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World class art in Chicago's Loop

November 13, 2009 11:45:48 AM PST
In downtown Chicago, tucked away under skyscrapers both famous and mundane, lie treasures of art for city-dwellers to enjoy. These works provide Chicagoans with the pleasures of a public art scene that rivals major cities.The tradition dates back to 1967 when Mayor Richard J. Daley installed an abstract sculpture by Spanish artist Pablo Picasso in the plaza that now bears his name in the heart of the Loop. "The Picasso," as it is now referred to by Chicagoans, was initially met with controversy and criticism. But more than forty years later, the statue has become a symbol of the Windy City.

"He was paid a fee to design the sculpture, but he did not cash the check from the city of Chicago because he said it was a gift to the citizens," said Elizabeth Kelley, Director, Chicago Public Art Program.

Chicago resident Arnetha Gholston often visits the Picasso with her three-year-old grandson, Jaylin, who used the statue as a slide along with other children on a recent summer day.

"If you look at the very, very top, that's shaped like a heart, so I see a heart, it's like the heart of Chicago," said Gholston.

Just across the street, another Spanish artist, Joan Mirò, graces the city with his work entitled Mirò's Chicago. It depicts a cosmic deity with a star overhead anchored by a bell-shaped base where people often sit and enjoy summer. Born in Barcelona in the late 19th century, Mirò was a pioneer in surrealism and a contemporary of Picasso.

Not far from Daley Plaza and its abstract artwork, two bronze lions reign on Michigan Avenue, welcoming visitors to the Art Institute of Chicago. American sculptor Edward Kemeys exhibited plaster studies of the lions during the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893. One year later, Kemeys completed and installed the regal creations which have since become part of Chicago's landscape.

A few steps away in Grant Park, art lovers find many objects to admire including fountains, sculpture and spectacular architecture.

Clarence Buckingham Fountain brings a little bit of France to the Chicago lakefront. Inspired by a smaller fountain in Louis XIV's Palace of Versailles, the landmark was built in 1927. On summer nights a mix of tourists, city residents, and suburbanites enjoy the fountain's illuminated beauty as well as its soothing sprays.

For those who really want to cool off, the more modern Crown Fountain in Millennium Park fits the bill. The faces of Chicago residents adorn two 50-foot-high glass towers which spew out water to the delight of crowds of children. The 2004 addition to Millennium Park is the work of Spanish artist, Jaume Plensa, a native of Barcelona.

Cloud Gate, better known as the 'Bean,' is perhaps Chicago's most popular modern sculpture. Weighing over 110 tons, the sculpture by Indian-born artist Anish Kapoor reflects the city's architecture and surroundings. Kapoor sought to engage the skyline and the clouds in the sculpture and invite the viewer to participate. Since its arrival in 2004, the shiny form has become an attraction for thousands of visitors each year.

"Every moment of every day it's different because the weather conditions are different and the people who are in the plaza whose images are reflected in the work, that's constantly changing," said Kelley.

Perhaps art and science come together best in Millennium Park's masterpiece, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, designed by famed architect Frank Gehry. The outdoor auditorium, with its curvy stainless steel panels which form wings around the stage, provides a dramatic backdrop for the concerts by the Grant Park Orchestra and visiting artists.

The city's public collection is a work in progress. For more information, visit www.cityofchicago.org/PublicArt.


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