Chicago's Art Scene


Chicago’s art scene can best be described as diverse and historic. Buildings that date back to the 1800s sit among modern skyscrapers. Paintings on the sides of tall brick buildings reflect cultural themes. The works of world-famous artists like Picasso and Frank Lloyd Wright can be found in the many museums and galleries scattered throughout the city. While Chicago’s central “Loop” district bustles with businesspeople, it’s worth taking a pause to marvel at some of the iconic pieces it has to offer.


Chicago Fine Arts Building

What began as the Studebaker Carriage Company factory and showroom in the 1800s is now home to Chicago’s finest artists, musicians and architects. Take a step inside and you’re immediately whisked back to the original time period. Music drifts past closed studio doors and spills into the hallways, revealing a piano lesson or violin rehearsal tucked behind. The same studios once housed prominent Chicago architect Frank Lloyd Wright, sculptor Lorado Taft and Wizard of Oz illustrator W. W. Denslow. Browse the Dial Bookshop on the seventh floor or waltz through a classical sheet music store on the ninth floor – it’s all accessible by a manually-operated elevator. During Open Studio Nights on the second Friday of each month from 5-9pm, the public is invited to meet the painters, writers, photographers and musicians who continue the artistic legacy and whose work currently takes residence in Chicago’s vibrant Fine Arts Building.


Monadnock Building

From the outside, this brown brick building doesn’t appear to be an architectural success. That is, until you step inside. Timeless and authentic, this building was built in two phases by architectural firms Burnham & Root in 1891 and Holabird & Roche in 1893. The hat shop, “shoe hospital,” diner, and florist that line the ground floor add to the building’s classic Chicago business atmosphere. Heavy slabs of marble and oak line the first floor hallway, with ornate ivy detailing that lay over the walls and frame the windows that peek into the shops. Walk further and you’ll reach the first of two aluminum spiral staircases leading to professional offices of lawyers and architects on the floors above. If you stand in the corner of the staircase and look up, you’ll see how it winds all the way to the ceiling. This distinguished building is truly the essence of a hidden gem.


Calder’s Flamingo

Calder’s Flamingo sits perched in Federal Plaza among a flock of black and gray skyscrapers. Children dash under its vermillion arches, tourists migrating from Millenium Park pause for a photo, a businesswoman takes her lunch break on a nearby bench; people interact with the Flamingo, making it feel less like a steel statue and more like a bright part of the city’s ecosystem. This was the intent of American artist Alexander Calder, who designed the sculpture in 1973 as a series of vibrant “Calder Red” steel statues. A former automation engineer, he was fascinated with movement and his more famous works were driven by a series of cranks and motors, known as “mobiles.” The giant outdoor sculptures were a completely different direction from these kinetic pieces. Others in this bright red series include “L’Araignee Rouge” (The Red Spider) in Paris, “Stegosaurus” in Hartford, CT and “Four Arches” in Los Angeles.


Picasso’s “Unknown”

For over 50 years, the Picasso statue has been puzzling tourists and Chicago natives alike. As the story goes, Chicago mayor Richard J. Daley approached Picasso in 1963 with $100,000 and the idea to create a sculpture for the city. Picasso turned down the money, but designed the sculpture as a gift to the city. However, he left the modern piece without a name or inspiration behind it. Rumors of its significance range from the head of a woman to a baboon to a cow sticking out its tongue at the city. While the intended meaning remains unclear, what we do know is the statue is an icon in Chicago’s famous art scene.


Art Institute of Chicago

Chicago’s art and architecture can’t be discussed without including the Art Institute. In December 2018, The Art Institute of Chicago celebrated the 125th anniversary of its lakefront home. Bronze lion statues stand proudly at its doors, guarding the world-famous works of artists Claude Monet, Georgia O’Keefe and Andy Warhol, among others, displayed inside. The historic collections are carefully curated and interact effortlessly, but expertly, with the architecture of the building itself. Walk through the Gothic church-like hallways of the classical Roman religious art or the bright, all-white corridor of the Modern Wing. A wide variety of artistic styles – from modern art to Renaissance classics – are showcased here, offering something of interest for every art buff.  


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