Did you know that Mayor Emanuel designated 2017 as the “Year of Public Art” in Chicago? Celebrate by checking out some of Chicago’s amazing public art installations.
Visiting these masterpieces with kids can be a ton of fun. Plus, it’s free and a great way to enjoy some outdoor time together, too. Little ones love the colors and shapes; encourage them to let their imaginations run wild and make up stories about what they see. Bigger kids can appreciate the meaning behind many of the works by famous artists they’ve heard of (and they’ll also appreciate the unique Instagram opportunities).
Here are some of our favorite pieces of artistic eye candy around Chicago:
Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza
50 W. Washington St.
This untitled piece of art just turned 50. Don’t know what it is? Don’t worry! People have been wondering for decades and there’s no right or wrong answer, just an invitation to use your imagination. Kids are often seen sliding down the base. Across the street to the south, next to the Cook County Administration Building, is a sculpture by Miró, called Miró’s Chicago.
Chagall’s Four Seasons in Chase Plaza
10 S. Dearborn St.
There is a lot going on in this detailed mosaic that portrays six scenes of Chicago as well as physical and spiritual life cycles and, as titled, each of the four seasons. The mosaic is comprised of titles in 250 different colors. Have kids identify the seasons and city landmarks, and see how many animals they can find in the piece.
Flamingo in Federal Center Plaza
219 S. Dearborn St.
I confess that until writing this, I had no idea this 53-foot tall sculpture by Alexander Calder was named Flamingo. He painted it red to make it stand out from the dark buildings surrounding it and that specific color is now known as “Calder red.” Kids love running around and underneath it.
Moose Bubblegum Bubble in the South Loop
33 E. Congress
This work of art on a building by Jacob Watts was one of the winners of the 2014 Columbia College Chicago’s Wabash Arts Corridor Campus competition. It’s fun to watch people’s reactions when they see it for the first time — some laugh, some are perplexed. It’s a great reminder that imagination and unexpected pairings can be a lot of fun in art. Have your kids make up a story about the bubble-blowing moose. This is one of many art installations in the area.
Fountain of the Great Lakes in the South Garden of the Art Institute of Chicago
111 S. Michigan Ave.
For a more traditional take on art, check out the public spaces around the Art Institute. Fountain of the Great Lakes is especially lovely. There are five women in this bronze sculpture by Lorado Taft, just as there are five Great Lakes, and water flows between them in this fountain just like it does the lakes. It’s also more than 100 years old and it’s setting is pretty perfect for a picnic before it gets too chilly.
600 E. Grand Ave.
There are two works of public art at Navy Pier that overlap for the next few weeks. “A Retrospective view of the Pathway” by Roger Hiorns is an interactive piece made up of large-scale stainless steel tanks, a compressor and foam. The sculpture produces large foam clusters at noon on weekdays and at noon and 4 p.m. on weekends. The artwork (and the fun foam eruptions that spreads across the landscape) are on view through Oct. 1.
From Sept. 14 through October, you can also check out the free Floating Museum at Navy Pier. The Floating Museum is a collaborative art project that creates temporary museum space in areas of Chicago to serve a cultural catalyst. Guests can see sculpture, digital work and performances.
Caracol in the Burnham Wildlife Corridor Gathering Space
North of 31st Street Beach at the Lakefront
“Caracol” means “snail” in Spanish. The works of art in the Caracol project explore themes of migration because immigrants and snails are similar — they both enrich their environment and carry their homes with them. “Birds of Illinois,” a new mural by Ramón Marino, was unveiled here just a few weeks ago and it’s a nod to the nearby McCormick Bird Sanctuary in the Burnham Wildlife Corridor. Check out the birds in the art work and along the shore.
Mile of Murals in Rogers Park
N. Glenwood Ave. & W. Morse Ave.
On the far North side in Rogers Park, you’ll find a public art project known as Mile of Murals. While it isn’t quite a mile yet, it will be eventually — that’s the ultimate goal for this initiative which began in 2007. Murals are added each year, and the selection process is rigorous. Check out the dozen completed thus far using the printable map and guide here. See if your kids can locate Bicycle Family by Bruno Big, painted in 2013. It is one of our favorites.
There are dozens of other amazing murals throughout the city and you can find many of them in this listing. These just scratch the surface. Let us know what works of public art in and around Chicago are your favorites.