Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Late-Winter Art Walk in the Chicago Loop

On my last day in Chicago last month, I had the morning free.  I decided to walk around the Loop and see some of the many public sculptures for which the Windy City is famous.

Before I walked out the door, I asked the hotel concierge for a map of the Loop.  He gave me a large map of greater Chicago with a thumbnail-sized inset of the Loop.

Not much help.  So I made some notes and struck out on my own, asking many times for guidance as I got lost, repeatedly, along the way.  Chicagoans were gracious and helpful at every turn; more so, I suspect, than New Yorkers would have been.

I was particularly keen to see the three large Alexander Calder pieces in the Loop area.  Who among us has not, in our school years, made a Calder-style mobile?  To the right is a picture of one that I think resembles my own effort.

I cannot be sure about the resemblance, unfortunately.  My mobile, like many of my early art efforts, disappeared mysteriously when my parents moved to a new house.  Perhaps just as well.

My first planned stop was the garden of the Art Institute of Chicago, home to the first Calder.  Along the way, I passed this sign:

In fact, I passed a number of these signs on my walk.  Apparently ice can fall on Chicago pedestrians at any moment for many months each year.

But I wanted to see that Calder.  I forged on.

Arriving at the Art Institute, I found the garden gates locked and a sign indicating, repetitively I thought, that the gardens were closed.

No matter.  Later, back at the hotel, I found a picture of the sculpture I had missed.  Here it is:

This does not look like other Calders I have  seen, but it was bright red, definitely a color favored by the artist.  And, to be fair, the sculpture no doubt shows itself better after winter has ended, when the trees are in leaf and alliums are blooming.

Undaunted, I continued on.  My next stop was Millenium Park and its huge outdoor amphitheater, the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, which opened in 2004.  It too was closed, but here is a photo:

Jay Pritzker Pavilion
My first thought when I saw this was, wow, that looks a lot like something that Frank Gehry would design.

Walt Disney Concert Hall
Guggenheim Museum Bilbao

Turned out I was right.  The amphitheater was designed by Frank Gehry, the starchitect.

On the left are couple other Gehry designs, one that opened in Los Angeles in 2003 and another that opened in Spain in 1997.

To the right of the Pavilion was a winding footbridge leading out of the park and offering fine views of downtown Chicago.  Here, I encountered the third such sign of the morning:

The bridge, too, was designed by Frank Gehry and -- as you might expect -- is clad in brushed stainless steel panels.

(If Frank Gehry were a contractor and not an architect, I would suspect he got a good deal on a large lot of pliable metals and was working through the inventory.  But that's just me.)

Returning to the park, I was drawn to a very shiny statue that locals call the Bean.  Here it is.

Cloud Gate
In fact, the proper name of the statue is Cloud Gate.  British artist Anish Kapor designed it in polished stainless steel to reflect the sky and Chicago's handsome downtown skyline.  It's a big darn piece of art, 66 feet long and 33 feet high.  People enjoy taking pictures of their families and friends standing in its inner cavity, which is taller than any human.

There's a lot of metallic artwork in Millenium Park.

I left the park and continued on.  The air was getting colder, and the wind was starting to blow.  I drew my coat closer and wished I hadn't left my heavy sweater in my hotel room.

At about this time, I passed a donut shop.  Donut shops are not unusual, but I took a picture to share what I saw at this one.  Please inspect the picture carefully.

What you will see are two men, not clad in polar gear, sitting outside, in the Chicago cold, eating donuts and drinking coffee.

Chicagoans are tough.

I proceeded on.  There was art to see, and I wanted to see it before frostbite set in.

A couple blocks later, I encountered a large double-sided mosaic by Marc Chagall.  Here are a couple of photos.

First a larger view:

Now some detail:

As you can see, it is definitely a Chagall.

Then, not far away, I saw another statue that is known around town as the Chicago Picasso.

This work, commissioned in 1963, is 50 feet tall and weights 162 tons.  As you can see, it is definitely a Picasso.

Then it was on to the second Calder.  This one sits out in the open, in a plaza, amid three classic modern buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe.  Here it is:

This was the biggest darn Calder I'd ever seen.  It is 53 feet tall and was installed in 1974.  The name of the statue (technically a stabile in Calder parlance) is Flamingo, but I'm not sure that its shape or color suggest a flamingo to me.  Still, it is a striking presence in its setting.

I was making progress -- only one Calder to go.  This one was located in the lobby of the Willis Tower, which most of us still think of as the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the United States.  (In fact, there are plans for an even taller building to be erected in Chicago.)

I went inside the building and beheld the final Calder.  Here it is:

The title is Universe, and the work is composed of various elements, each of which moves -- in circles, mostly, but one in pendulum fashion and a few shapes that shift around a bit.  It employs the bright colors we associate with Calder, and it fills a great big multi-story lobby, which is also what you would expect to see in a building of such size.

Calder must have puzzled for a long time before coming up with something to fit that setting.

Then I turned to walk back to the hotel. I passed other sculptures on the way, but I was cold and, frankly, I had hit the point of visual overload.

Craving a nice, hot latte, I looked as I walked for a Starbucks but was unable to locate one.  This surprised me because Starbucks is reputed to have a coffee shop within two blocks of just about any office building in any city center.  Maybe my route was wrong.

One thing I did encounter on every second or third block was one of these:

Just before I got back to my hotel I stopped at a Walgreens -- I needed a bandaid for a sore spot that had developed on my little toe after walking so long in my boots.

At first, I thought I had got the wrong store.  The place was stocked with fruits and vegetables, a deli bar and beverages ranging from Coca Colas to Jim Beam Whiskey.  The actual drugstore stuff was upstairs.  Very different from drugstores in my neighborhood.

Turns out Walgreens has its headquarters in Deerfield, a Chicago suburb.

If you visit Chicago, I would definitely recommend a walk through the Loop.  The people are friendly, and there is much to see.  But, if you can, time your visit to avoid falling ice and closed attractions.

1 comment:

  1. Hi
    Nice one! I like the outfit of the characters. Wish i could do the same thing too but im not that techie.i like the outfit of “from farmer to warden”.. really interesting. dave burke