With its impressive architecture, world-class museums, public artworks and talented street performers lining the streets, Chicago has a cultural richness unsurpassed by many cities. And best of all… such culture and art can be appreciated for free! Read on to check out where to view the splendid public artworks in Chicago without having to pay a single cent.
Unnamed Sculpture by Picasso
I’m sure you have heard of the Spanish artist, Picasso, even if you are not an art connoisseur. Pablo Picasso was commissioned in 1963 by the architects of Daley Plaza to fashion a monumental sculpture on the east side of the building and its full glory was unveiled in 1967.
Standing at 15 metres (50 feet) and weighing over 160 tons, you cannot miss this grand albeit abstract looking sculpture when heading towards Daley Plaza. Picasso presented this sculpture to Chicago without ever explaining what this sculpture is supposed to mean or represent. Made of Cor-ten steel, it is common to see children sliding down the elevated part of the sculpture, adding a playful, interactive element to it.
The Unnamed Sculpture by Picasso is located at 50 W Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602.
Monument with Standing Beast by Jean Dubuffet
Just across the street from Daley Plaza in front of the Helmut Jahn designed James R. Thompson Center’s main entrance is another notable work of art, this time by French artist Jean Dubuffet. Unveiled in 1984, this “Monument with Standing Beast” standing at 8.8 metres (26 feet) comprises of four elements that suggest a standing animal, a tree, a portal and an architectural form.
According to the City of Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Public Art Program, Jean Dubuffet described this sculpture as a “drawing which extends… into space” and hoped that it would resonate with the average man on the street. Therefore, visitors are encouraged to walk through the sculpture and touch it.
The Monument with Standing Beast is located at 100 W Randolph St, Chicago, IL 60601.
American Victorian Stained Glass in Pedway
Just a ten minute walk away is Macy’s on State Street, and the basement of Macy’s is connected to an underground pedestrian walkway (the pedway), which is also home to some incredible works of art! While walking through the pedway, pause for a moment to admire the American Victorian stained glass whereby the colours appear even more vibrant in the dark walkway.
Such American Victorian secular stained glass windows are different from most European painted stained glass as emphasis is placed on illuminating the extravagantly coloured glass for light to “paint” the desired image. The vivid images of owls and flowers, etc., from the numerous stained glass art works make the dimly-lit pedway pop with colour.
You’ll find the American Victorian stained glass along the pedway near Macy’s at State Street.
World’s largest Tiffany Art Glass Dome
Further east, you’ll find yourself beneath the Chicago Cultural Center in the pedway. Take the elevator to the first floor and you will find yourself at Chicago Cultural Center. Other than special free art exhibits, be wowed by the world’s largest Louis C. Tiffany art glass dome in the Preston Bradley Hall.
The magnificent dome, made with favrile glass cut in the shape of fish scales, contains 30,000 pieces of glass in all. With a diameter of 11.5 metres (38 feet), and spanning over 93 square metres (1000 square feet), the opulent and majestic glass dome is an artwork not to be missed during a trip to Chicago.
The Tiffany Dome is located in Preston Bradley Hall of the Chicago Cultural Center on 78 E Washington St, Chicago, IL 60602.
The Bean — the icon of Chicago - by Anish Kapoor
Just across the road from Chicago Cultural Center is the icon of Chicago —The Cloud Gate at Millennium Park. Attracting hordes of tourists every day, this elliptical structure is ironically not created by a Chicagoan, but rather British-Indian artist, Anish Kapoor.
Affectionately termed “The Bean,” due to its resemblance to a bean’s shape, this elliptical sculpture made of a seamless series of highly polished stainless steel plates reflects the city’s skyline and artistically captures images of the city within an elliptical frame from afar. Walk closer and you get to see your image reflected back through a variety of perspectives, making the 20 metre (66 feet) by 10 metre (33 feet) sculpture a good place to take memorable vacation snapshots.
You’ll find The Bean in Millennium Park at 201 E Randolph St Chicago, IL 60601.
Unique Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa
Just north of The Bean is a unique fountain unlike most fountains you have seen elsewhere, as it is also an interactive work of public art and a video sculpture. Instead of having water sprout out of gargoyles, the water at the Crown Fountain in Millennium Park comes out of actual people’s mouths!
Video images of Chicagoans are screened on the two 15 metre (50 foot) towers built on shallow pools, with water flowing out every now and then from where the images of the mouths are at, creating an illusion of water coming out actual people’s mouths. Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the collection of faces were taken from cross-sections of 1000 Chicago residents, making this fountain truly a fountain of Chicagoans.
This unique Crown Fountain can be found in Millennium Park at 201 E. Randolph St., between Michigan Ave and Columbus Ave.
A good way to get a sense of Chicago's artistic vibe
All the public art works I’ve introduced are located in Chicago’s downtown loop community area and are within short walking distances from one another. You can easily complete this art trail within one hour on foot if you only want to see these public works of art.
However, Chicago’s downtown loop area has a plethora of shops and restaurants that are worth visiting, therefore, it is a good idea to allocate at least three hours so that you have time to check out the free exhibitions in Chicago Cultural Center, the beautiful scenery in Millennium Park and visit other nearby attractions while following the art trail. This is a good way to enjoy what Chicago has to offer while getting a sense of the Windy City’s cultural richness.
Get Trip101 in your inbox
You can buy and claim online, even after you've left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from 140 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.
*5% off when you book with our promo code: TRIP101
*For our Canadian and US travellers, unfortunately due to financial services laws, we cannot provide a discount. This promotional code cannot be used with any other discount offer, including World Nomads Members’ discount for travel insurance policy holders.