and the “Large Interior Form” by Sir Henry Moore. You will also see the “Cubi VII” by David Smith, which features a strange metal texture that catches the light in an interesting way.

Crown Fountain

Head across Monroe Street and you will see the well-known “Crown Fountain” public art piece by Jaume Plensa. This interactive work features a reflecting pool made from black granite and two glass-and-brick towers. These towers are approximately 50 feet tall and display digital videos on their inward-facing surfaces. In the summer time, water occasionally cascades down the towers or spouts from a nozzle on the front face. Sometimes the towers project the faces of local Chicagoans, which makes it look like they are spouting water out of their mouths.

Cloud Gate

Cloud Gate byy Bert Kaufmann, Flickr.

Cloud Gate

Another well-known Chicago public sculpture is the Cloud Gate, which is better known as “The Bean.” It is a kidney-shaped sculpture that is made from smooth, reflective stainless steel and weighs 110 tons. It works somewhat like a silly funhouse mirror, reflecting its surroundings in a strange and surreal way. The sculpture is so big that it is possible to walk underneath its underside. This sculpture is thought of as an essential Chicago photo opportunity and many people regard it as a destination rather than a work of art. In fact, Edward Lifson the Chicago art critic considers “Cloud Gate” to be one of the greatest pieces of public art in the world.

The Sounding Sculptures

Next, head over to the Aon Center and listen carefully to the sounding sculptures by Henry Bertoia. These beautiful musical sculptures are designed to look like enormous stalks of wheat and when the wind blows through them (as it usually does in the Windy City) they produce a strange noise of their own.

Of course, these are only a few of the sculptures that you will see when walking around “The Loop” during your trip to Chicago.

About the Author: Eleanor Roberts is a freelance writer and travel blogger.

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