As "front lawn" to the city of Chicago, Grant Park
hosts more than its share of summertime festivities. Add to that the jam-packed social calendar of the adjacent Millennium Park
, and most Chicagoans will be spending the duration of festival season in this enormous downtown green space. So how does one keep entertained between sets? How can visitors to our fair city sneak in a little tourism en route to the festivities? By taking a self-guided public art tour, of course! Start at the northern end of Millennium Park and wander south to catch these al fresco exhibits.
Jay Pritzker Pavilion
"What the hell is that thing?" That's the question that gaggles of tourists are wondering aloud as they stand in front of Frank Gehry's revolutionary concert venue. At 120-feet high, the proscenium of this brushed stainless steel structure boasts Gehry's signature waves, and the design continues with an elaborate trellis that encompasses the entire 95,000-square-foot lawn. The only venue of its kind in the United States, this pavilion offers an egalitarian approach to the live music experience; clear sightlines reign supreme, and the state-of-the-art sound system is designed to assure that every member of the crowd gets a good listen.
That gigantic mirrored bean-shaped sculpture on the northern end of Millennium Park isn't just for giggles—it happens to be a masterwork by Indo-British provocateur, Anish Kapoor. So why does it look like a legume? For maximum reflections of the cityscape and prairie skies (and all those funny faces you're making into it). Sixty-six feet long, 42 feet wide and 33 feet high, Cloud Gate's fortified steel frame was constructed on this spot before a stainless steel shell was applied and buffed smooth. This hollow structure is actually among the priciest pieces of public art Chicago has ever commissioned; meant to cost $9 million, the final costs totaled upwards of $23 million. That's one pricey bean.
What at first glance seems to simply be a water-themed play park for the little ones, the twin glass-block towers that make up Jaume Plensa's Crown Fountain are a visionary example of interactive, multimedia art with a civic duty. Located in the southwest corner of Millennium Park, both 50-foot-tall structures contain massive LED screens, which the artist fills with images of Chicago residents; Plensa filmed 1,000 Chicagoans to represent the multi-cultural face of the city. So why do they spit? He intended the faces to pay homage to gargoyles of yore, whose open mouths could often be found streaming aqua (a symbol of life) in historic fountains.
It's hard to resist humming "Love and Marriage" while watching the majestic eruptions of Buckingham Fountain, but this stately display has a history that goes back a little further than "Married With Children." It was commissioned by Kate Buckingham as a memorial for her brother and designed by Edward H. Bennet (who, along with Daniel Burnham, co-authored the Plan of Chicago). The architect constructed the fountain, still one of the largest in the world, of Georgia pink marble and modeled it after the much smaller Latona Basin in the gardens of Versailles. The four seahorses (by Marcel Loyau) are intended to represent Lake Michigan's neighboring states (Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana and Michigan). Opened in 1927, the fountain contains 820 lights and 134 jets that circulate over 14,000 gallons of water per minute.
No, those terrifying headless sculptures hanging out at the southern end of Grant Park aren't zombies; they are just Magdalena Abakanowicz's gift to Chicago. One-hundred-six iron-cast figures congregate in a crowd, with enough space for flesh-folks to wander between. Each of the reddish-brown figures is over nine-feet tall, which gives visitors the distinct impression of walking in a forest. Abakanowicz and her team carefully molded individual details on each model before casting the sculptures, nuances which can be detected upon close inspection, despite that they all look very similar from far away. What a treat to traverse a crowd of immobile figures after elbowing your way through festival swarms all day.