Public Art in Chicago's Loop

Updated on October 24, 2016
LisaRoppolo profile image

Lisa is a writer with a terrible case of wanderlust! She loves to photograph interesting places and provide tips to the casual vacationer.

Public Art: A Lasting Legacy

Many of these artists are now long gone, but standing for all the public to view is the legacy they left behind for many to enjoy. Public art, especially modern or abstract pieces aren't for everyone. I know many people who just don't understand modern art. Sometimes, even I don't "get" some pieces, but these pieces are now icons and have defined the city. The best part about public art is that it is free to view. So no matter what kind of financial circumstance you may find yourself in, these pieces can be enjoyed by anyone and everyone!

"Chicago" by Joan Miro
"Chicago" by Joan Miro | Source

"Chicago" by Joan Miro

Joan Miro (1893-1983) was a Spanish painter and sculptor, who designed this structure located in Brunswick Plaza which is right across from Daley Plaza in 1981. Originally named, The Sun, Moon and One Star, it was renamed Chicago by Miro. Sitting at 39 feet tall, it is constructed of mixed media which includes bronze, wire mesh, concrete, steel and mosaic tiles. Chicago sometimes gets overshadowed by another very famous piece located directly across the street (see below). You can view other Miro works, including some of his paintings at the Art Institute of Chicago.

"The Picasso" by Pablo Picasso

One of the most famous Spanish painters and sculptors of the modern era, Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was the Co-founder of the Cubist movement. He has several paintings and cast bronze sculptures in the Art Institute of Chicago and when one thinks of Chicago and Art, they definitely think of Picasso.

The Untitled piece, located in Daley Plaza, was built in 1967 and is 50 feet tall and weighs in at 162 tons. It was commissioned for that site by the architects who designed the plaza and Daley Center, paid for from charitable donations. The cost was $351,959.17 which didn't include Picasso's fee. Picasso waived the fee as a gift to the city.

Chicagoans refer to this piece as The Picasso. Some also refer to this piece as The Woman. Picasso himself never said what it was supposed to be, but some speculated that it was indeed a French woman that Picasso knew and had used as a model for some of his other portraits. This woman was a platonic friend, but Picasso had wanted more from the relationship and she rebuffed him. So in essence, unrequited love had inspired him in this piece and several other works.

The Picasso with tents for the farmer's market that happens every Thursday, May thru October
The Picasso with tents for the farmer's market that happens every Thursday, May thru October | Source

Daley Plaza

Washington at Dearborn Street, Chicago IL:
West Washington Street & North Dearborn Street, Chicago, IL 60602, USA

get directions

For those of you not from Chicago, have you ever visited and viewed the public art?

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"Four Seasons" by Marc Chagall

Marc Chagall (1887-1985) was a Belarussian and French artist most known for his stained glass sculptures and windows. Four Seasons, built in 1974 is located in Chase Plaza at the corner of Monroe and Dearborn streets. It is 70 feet wide by 14 feet high and 10 feet wide. In 1994, a protective canopy was added to help protect it from the elements. This interesting rectangular piece was a gift to the city from the Trust of Frederick H. Prince, who was a stockbroker and investment banker. Another famous work sits inside the Art Institute of Chicago. You may recall the famous Chagall stained glass window from one of the scenes in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, where Ferris and his girlfriend are sitting briefly in front of it.

Four Seasons by Chagall
Four Seasons by Chagall | Source
View of the other side of Four Seasons by Chagall
View of the other side of Four Seasons by Chagall | Source

"The Flamingo" by Alexander Calder (American,1898-1976)

Perhaps one of the best recognized fixtures in Chicago (aside from the Picasso) is this brightly colored painted steel structure called the Flamingo. Located in Federal Plaza (Adams at Dearborn streets), the structure sits 53 feet tall and weighs 50 tons. Built in 1974, the color choice was purposefully chosen to pop against the black steel federal building it sits in front of. The work was commissioned by the General Services Administration, which has it's own budget for funding public works such as this.

The Flamingo by Calder
The Flamingo by Calder | Source
Bat Column by Claes Oldenburg
Bat Column by Claes Oldenburg | Source

"Bat Column" by Claes Oldenburg

American sculptor, Claes Oldenburg (1929- ) constructed this massive column in 1977 out of grey-painted steel with lattice work. Sitting at 101 feet tall, this column is located near Jefferson and Madison streets. While it isn't technically in the Loop, I thought it was an interesting sculpture worthy of mentioning. Oldenburg is known for his large, whimsical sculptures. This one is no exception. The piece was originally planned to be bright red, but Oldenburg opted for the gray color because he didn't want it to compete with Calder's Flamingo.

At the base, there is a plaque that reads: "Oldenburg selected this baseball bat as an emblem of Chicago's ambition and vigor". You either love or hate this piece and many people protested when the structure was completed. The symbolism for me is very simple because Chicagoans love their baseball rivalry with two teams calling the city their home (Chicago White Sox and Chicago Cubs).

The underside of cloud gate
The underside of cloud gate | Source

"Cloud Gate" by Anish Kapoor

Indian born British sculptor, Anish Kapoor (1952- ) won the design contest for the sculpture that sits in Millennium Park, which upon this writing, just celebrated it's 10th birthday. Also called The Bean, the sculpture is made of 168 stainless steel plates welded together then grinded to a seamless finish. It stands 33 feet by 42 feet by 66 feet. Kapoor is said to have gotten the inspiration from liquid Mercury.

Both children and adults have fun going to the underside of the sculpture, which is concave. The high polish reflects the city skyline beautifully. You can find the Bean near the intersections of Washington Street and Michigan Avenue.

Cloud Gate (before the seams were polished)
Cloud Gate (before the seams were polished) | Source
Cloud Gate after the seams were polished
Cloud Gate after the seams were polished | Source
Crown Fountain
Crown Fountain | Source

"Crown Fountain" by Jaume Plensa (1955- )

Another interesting piece of public art lies in Millennium Park; Crown Fountain. Built in 2004, this piece fuses interactive video, LED lights and water into a fun and engaging fountain. Each "tower" sits 50 feet tall and includes a black granite reflecting pool at it's base that is popular to beat the heat in summer months for young and old alike. The faces on the video change throughout the day. Every 15 minutes the screens go black and queue up another video.

You can find this sculpture on the south end of Millennium Park near Michigan Avenue.

Millennium Park

Millennium Park, Chicago, IL:
Millennium Park, Chicago, IL, USA

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Chicago Stock Exchange Arch
Chicago Stock Exchange Arch | Source

"Chicago Stock Exchange Arch" by Louis Sullivan

You may have heard of Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) before; he is one of the founding fathers of the modern skyscraper and was instrumental in using the new technologies of the time in steel construction to revolutionize the way we build skyscrapers today. In 1894, Sullivan designed the Chicago Stock Exchange building and this arch was once part of the entryway to that building. The stock exchange was sadly torn down in 1972, but pieces of the building, including the trader's room, was salvaged and is now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. This arch is located at the East entrance to the Art Institute, near the modern art wing.

Chicago Stock Exchange arch
Chicago Stock Exchange arch | Source

"Fountain of the Great Lakes" by Lorado Taft (1860-1936)

Located in the gardens on the Michigan side of the Art Institute on the south side of the building, is Fountain of the Great Lakes which was created in 1907-1913. Each of the women are said to represent the great lakes and the water that flows through them. Made of cast bronze, the fountain stands 22 feet high. This fountain because of it being made of bronze has a great green patina from being exposed to the elements for all these years.

Fountain of the Great Lakes by Taft
Fountain of the Great Lakes by Taft | Source

"The Lions" by Edward L. Kemeys (1843-1907)

Simply referred to as The Lions or the Art Institute Lions, two massive cast bronze lions flank the entry way to the Art Institute of Chicago. Created in 1893, Kemeys was known for his large cast bronze animal sculptures. If you look closely, these lions are not identical. The lion sitting on the south side was named by the artist Attitude of Defiance, for his proud stance. The lion sitting on the north side was named On the Prowl and has his mouth open suggesting a roar. These statues were gifted to the museum by Mrs. Henry Field and were specifically made for the grand opening of the Art Institute in 1893.

Lion (South side)
Lion (South side) | Source
Lion (North side)
Lion (North side) | Source

Art Institute of Chicago

Michigan Avenue at Adams Street, Chicago, IL:
South Michigan Avenue & East Adams Street, Chicago, IL 60603, USA

get directions

Monument with Standing Beast by Dubuffet
Monument with Standing Beast by Dubuffet | Source

"Monument with Standing Beast" by Jean Dubuffet

French painter and sculptor, Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) created this fiberglass piece in 1984 which sits outside the Thompson Center (Randolph and Clark Streets). He described this piece as "a drawing that extends into space". Many of his pieces embrace the idea of "low art", meaning art in a raw, simple form that was more authentic and humanistic than the traditional pieces and thoughts on beauty in art.

Chicagoans call this piece by it's unflattering nickname, Snoopy in a Blender. The fiberglass sculpture stands at 29 feet tall and weighs 10 tons!

Enjoy your Visit to Chicago!

I hope you enjoyed my visual tour of a small sampling of these remarkable pieces! Come for a visit and see all that Chicago has to offer!

© 2014 Lisa Roppolo


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