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A Walking Tour of Chicago's Public Art

Chicago's museums house some of the most famous art anywhere, but don't forget the city's great outdoors. Some of the most impressive art here is outside, in plazas, parks, and other public spaces. The best part? It's all free.

Michigan Avenue and Millennium Park

Start your tour in front of the Art Institute of Chicago on Michigan Avenue at Adams Street, where you'll see the two iconic bronze lion statues that guard the entrance. Head north to the well-manicured paths of the museum's two public gardens, filled with fountains and sculptures, including Alexander Calder's Flying Dragon.

Exit at the south end of Millennium Park and check out the Crown Fountain, two 50-foot glass block towers separated by a granite reflecting pool. The towers project a collection of video images of the faces of 1,000 Chicagoans filmed by artist Jaume Plensa. From time to time, one of the faces sports pursed lips and "spits" water down, showering the shrieking crowd below. Don't miss Anish Kapoor's first public outdoor piece, Cloud Gate (affectionately called "the Bean" by locals). The shiny surface is like a giant fun-house mirror reflecting and distorting the skyline. Also of note is the Frank Gehry–designed Jay Pritzker Pavilion, an outdoor concert venue with curling ribbons of steel that frame the opening to the stage and connect to a trellis sound system.

Enter the Loop

Pass the Greek-inspired peristyle at the park's northwest corner to exit the park at Randolph Street. Head west on Randolph to We Will, a contemporary steel sculpture that's local artist Richard Hunt's ode to the city's diversity. Continue west until you reach the plaza of the James R. Thompson Center at LaSalle Street to see Jean DeBuffet's graffiti-inspired 1984 sculpture Monument with Standing Beast. Across LaSalle Street to the north, look up to see Richard Hunt's Freeform on the entrance of the State of Illinois building. The sculpture weighs 3 tons and is 2½ stories tall.

Daley Plaza

Next, head to Daley Plaza to see Picasso's unnamed sculpture. Opinions vary about whether the abstract installation represents a woman’s head or one of the artist's Afghan hounds. Across the street is Joan Miró's Chicago, originally titled The Sun, the Moon and One Star. Stand behind the 39-foot mixed-media sculpture to see the blue mosaic work at its back.

Chase and Federal Plazas and the Federal Building

Walk east to Dearborn Street, then south to Chase Plaza to see The Four Seasons by Marc Chagall, a 70-foot-long mosaic/mural that depicts six Chicago-specific scenes. Continue two blocks south to Federal Plaza, where the Flamingo by Alexander Calder is a striking, 53-foot vermillion red contrast to the black and steel buildings around it. End your tour with a peek through the glass of the lobby of the Federal Building here to see the Town-Ho's Story, a crazy conglomeration of steel and aluminum that's part of Frank Stella's Moby-Dick series.

Updated: 02-2014

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