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Walking Tour of Public Outdoor Art in the Loop

Works by Picasso, Chagall and others adorn the Second City

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Difficulty: Easy
Length: 2.6 miles / 4.2 km
Duration: Half day
Family Friendly • Dog Friendly
Overview: Chicago is famous for its iconic architecture, but it's quickly gaining a worldwide reputation for its iconic public art as well.

The work of famous artists including Pablo Picasso, Jean Miro and Marc Chagall is showcased along Chicago's streets, inside building lobbies and atop Chicago buildings. In all, there are more than 700 sculptures, mosaics and paintings, most created and installed since 1967, the year when the first sculpture—an unnamed gigantic creation by Picasso—was installed in Daley Plaza. The latest entries into Chicago's artistic lexicon are the works that grace Millennium Park, the city's new front yard.

Chicago's commitment to public art is funded through an innovative Percent for Arts program that allocates 1.33 percent of the construction budget for new public buildings to commission and acquire artwork.

Tips: This tour highlights the main art installations along the walk. But take your time and look around. Art is big in Chicago. The facades of many buildings are adorned with mosaics and paintings, and the lobbies are home to sculptures that are not a part of the public art program, but still are worth a moment of contemplation.

Wear comfortable walking shoes and bring a jacket and umbrella so you're prepared for anything. You know what they say about Chicago weather: "Don't like the weather? Wait 10 minutes."

Points of Interest


The Picasso

Installed in Daley Plaza in 1967, this nameless sculpture by Pablo Picasso is the granddaddy of Chicago's public art scene.

In the rare event a Chicago sports team is doing well, look for the Picasso to sport a team hat as kids slide down its surface. (Just a warning: This is a dark metal sculpture. It gets very, very hot on summer days. Test the surface before letting the kids climb on.)

Daley Plaza is a center for city events. Look for concerts and farmer's markets in the summer, Halloween celebrations in the fall and a German Christkindlmarket at Christmastime.
50 W. Washington St.

Miro's 'Chicago'

Tucked in an alcove in front of the Cook County Administration building, this sculpture by Spanish artist Joan Miro is made of steel, wire mesh, concrete, bronze and ceramic tile.

The city's guide to public art says, "The bell-shaped base draws the viewer’s gaze downward, symbolizing Miro’s association of the female form with the earth. The sphere at center represents the moon while the shape of the face is derived from that of a ceramic hook. The fork projecting from the top of the head is symbolic of a star, with individual tines representing rays of light."
69 W. Washington St.

Marc Chagall's 'The Four Seasons'

This is one of Chicago's happiest pieces of public art. It sits in the courtyard of the Chase Bank building, a popular lunch spot with nearby office workers who spread out on the steps to catch a few rays and maybe listen to a free concert on a warm day.

Spend some time looking at the mural to pick out each of the six Chicago scenes the artist included.

The city's guide to public art says, "Composed of thousands of inlaid chips in over 250 colors, Marc Chagall’s 'The Four Seasons' portrays six scenes of Chicago. It features a vocabulary of images informed by the artist’s Russian Jewish heritage and found in his Surrealist paintings such as birds, fish, flowers, suns and pairs of lovers. Chagall maintained, 'the seasons represent human life, both physical and spiritual, at its different ages.' The design for this mosaic was
created in Chagall’s studio in France, transferred onto full-scale panels and installed in Chicago with the help of a skilled mosaicist. Chagall continued to modify his design after its arrival in Chicago, bringing up-to-date the areas containing the city’s skyline (last seen by the artist 30 years before installation) and adding pieces of native Chicago brick."
Dearborn and Monroe streets

Calder's 'Flamingo'

This expansive sculpture adorns Federal Plaza, a common site for public demonstrations against U.S. government policies.

Its curvaceous whimsy sits in contrast to the stark Mies van der Rohe-designed U.S. Post Office and federal buildings that surround it.

The city's public art guide says, "Alexander Calder’s abstract stabile anchors the large rectangular plaza bordered by three Bauhaus style federal buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe.

"The sculpture’s vivid color (dubbed “Calder Red”) and curvilinear form contrast dramatically with the angular steel and glass surroundings. However, 'Flamingo' is constructed from similar materials and shares certain design principles with the architecture, thereby achieving successful integration within the plaza. Despite its monumental proportions, the open design allows the viewer to walk under and through the sculpture, leading one to perceive it in relation to human scale."

As you head south to Jackson, look back east toward the lake to see Sol LeWitt's "Lines in Four Directions" on the west wall at 10 W. Jackson. You'll see a different look depending on the time of day and the angle of the sun.

The city's public art guide says, "Divided into four equal sections, the aluminum slats of Sol LeWitt’s wall relief are arranged vertically, horizontally and on two diagonals. As light and shadow play across the louvered surface throughout the day, ever-changing patterns form. It is a quiet, contemplative work that provides a momentary escape from the surrounding city bustle. Lines in 'Four Directions' reflects LeWitt’s primary interest in the system used for making art, which determines the form his art takes. To emphasize this concept, LeWitt limits his visual vocabulary to basic geometric shapes and often restricts his color palette to white."
Dearborn and Adams streets

'The Flight of Daedalus and Icarus'

This mosaic hovers over the doorway of 120 N. LaSalle, the street that serves as the beating heart of Chicago's financial district. As you walk north on LaSalle, look behind you to see the Chicago Board of Trade at the south end of LaSalle. The CBOT is the world's oldest futures and options exchange, where future prices on grains and products are set via an open outcry trading system. The imposing Art Deco facade is appropirately topped by a three-story statue of Ceres, goddess of agriculture.

Of the mosaic at 120 N. LaSalle, the city art guide says, "Roger Brown’s mosaic captures the mythic Daedalus and Icarus as they escape the labyrinth of the deadly
Minotaur, the half-man, half-bull servant of King Minos. Here, father and son soar above the ocean on wings of wax fashioned by Daedalus. Daedalus’s engineering talents are a metaphor for the resources that have made Chicago a world-renowned city.

"Conversely, Brown’s mosaic also suggests the tale of 'The Fall of Icarus.' Overcome with his newly acquired powers of flight and refusing to heed his father’s instructions, Icarus soars too close to the sun, causing his wax wings to melt. The victim of his own folly, Icarus falls into the ocean and drowns.

"Located across the street from City Hall on LaSalle Street (Chicago’s main banking corridor), Brown’s mosaic not only glorifies human ingenuity, it is a cautionary tale warning economic and governing institutions that every rise is accompanied by the danger of a fall."
120 N. LaSalle St.

'Monument with Standing Beast'

This fiberglass sculpture by Jean Dubuffet was derided by locals for its Snoopy-like (a cartoon dog character) look when it was installed in 1984 in front of the modern building that houses Illinois state government, the James R. Thompson Center.

The city art guide says, "Jean Dubuffet felt a special affection for Chicago, home to one of his three monumental sculpture commissions in this country. 'Monument with Standing Beast' comprises four elements that suggest a standing animal, a tree, a portal and an architectural form. The configuration invites viewers to enter the sculpture and echoes the dramatically open plan of the James R. Thompson Center.

"Dubuffet described the sculpture as a 'drawing which extends ... into space' and hoped it would resonate with the average person on the street. 'Monument with Standing Beast' reflects Dubuffet’s career-long development of his own often brutal, urban style utilizing street language, graffiti and caricature."

If you're in need of a break, there is a food court and restrooms in the basements of the James R. Thompson Center. Even if you don't need a break, the building—with its modern, open concept design—is worth a look inside regardless.
100 W. Randolph St.

Irv Kupcinet Memorial

A relatively rare traditional bronze sculpture, this piece by Preston Jackson honors Irv Kupcinet, a legendary newspaperman in a legendary newspaper town.

The city's public art guide says, "Preston Jackson’s over–life-size sculpture of Irv Kupcinet is a contemporary example of figurative art, sensitively created for and sited in a challenging location by the artist. Placed on the approach to the Irv Kupcinet Memorial Bridge at Wabash Avenue, this singular figure welcomes viewers from Michigan Avenue while maintaining engaging views from all sides. Looking at 'Irv' in relationship to the Tribune and Wrigley buildings reveals Jackson’s concern with making an artwork that
fully addresses its surroundings."
70 E. Wacker Dr.

Michigan Avenue Bridge

The bridge houses of the Chicago River are adorned with their own symbolic artwork.

From the city's public art guide: "The sculptural relief panels on each of the four bridge-houses celebrate Chicago’s early history. 'The Discoverers' portrays French explorers Louis Jolliet and Jacques Marquette, and René Robert Cavalier-Sieur de LaSalle and Henri Tonti, who explored the Mississippi River. 'The Pioneers' depicts early settler and fur trader John Kinzie, who purchased his log cabin in 1804 from Jean Baptiste Pointe Du Sable while leading a group through the wilderness. 'Defense' pictures a scene from the Fort Dearborn Massacre of 1812. Fearing a British attack, the Fort’s inhabitants are shown being led to safety by a Native American scout. 'Regeneration' commemorates the devastation caused by the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 and the subsequent rebuilding of the city."

Millennium Park

This park is a tour in itself. But as you walk south along Michigan Avenue notice a few of its most famous installations.

"Cloud Gate," or "The Bean," as it is affectionately known by locals, was created by Anish Kapoor. It's made of stainless steel and weighs more than 110 tons. And it's great for taking the family photo with the city skyline in the background.

Beyond "The Bean" is the Frank Gehry-designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, home to an ongoing series of free concerts on summer evenings.

Continue south along Michigan to the Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa. The two 50-foot-high glass brick towers display a constantly rotating series of photos of Chicagoans and, during the warmer months, the mouths spurt water to the delight of children who play in the spray.

Art Institute of Chicago

There's certainly plenty of art inside this world-class museum, but there's plenty of art outside as well, including the two lions that guard the front steps.

The sculptures by Edward Kemeys have graced Michigan Avenue since 1894. Their poses are similar, but not identical. When Chicago sports teams are winning, look for the lions to wear a team hat to show their team spirit.

Art lovers will be drawn inside, where it's easy to spend an entire day. If you're hungry, head to one of the cafes inside.
Michigan Avenue and Adams Street
Adults $18
Students and Seniors $12
Children under 14 Free

The museum also offers free days. At this writing, admission was free on the 1st and 3rd Wednesdays each month. Check the website for up-to-date admission news.
Friday–Wednesday 10:30am–5pm
Thursday 10:30am–8pm

Chicago Tribune Tower

This is not a public art stop, but it only requires a short walk across the Chicago River for a close-up look at the Neo-Gothic Chicago Tribune facade.

Before construction began, Col. Robert McCormick, the paper's legendary publisher, dispatched correspondents to the far corners of the world to acquire (ask for or steal, depending on the version of the story you believe) and bring back rocks to be embedded in the building facade.

Spend some time exploring the walls and you'll find stones from the Taj Mahal, the Parthenon, Palace of Westminster, the Alamo and 132 other famous locales. The most recent addition: a piece of steel recovered from the World Trade Center after the 9/11 attack.
435 N. Michigan Ave.
Pictures in this guide taken by: agrajag42, krbose, CindyRichards, balawillgetyou, hookmeup, Zol87, Leighton, markbulk, kccphx, tombias4711, kozik

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