Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Outdoor Art in Downtown Chicago

Your guides play host to a wide variety of international visitors as we are members of an international travel club called The Hospitality Club as well as hosting relocating job transferees in our capacity as Realtors.

One fantastic aspect of Chicago is its ever-growing collection of world-renowned outdoor art. I think this guide is a bit limited but if you were to try to view all the art described in this article it would surely take longer than a full day. Readers that notice any omissions are welcome to post a comment.

You can't go wrong by simply starting out with a walk through Millennium Park. You'll first be drawn to the large bean shaped "Cloud Gate" sitting on top of the concessions along Michigan Avenue. By combining distorted images of spectators and their surroundings, the piece encourages us "to consider how we as individuals face a culture, with all the superficiality, speed and visual reflection and really make it ours." says Jonathan Fineberg, a professor of art history at the University of Illinois. Most people I saw were simply making funny faces and silly poses.

Continue south through the park and visit the other insanely popular pop-art piece: The Crown Fountain - aka "Sptting Faces." This is interactive art at its best combining a variety of traits that make patrons completely comfortable interacting with the setting. It's a fountain that pays tribute to city residents who are encouraged to step into the shallow water and falling sprays while looking at themselves larger-than-life.

Leaving Millennium Park and continuing south, you seemlessly cross into Grant Park. More formal than Millennium Park, pathways follow the straight and narrow and gardens are more like you'd find in European Palace grounds. All paths lead to Buckingham Fountain in the center of the park, a memorial surrounded by fencing to keep people out. How proper.

On the south end of Grant Park is the newest installation - Polish Artist Magdelena Abakanowics' "Angora." Walking through the installation of 106 headless figures provokes a flood of associations. Among them: war, nature, democracy and isolation. Their juxtaposition helps viewers reflect on the connection among them.

Walk out along the path and roadway towards the Adler Planetarium and you'll find Denise Milan and Ary Perez' "Americas." The multi-colored granite blocks, which can be rearranged in a variety of designs, encourages a sense of community by drawing those who sit in the installation into a circle.

You'll backtrack a bit, but it's worth the trip to head into the downtown area to get a look at some of Chicago's older sculpture located inside the urban canyonscape. At the State of Illinois Building - Clark Street at Randolph - a series of white concrete morphing shapes is titled "Monument with Standing Beast." Kids love it. A former city deputy budget director said "They should have a voter referrendum on whether to take this thing and throw it in the bottom of Lake Michigan. It's the ugliest thing I've ever seen in my life."

In Daley Plaza - at Washington and Dearborn - you'll find the untitled sculpture by Pablo Picasso. It's a landmark and a masterpiece that residents have come to associate with the City. Is it a giraffe? A lion? A monkey?

Two blocks south on Dearborn in Federal Center Plaza, you'll find Alexander Calder's "Flamingo." Paul Gapp, Chicago Trib's architecture critic said "The kindest thing that can be said about 'Flamingo' is that it is vandal-proof and appears to frighten away pigeons." Nice.

On West Madison at Clinton, in front of the Harold Washington Social Security Center, is Claes Oldenburg's "Batcolumn." This 10 story baseball bat is oddly out of place both in relation to its location in the financial district and it's placement outside the Social Security Administration. Gotta use those Federal Matching grants somehow. I wonder who the artist is related to in City Hall?

This last suggestion is hard to walk to, but with a morbid twist. Between the Ohio and Ontario feeder ramps onto the Kennedy Expressway at Orleans Street is "The Flame of the Millennium" sculpture. You really only get a quick glimpse of this sculpture as you whiz by at 50 mph on your way in or out of River North. As a side-note, horrified Friday-morning commuters watched a man apparently douse himself with gasoline and lit himself on fire along the Kennedy near the 25-foot-tall sculpture in late 2006.