Chicago Stories and Tips

The Art of the Loop

The Chicago sculpture Photo, Chicago, Illinois

In 1871, Chicago's Great Fire burned most of Chicago's existing buildings, and the rebuilding of the city resulted in some architectural masterpieces. We had heard about the art scattered between the buildings, too, and were anxious to find it. Here's the route we took for our pilgrimage.

We started at our hotel, the Chicago Renaissance, at State and Wacker. Heading south down State, we passed the Chicago Theatre sign - now a well-known symbol of the city, the 1921 theater narrowly escaped demolition in 1980. Across the street from the Chicago sign, note the local ABC station making the news behind a big glass wall.

Taking a right on Randolph headed us west, and passed us by the Corner Bakery for a quick morning coffee (and maybe a pastry - we needed our strength, after all!). Continuing a block further, we reached the James R. Thompson Center. This is a huge building, built in 1985, and different enough from the surrounding buildings to stand out. Here's where we encountered our first artistic outcropping - don't walk past without realizing this one's art! The Monument with Standing Beast, by Jean Debuffet, is a big white and black fiberglass sculpture. Call me unsophisticated, but I was unmoved. I did think the building was pretty cool; a peek inside (it was still closed) showed an incredible 17 story open atrium. I would have liked to ride the elevator to the top and look down - the view

must be great!

Only about half a block south down Clark is the Daley Civic Center. The plaza here is home to one of the city's more famous bits of outdoor art - an unnamed sculpture by Picasso. Enjoy it - when else are you going to get a chance to touch a Picasso? I've never really thought of him as a sculptor, and I wonder how much of this one he did himself?

Picasso's fellow won't get lonely, since Jean Miro's Chicago is located almost directly across Washington Street, nestled in beside a stained glass display in the side wall of the Chicago Temple. Our visit with these large sculptures over, we continued east along Washington to the intersection with State Street

Across the street on the northeast corner is the old Marshall Fields department store. This used to be a Chicago tradition, but today has been bought by Macy's. It's still worth a stop in, if only to see the wonderful Tiffany Dome in the atrium. On the southwest corner of the same intersection is the Reliance building, considered the "precursor of the modern skyscraper". We didn't go in, but the outside is what you want to look at anyway - a bit of history standing there next to the sidewalk.

Walking a block south on State brought us face-to-face with the Carson Pirie Scott building - we recognized the ornamental metal facade from our guidebooks. It takes up the whole southeast corner, and is home to the oldest department store in Chicago. This intersection is also important because it's the center of the city grid; this is the dividing point between north/south and east/west designations on the streets.

We continued south down (now) South State and walked a block west on Madison to the First National Bank Plaza and the Four Seasons. This is a huge mosaic, decorated on four sides with scenes representing the seasons in Chicago. The artist was Marc Chagall, and the piece contains thousands of tiles. Out in front was one of the many "globes" decorating Chicago - it seems like every city has something like this now. These seemed to all have an environmentally-friendly/green theme to them.


About three blocks further south on Dearborn, we detoured into the Federal Center courtyard to visit Alexander Calder's Flamingo. This guy is huge, bright pink-orange, and kind of goofy. This is my kind of art. It was refreshing and bright against the black glass of the surrounding buildings and the day's drizzly skies.

For us, this was the end of our walking tour - we decided to catch several of the other important buildings at a later point in our weekend. After an hour and a half of walking, we had worked up an appetite, and headed east to the Van Buren station and the Artist's Cafe right across the street. Mmm...art and eggs. My kind of morning.

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