Archive for the ‘Chicago’ Category

bannerIt’s Chicago’s Year of Public Art, so let’s get out and experience some of this creative art.

I was always aware that Chicago has a great tradition of making public art available to all, and its collection of public art is one of the defining characteristics of the city, but this special year gives another dimension to this.

2017 has been designated Year of Public Art Chicago, with a new 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project. Managed by DCASE (Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), the 50×50 initiative will provide up to $1 million for new public arts projects.

Chicago has a long and rich history of public art, so why now? This initiative was


The Picasso in Daley Plaza

inspired by Chicago’s 50 wards and the 50th anniversary of 2 of Chicago’s most famous seminal public art works: The Picasso in Daley Plaza, and The Wall of Respect, which once stood at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue on Chicago’s South Side.

DCASE manages the Chicago Public Art Collection, which includes 500+ works exhibited in over 150 municipal facilities around the city, such as police stations, libraries and CTA station. DCASE also administers the City’s Percent-for-Art Ordinance, which was established in 1978 and stipulates that 1.33% of the cost of constructing or renovating public buildings will be used for public art.

What an amazing concept. Go Chicago!

perilsThere will be many special exhibits and tours, but I was only in Chicago for 3 days this April, so could only track down a few of these special art works at this time.

Turns out that many of these famous public art works have an interesting story and history, starting with the Picasso. To co-incide with this Year of Public Art, the Chicago Cultural Center has a small exhibit called The Fame and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art. The introductory board tells us that, “Planning and creating public art can be a risky venture. Depending on how or what you count, the placement of art in Chicago’s public spaces has a 200-year long history. Sometimes the art is loved. Sometimes it is hated. To further complicate matters, times change—and so do the tastes of people.”

So…to start with Picasso’s “Untitled”.

frontcloserUntitled” by Pablo Picasso, on the Richard J Daley Civic Center Plaza, 50 W. Washington Street. In 1967 Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled in Chicago’s Civic Center (now called the Richard J. Daley CivicCenter).

In 1963, imagining a work for the new Chicago Civic Plaza, architect William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill turned to Pablo Picasso. Using an introduction from English artist Roland Penrose, Hartmann contacted Picasso describing a “site for the most important piece of sculpture in the United States.” Picasso accepted and worked on plans for the largest work of his career, mostly with his vision of an abstract female figure, which he gave as a gift to the city.

This abstract design was not originally popular when the monument was erected in


Newspaper picture with Banks superimposed

1967. In fact, as I learned from the small exhibit in the Chicago Cultural Center, many Chicagoans thought it was a giant portrait of the artist’s Afghan hound. An alderman from the City Council proposed replacing the Picasso with a giant statue of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, and a local paper ran a story with a photo of Banks superimposed on that of the Picasso.

At the time of the opening of the Picasso, Mayor Richard J. Daley insightfully dedicated it with these words, “what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” That has proved true, and 50 years later it’s an iconic part of the city’s landscape, and much loved by locals and visitors. So much so, that Northwestern grad and vocal art advocate, Patricia Stratton, has written a book dedicated to the sculpture called “The Chicago Picasso: A Point of Departure”.

sideI find this work of Picasso’s very interesting: I can definitely see the Afghan hound in there, but also a female figure. What do you think?

Picasso’s work was Chicago’s first major pubic art work in the modern style, rather than historical effigies and memorials that had been traditional before. It inspired much private and public investment in art for the city center, including Marc Chagall’s mosaic “The Four Seasons” in 1974, which then inspired his “America Windows”. Other commissions included monuments by Joan Miro (1963), Jean Dubuffet (1969) and Alexander Calder (1974), among many others. And so a tradition was born.


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Horse “parading” in a garden in Urbana, IL


Cows on Parade, Chicago 1999

Animals on Parade

Many cities have, over the years, put up an outdoor exhibition of “Animals on Parade”. The city chooses a special animal—horse, cow, pig, buffalo—and many of these animals are made in fiber glass. Different companies, businesses, shops, institutions adopt an animal and paint it any way they want—usually somehow reflecting their business—and it is placed outside. Some are bright and cheerful, some very whimsical, some symbolic, some rather strange. After some months, there is usually an auction and the animals are sold to benefit a charity. Sometimes the business will keep its own animal, but sometimes it goes to a new home.

We have also seen city benches in Chicago as a theme, and St Louis recently has its 250


Cows on Parade, Chicago 1999

years celebration with 250 fiber-glass cakes dotted around the city. Same great concept.

We’ve seen a number of these collections on our travels and it’s a lot of fun, especially if there’s a list and you can try to track down all of them. Visitors and locals all love these, and it obviously benefits the city to have this extra interest in a temporary exhibition of wonderful outdoor sculptures.

The first “parade” that we came across was the “Cows on Parade” in Chicago in summer 1999 and I wrote about that then. See here http://www.viviennemackie.com/Illinois/Chic-cow-go.html .


In summer of 2002 we saw the “Buffaloes on Parade” in Salt Lake City and nearby Antelope Island in the Great Salt Lake.


Buffaloes on Parade, Salt Lake City 2002


Buffalo parading on Antelope Island, 2002

And the following year we found many of the “Lipizzaners on Parade” in Vienna, Austria. All gorgeous.


Lipizzaners on Parade, Vienna 2003


Lipizzaner parading in Vienna, 2003

In 2014 we went on a serious “Cake Hunt” for the St Louis birthday “Cakes” (which I documented in a special blog: https://mackie250stl.wordpress.com ). And in Chicago we had fun finding some different horses. These were for the Police Memorial Foundation and were called “Horses of Honor.”


Vera M with  Horse of Honor, Chicago 2014


Horse of honor, Chicago 2014


A gorgeous Horse of Honor, Chicago 2014


A lovely horse in an Urbana garden

So….walking around my own neighborhood in Urbanathe other day I was intrigued to find a painted fiber-glass horse in someone’s garden. It’s very pretty with a black and white pattern, but its stance didn’t match any of the “parades” that I’ve seen.

I’m very curious—-where did they get it, what does it represent? I don’t know these people at all, so I may never know.

But, I’ll be sure to walk that way again.



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Three of Plensa's Heads. From R to L: Ines, Laura, Paula

Three of Plensa’s Heads. From R to L: Ines, Laura, Paula

Crown Fountain early evening. One of 1000 Chicagoan faces

Crown Fountain early evening. One of 1000 Chicagoan faces

In celebration of its 10th anniversary (opened 2004), Millennium Park in Chicago presents an exhibition of sculpture by Jaume Plensa. On display through December 2015.

Born 1955 in Catalonia, Spain, the artist and sculptor Jaume Plensa lives and works in Barcelona. He has presented more than 35 projects and solo exhibitions around the world, in cities such as Calgary, Dubai, London, Liverpool, New York, Nice, Seattle and Tokyo, among others. And even in Des Moines, Iowa, where we were fascinated by his Nomade! https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/symbolic-head-sculpture-with-multiple-meanings/

Because we’d seen Nomade recently we were happy to find more works by this talented artist.

Chicagoans are already familiar with Plensa as he designed and made the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park, one of the park’s most prominent and popular attractions. The fountain, which opened in July 2004, is composed of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of glass brick towers. The towers are 50 feet (15 m) tall and they use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to display digital videos on the faces that appear and disappear.
















Looking into my Dreams, Awilda

Looking into my Dreams, Awilda

Now, he has another installation in Millennium Park—4 huge heads, called 1004 Portraits, on display through December 2015. This new exhibition of outdoor art features four monumental portraits of young girls complementing the story of the 1000 LED portraits of Chicago residents that illuminate the Crown Fountain.

The first sculpture is called Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda. It’s made of resin and marble dust and stands 39 feet tall at the entrance to the Park on Michigan Ave and Madison Street. The aim is that the sculpture’s surreal and majestic presence will bridge the energy and distractions of city life with the tranquility of the Park, and encourage visitors to stop and contemplate.

The other 3 sculptures are in the South Boeing Gallery, overlooking the fountains. They are cast iron and stand 20 feet tall—Paula (north), Laura (middle) and Ines (south). They are very solid-looking but also have a hologram-like quality. These serene, dreamlike portraits offer a counterbalance to the children’s noisy play in the fountains below (in the warmer weather).

This exhibition is on loan from the artist and Richard Gray Gallery and is sponsored and funded by multiple sources.

Rod M stands in front of Ines

Rod M stands in front of Ines



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First encounter with Velib, Paris, July 2007

First encounter with Velib, Paris, July 2007

A Velib sign---how to sign up with your transport card

A Velib sign—how to sign up with your transport card













My first real encounter with a bike share program was in Paris in 2007 at the start of the Velib’ Program there. We lived in Paris until early 2008 and were really interested to be “on the ground” as it were and see the program take off. We’ve followed its ups and downs with interest. Each year we return I am happy to see it still so active and well-used—it’s been has been hugely successful in terms of rider usage, even though a large percentage of the bikes were stolen, destroyed or taken to other countries. The city considered scrapping the program but did not, and its success continues.

Before Paris Velib’, many cities tried with varying success to implement a bike-sharing program and it’s believed that the current resurgence of this concept is due to the launch of the Velib program in Paris in 2007.

The colorful Velib logo (for Velo libre)

The colorful Velib logo
(for Velo libre)

New Chicago bike-share stand, with famous Trump Tower as background

New Chicago bike-share stand, with famous Trump Tower as background

How to work the Divvy bikes in Chicago----only $7 for a 24-hour period

How to work the Divvy bikes in Chicago—-only $7 for a 24-hour period

The Divvy truck shows its logo as 'Divide and share'

The Divvy truck shows its logo as ‘Divide and share’

Now, when we travel I always try to take note of a city’s bike share scheme—I didn’t always take photos, but intend to make an album now. But, here are a few pictures of  bikes in some places.  Amazingly, this year in June, Chicago also started a program, called Divvy, and in early September we saw quite a few of the bikes (painted with blue) in action. If people can ride in the Paris traffic, then I reckon they can ride anywhere!

Chicago Divvy bikes

Chicago Divvy bikes

Bit of Background and History

Bike sharing systems or schemes make bicycles available for share use to individuals for short-term use. Such schemes or programs are not new, but seem to be proliferating all over the world these days. Perhaps as people become more aware of pollution, of saving energy etc. According to Wikipedia, in May 2011 there were around 375 programs, with a total of 236,000 bikes. By April 2013, there were around 535 programs, with an estimated 517,000 bikes.

Wuhan (90,000 bikes) and Hangzhou (60,000 bikes, and 2,400 bike stations) Public Bicycle programs in China are the biggest in the world. The Velib’ in Paris, France  (20,000 bikes and 1,450 stations) is the largest bike sharing system outside of China.

Dijon's bike share program is called Velodi, with a cute mascot of the famous Dijon owl

Dijon’s bike share program is called Velodi, with a cute mascot of the famous Dijon owl

One type of program is a Community Bike program, probably organized by a local community group or non-profit organization, which lends bikes for free. The other, more common, type of program, is a “Smart Bike Program” organized by governmental agencies, sometimes in a public-private partnership, in which people pay for the use of the bikes.

There have been many problems with these systems: bikes get stolen, vandalized, abandoned, for example, so there are various ways to try and get round these problems, like having to insert a credit card as a guarantee or security deposit.

It seems that the first program was in Europe in Amsterdam, with the White (free) Bike Scheme in 1965, but this didn’t last more than a few months.

Then came La Rochelle in France with their Yellow Bike Scheme (free) and the free Green Bike Program in Cambridge UK in 1993. But so many of these bikes were stolen or abandoned, that authorities began to use a “smart technology’ (for a fee, with some tracing of the renter).

Nowadays, many cities in all the inhabited continents have some kind of bike sharing scheme or program. If you are curious, for a list go to Wikipedia here


A rack of bikes in Dijon, France

A rack of bikes in Dijon, France

Bikes in Ljubljana, Slovenia

Bikes in Ljubljana, Slovenia

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Seen in Chicago, Illinois, and Dijon, France

In Dijon in August we were fascinated by the huge sculpted green metal head in Place Rude (named after Francois Rude, born in Dijon 1784). It’s a central place in the city, surrounded by lovely old buildings, with a fountain and statue of a grape picker in the process of stomping some grapes underfoot in the center, an old carrousel and many cafes and bars.

Outdoor art: green metal head in Place Rude, Dijon

Outdoor art: green metal head in Place Rude, Dijon

So, a few weeks later in Chicago it was interesting to find the head theme there too—in a whimsical fashion.  Every year the city of Chicago does a wonderful job of making the city really pretty  with beds of gorgeous flowering plants in all the parks and down the center of Michigan Avenue, plus colorful flower planters suspended from lamp posts or along the sidewalk. This year, along parts of Michigan Avenue, some of the planters are in the shape of enormous heads, spouting an array of bright flowering “hair”.

Very lovely, according to all the comments we heard.

Many giggles as these kids 'hugged' the statue

Many giggles as these kids ‘hugged’ the statue

This beauty is advertising Mars bar and other chocolate bars

This beauty is advertising Mars bar and other chocolate bars


Another pretty ‘hairstyle’

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The Cloud always attracts many visitors

The Cloud always attracts many visitors

Rod at arch of The Cloud, with some of the skyline and visitors reflected

Rod at arch of The Cloud, with some of the skyline and visitors reflected

The Cloud in spring

The Cloud in spring

If you’re in Chicago, chances are that seeing the Cloud Gate will be on your “must-see” list. It is for us, and even though I’ve visited it many times over the years, I never tire of seeing this remarkable sculpture, as it has so many faces and facets.

Cloud Gate—referred to by locals as “The Bean”, for obvious reasons—is a public outdoor sculpture in Chicago’s Millennium Park designed by talented Indian-born British artist Anish Kapoor. It has quickly become one of the most popular photo ops in the city, due to its unique reflective properties. Supposedly Kapoor was inspired by liquid mercury, and the resultant surface reflects and distorts the city’s skyline. You can get great photos, not only of the Cloud Gate and all the amazing reflections of the city’s buildings on it, but also of the actual skyline framed beyond the sculpture.

The Cloud and Chicago skyline

The Cloud and Chicago skyline

“The Bean” is made up of 168 stainless steel plates welded together, and its highly polished exterior has no visible seams. This seamless surface is the result of thousands of hours of polishing. It is 33 by 66 by 42 feet (10 by 20 by 13 m), and weighs 110 tons.

The Cloud in rain

The Cloud in rain

The sculpture is shaped like a giant drop of liquid mercury (or a huge silver jelly bean) and the mirrored surface offers an amazing reflection of the city skyline, in any kind of weather. A bright, shiny sharp reflection on a sunny day, or a dreamy, misty look on a foggy or rainy day. You will also find many visitors, regardless of the weather or season, although it will be more crowded on a warm sunny day. Most visitors walk around the outside first, and then underneath the 12-foot high arch of Cloud Gate.  On the underside is the “omphalos” (Greek for “navel”), a concave chamber that warps and multiplies reflections. Kids (of all ages) enjoy the fun-house mirror effect that this creates—including me and my family. We hear amazed gasps and astonished comments, as people try to get pictures of their multiple selves. Some of the reflections are smaller or larger than you’d expect and at some angles it’s a little like playing “Where’s Waldo?” trying to find yourself or a friend.

Reflections of reflections. Where is he?

Reflections of reflections. Where is he?

The sculpture was selected during a design competition. After Kapoor’s design was chosen, there were numerous technological concerns about the design’s construction and assembly, in addition to concerns regarding the sculpture’s upkeep and maintenance. After much discussion and consulting with experts, they decided to proceed with construction, but by then it was—of course—behind schedule. During the grand opening celebration of Millennium Park in 2004, the sculpture was briefly unveiled in an incomplete form and then covered again while it was completed. Cloud Gate was formally dedicated on May 15, 2006 and has since become one of Chicago’s icons.

Not to be missed, along with the other interesting features in Millennium Park.

Our reflection this spring

Our reflection this spring

Our reflection one summer

Our reflection one summer

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Some of Jun Kaneko's colorful ceramic stele in Millennium Park

Some of Jun Kaneko’s colorful ceramic stele in Millennium Park

Chicago: Millennium Park’s Outdoor Exhibitions

The Jun Kaneko Exhibition, April 12-Nov 3, 2013.

As I wandered around Millennium Park on our last trip to Chicago in April, I came across two unusual exhibits in the outdoor exhibition spaces in the park, one on the North Boeing Gallery and the other on the South Boeing Gallery. They have changing exhibitions, so we’ve seen quite a few different ones over the years.

These current ones are monumental ceramic sculptures by Japanese Jun Kaneko, a pioneer in this field, who loves to play with scale and proportion. They are bright and colorful and well worth a stop. Jun Kaneko was born in Nagoya, Japan, but has been based in Omaha, Nebraska since 1986.

The works presented in the South Boeing Gallery feature Kaneko’s signature Dangos (meaning “rounded form” or “dumpling” in Japanese). They are ceramic steles, covered in a variety of vibrant shapes and patterns, and in a certain sense reminded me of ancient Mayan steles.

The North Boeing Gallery features a new body of work by Kaneko, which draws on the myths and legends of the Tanuki figure. Some

The colorful tanuki-like ceramic creatures on the North Boeing gallery

The colorful tanuki-like ceramic creatures on the North Boeing gallery

Japanese told us that Tanuki  are badgers, while others say these creatures are raccoon dogs! From ancient times, the Japanese have expressed the Tanuki in a variety of ways, for they are considered to be drunken rascals who cause trouble and mayhem in both the human and supernatural worlds. When we were in Japan we enjoyed learning about the Tanuki, so it was fun to see these different versions here in Chicago.

See my entry on Tanuki here https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2010/10/03/tanuki-aka-raccoons/

Tanuki---open to all kinds of interpretation

Tanuki—open to all kinds of interpretation





Some more Dangos, or ceramic stele

Some more Dangos, or ceramic stele







Millennium Park. 201 E. Randolph Str, Between Michigan Ave and Columbus Ave.

Free admission. Open daily all year 6am-11pm

Welcome Center is on Randolph Street, close to the Pritzker Pavilion.



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