Walking Tours and Public Art in Chicago

Four Seasons, Chagall.

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the seventh post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

While researching things to do in Chicago I came across the itinerary for a self guided walking tour of public art in the Loop area of Chicago.  The tour includes 21 different public art pieces as well as recommendations of additional buildings and sights to see along the way.

There was lots of other public art to take in just walking around the city on a daily basis.  The city of Chicago has a vibrant public art program which include over 700 works found in over 150 municipal properties in the city.  So it’s hard to not see at least some of the public art. Details on the Public Art Program and highlights from the public art collection can be seen here.

I’ve done a number of guided tours in other cities but never a self guided tour. The walk was a good

Chicago Picasso

experience. There was only one or two instances where the directions on the guide weren’t terribly clear.  And we explored parts of the city and artwork we might have otherwise overlooked.

A couple of my favourites stops along the tour were the Chicago Picasso sculpture, the Four Seasons mosaic mural by Chagall, and the Town-Ho’s Story by Frank Stella.

While visiting the Art Institute of Chicago earlier in the week the small exhibit focusing on public art spoke about the controversy that surrounded the Chicago Picasso when it was installed as the first large scale public art piece in the downtown. It was nice to be able to see it in person and being used as a giant slide by children.

Town-Ho, Frank Stella.

The amount of work that must have went into Four Seasons by Chagall amazed me. The 70ft long mural is made up of thousands of pieces of coloured glass and stone. The mural depicts seasons and landscapes of Chicago.  The work includes pieces of Chicago brick that was added by Chagall after the work arrived in the city. Four Seasons was donated to Chicago in 1974.  In 1994 work was done on the mosaic to restore the piece after and a protective canopy was added in an attempt to shield the work from exposure to the elements.

Frank Stella’s Town-Ho Story is located in the lobby of the Metcalfe Federal Building.  The 18 foot high metal sculpture is named after a chapter in Moby Dick and it part of larger series by Stella relating to the book. There has been numerous complaints and controversy surrounding this work with many people calling it a ‘pile of garbage’, ‘not art’, ‘metal scrap’, etc.

One of the nice things about exploring public art in a self guided tour is the ability to spend as much time at a work as you want, to take time to see other sites not included in the tour, and the option of setting your own pace.  This particular self guided tour involved a fairly lengthy walk but made for an enjoyable day exploring the city.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay

Parks, Public Art, and Community Gardens

I recently spent a few days in Chicago, Illinois.  This is the second post in a series about the museums, architecture, public gardens, and art I visited while there.  The first post can be viewed here.

One of my favourite mornings in Chicago was spent wondering around Millennium Park and the numerous public gardens in the area. Millennium Park contains a number of great public art pieces, examples of great architecture, and regularly hosts free music events.


Vegetables in Millennium Park flower bed

 I loved the fact that so much of the downtown area had been preserved as green space. The space the Millennium Park occupies was  maintained by the Illinois Central Railroad and prior to 1997 the area was filled with railroad tracks and parking lots. Through a public and private partnership the now 24.5 acre park was turned into a public space built on top of the ‘unsightly’ parking lots. Photographs of the transformation of the land can be seen in the Chicago Public Library Millennium Park Digital Collection

The park is perhaps most well known for its inclusion of the work of architect Frank Gehry in the Jay Pritzker Pavilion and BP Bridge.  Both are beautiful structures and during my visit we took in a bit of the Grant Park Music Festival in the Pavilion.

The park also has a number of public art installations including Cloud Gate (aka the bean), Crown Fountain, and currently 1004 Portraits by Jaume Plensa is on by the Crown Fountain.

Art In The Farm Garden

I was also enthralled by the integration of vegetables into the gardens of Millennium and Grant Park.  A number of the main gardens and flower beds in Millennium Park contain corn, tomatoes, herbs and other veggies.  When harvested the vegetables are being donated to local non-profits. 

Youth working in the Art In The Farm Garden

There were also a number of vegetable only gardens in other sections of the park.  The community driven nature of these initiatives is inspiring.  The Grant Park “Art in the Farm” urban agriculture project is managed by Growing Power which trains and employs at-risk youth in urban agriculture and community food system development.  The gardens were both beautiful and practical.  It was great to see people working in the gardens and actually engaging with the green space. 

The prevalence of community gardens reminded me a lot of wartime community gardens that were started during WWII.  In Chicago over 1,500 victory gardens were started in the city mostly by people who had never gardened before.  An interesting comparison between the 1940s victory gardens and contemporary urban gardening can be seen here.

You can easily spend hours wondering around the parks in Chicago taking in the public art, gardens, and examples of community building.  I also spent considerable time in the Lurie Garden, which I’ll talk about in a separate post.

Photo Credit: Andrew MacKay.