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Calder's Flamingo
Photograph: Shutterstock/Dawid S Swierczek

26 stunning pieces of public art in Chicago

Located throughout the city and always on view (for free!), Chicago boasts public art by Picasso, Calder and local artists

Zach Long
Written by
Zach Long

There's no shortage of amazing creative works in Chicago's best museums, but you don't need a ticket to see the best public art in Chicago. With pieces on display throughout the city, you can head to the Loop to see the reflective Cloud Gate and Picasso's sculpture in Daley Plaza or visit Pilsen to take in the 16th Street Murals or the colorful home of artist Hector Duarte. In fact, there's more public art in Chicago than you'll be able to experience in a single day (and much more than we can round up in a single article), so we've listed some of our favorite pieces that you can always visit free of charge.

Chicago’s best public art

Statue of the Republic
Photograph: Shutterstock

1. Statue of the Republic

A one-third scale replica of a much larger statue that was a centerpiece of the World's Columbian Exposition of 1893 in Chicago, this bronze sculpture was installed in Jackson Park (at Hayes and Richards drives) in 1918 to mark the 25th anniversary of the event. Holding a globe with an eagle perched atop in one hand and a staff in the other, this majestic gilded figure (also referred to as the "Golden Lady") has become a part of the city's iconography, gracing everything from beer cans to T-shirts.

Cloud Gate
Photograph: Shutterstock

2. Cloud Gate

Anish Kapoor's iconic sculpture (better known as "The Bean") has provided a backdrop for dance parties, been the subject of hundreds of Facebook memes and provided countless reflective selfies. Located in Millennium Park, Cloud Gate is typically surrounded by crowds of people marveling at its shiny surface and snapping photos of the distorted skyline. Its popularity is justified—even locals who've visited the sculpture countless times can't resist walking beneath it to see their kaleidoscopic reflections.

Hebru Brantley’s murals
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

3. Hebru Brantley’s murals

If Chicago is looking for an official mascot, the city might as well award the title to Flyboy, the creation of Bronzeville artist Hebru Brantley. In Uptown, you’ll find a gigantic Flyboy zooming by the Broadway Bank Building. In the South Loop, he’s on a wall that overlooks the Roosevelt station. In the McCormick Place Green Line station, multiple versions of the character line the platform. Brantley likes to refer to Flyboy as his version of Mickey Mouse—in Chicago, he's nearly as ubiquitous.

Picasso sculpture
Photograph: Vanessa Valdovinos

4. Picasso sculpture

It's anyone's guess as to what Pablo Picasso was trying to depict when he created this untitled sculpture, but his work has become a prominent part of Chicago's cultural fabric. Commissioned by the architects of the nearby Daley Center, the sculpture was completed as a gift to the people of Chicago and placed in Daley Plaza. It quickly became one of the most popular public slides in the city—you'll often see kids (and adults) scooting down its sloped base.

Greetings From Chicago mural
Photograph: Martha Williams

5. Greetings From Chicago mural

A piece of public art tailor-made for the age of Instagram, this vintage postcard-inspired design is part of a series of murals that have been painted in cities across the United States (eventually there will be one in all 50 states). Situated in a parking lot just south of the California Blue Line station, the Greetings From Chicago mural pays tribute to local landmarks, pro sports teams and Chicago-style hot dogs.

Yoko Ono’s Skylanding
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

6. Yoko Ono’s Skylanding

Erected on the site of a former pavilion built by the Japanese government for the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition (which was destroyed by a fire in 1946), Skylanding was designed by activist and artist Yoko Ono. Comprising 12 metallic pedals in Jackson Park's Garden of the Phoenix, the sculpture is meant to be a symbol of peace. The installation is accompanied by a custom website, where visitors can record their wishes for the future.

Pilsen murals
Photograph: Time Out/Zach long

7. Pilsen murals

It’s impossible to walk through Pilsen without encountering a massive mural gracing the side of a building, a train platform or a railway embankment. The near South Side neighborhood is brimming with notable outdoor paintings, including a large piece by local artists Hector Duarte and Francisco Mendoza. Walk along 16th Street (between Ashland Avenue and Halsted Street) and you’ll be treated to a slowly-evolving array of murals, which cover a Metra railway embankment—a veritable outdoor art gallery.

Chinatown Dragon Wall
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

8. Chinatown Dragon Wall

Across the street from the iconic Chinatown Gate, the Nine-Dragon Wall is modeled after a similar piece of public art in Beijing, China. Adorned with nine large dragons and more than 500 smaller ones, the brightly colored wall is meant to serve as a symbol of good fortune. The Chinese-American Museum of Chicago claims the wall also boosts the area's feng shui, warding off the bad energy created by the nearby I-55 highway.

Alexander Calder’s Flamingo
Photograph: Shutterstock/Dawid S Swierczek

9. Alexander Calder’s Flamingo

Weighing 50 tons and painted a striking shade of red, the undulating form of Alexander Calder's Flamingo is often visible from blocks away. The arching sculpture was installed in Federal Plaza (at Adams and Dearborn streets) in 1974 and was designed to allow viewers to walk beneath it, accentuating its 53-foot height. The splash of color (a shade called "Calder Red") sticks out against the muted tones of the surrounding buildings.

Fountain of Time
Photograph: Shutterstock

10. Fountain of Time

Depicting 100 figures passing in front of Father Time (who carries a scythe), the Fountain of Time was created to celebrate 100 years of peace between the United States and the United Kingdom. Lorado Taft made the 1246-foot-long sculpture from concrete and incorporated a reflecting pool, situated on the western edge of the Midway Plaisance in Washington Park, near the University of Chicago. One of the figures in the intricate sculpture is a self-portrait of Taft—see if you can figure out which one.

Man With Fish
Photograph: Jaclyn Rivas

11. Man With Fish

Is there anything more pure than the relationship between a man and his gigantic, human-sized fish that spits water out of its mouth? German artist Stephan Balkenhol created this sculpture, which sits in the middle of a fountain near the southwest entrance to the Shedd Aquarium. If you want to hear The Office star Steve Carell personifying the Man With Fish and spouting fish puns, you should check out his contribution to the Statue Stories Chicago project.

When dusk falls on Chicago, you'll typically find gigantic images and antimations projected on the side of the Merchandise Mart, as part of an installation called Art on theMart. Screening two times each evening (the projects take a few weeks off when the weather gets cold in January, February and March), Art on theMart features images by local and international artists and photographers, blown up to engulf the 25-story-tall facade. You'll get the best view of the display from a section of the Chicago Riverwalk between Wells Street and Franklin Street, where you can also hear the accompanying soundtrack.

Robin Williams “Genie” mural
Photograph: Zach Long

13. Robin Williams “Genie” mural

New York street artist Jerkface and New Zealand artist Owen Dippie collaborated on this gigantic tribute to Robin Williams and one of his most memorable characters, painted on the side of Concord Music Hall. The Logan Square mural was completed in a few days without much fanfare in 2018, but it's since become a popular spot for those wishing to get a photo in front of a face that brought a lot of laughter to the world.

Miró’s Chicago
Photograph: Shutterstock

14. Miró’s Chicago

Located directly across the street from the Picasso sculpture in Brunswick Plaza, Miró's Chicago is another piece of public art that has inspired a lot of speculation about what it depicts. Originally titled The Sun, the Moon and One Star, the steel, concrete and bronze work created by Spanish artist Joan Miró resembles a fork set atop a feminine figure in a dress. If you head up to the Milwaukee Art Museum, you can see a miniature bronze model of the statue.

Atmospheric wave wall
Photograph: Courtesy EQ Office

15. Atmospheric wave wall

At the foot of Willis (or Sears) Tower near the corner of Jackson Boulevard and Wacker Drive you'll find this bright blue mosaic by Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson. The 30-by-60-foot Atmospheric wave wall was installed as part of the Catalog development that has brought new restaurants and shops to the building's lower level. Made up of 1,963 powder-coated steel fragments that catch the light of the sun and respond to the shadows cast by passersby, it's a stunning sight—and a great selfie backdrop.

Conagra Mural (Urbs in Horto)
Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

16. Conagra Mural (Urbs in Horto)

Named for its underwriter, locally headquartered packaged-foods company Conagra Brands, this vivid mural takes up the side of a building in Park No. 567, near the Milwaukee Avenue bridge on the 606. Local artist Jeff Zimmermann acknowledges Chicago's agricultural legacy throughout the colorful mural, depicting hands full of dirt, a man dressed in a corn suit, dandelions and floating heads.

Photograph: Neal O'Bryan

17. Chevron

Once displayed in front of a private residence in Lincoln Park, the "Chevron" sculpture was moved to the Lakefront in 2015, finding a home east of Diversey Parkway and Lakeshore Drive. The 50-foot-tall abstract work was created by artist John Henry, who attended the Art Institute of Chicago as a student and later taught at the school. It's a great landmark for meeting up with friends and marks a great spot to view the skyline just north of Diversey Harbor.

Uptown Dot King mural
Photograph: Zach Long

18. Uptown Dot King mural

Gaze west from the platform of the Wilson Avenue CTA station in Uptown and it's hard to miss this vibrant mural by local artist Joe Miller. Created as part of the 2021 edition of the Uptown Art Festival, Uptown Dot King covers the side of the former Wilson Men's Hotel, formed by a precise (and colorful) arrangement of large dots that Miller and his girlfriend, Sunni DiLuzio, sprayed onto the 35-foot-tall surface with the help of a stencil.

Photograph: Shutterstock

19. Agora

The 106 pairs of legs roaming the southwestern corner of Grant Park are Polish artist Magdalena Abakanowicz's largest permanent installation—a gift to the city from the Polish Ministry of Culture. Visitors are meant to walk through the sea of sculptures, experiencing them each figure from various angles and immersing themselves in the work.

Jim Bachor’s pothole installations
Photograph: Courtesy Jim Bachor

20. Jim Bachor’s pothole installations

Touring a new city often means craning your neck to look up at skyscrapers, but depending on the street, visitors in Chicago can be caught looking toward their feet. Mosaic artist Jim Bachor has been bringing cheer to some of the city’s saddest potholes since 2013, filling the ugly voids with his take on the Chicago flag, flowers or, everyone’s favorite, colorful ice cream treats. You’ll never curse a pothole quite the same way again.

Nuclear Energy sculpture
Photograph: Shutterstock

21. Nuclear Energy sculpture

In 1942, Enrico Fermi led a team that achieved the world's first man-made self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction in an artificial nuclear reactor beneath the University of Chicago's now-demolished Stagg Field. Twenty years later, the university installed this bronze sculpture from British artist Henry Moore, marking the dawn of the Atomic Age atop the site where the reactor once stood. Resembling a human skull, a mushroom cloud and a cathedral, Moore's sculpture is intended to convey the detructive and creative possibilities of nuclear power.

Oz Park sculptures
Photograph: Shutterstock

22. Oz Park sculptures

Directly north of Lincoln Park High School, Oz Park pays tribute to Chicago reporter L. Frank Baum, who wrote the beloved children's book The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Appropriately, the park contains four sculptures created by John Kearney that depict Baum's most famous characters: Dorothy and her dog Toto, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow.

Chagall’s Four Seasons
Photograph: Shutterstock/Felix L

23. Chagall’s Four Seasons

Marc Chagall is perhaps best known in Chicago for his America Windows, which are located at the Art Institute and made an appearance in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. But you don’t need to visit a museum to see Chagall’s work—his huge mosaic, The Four Seasons, is composed of colorful chips in more than 250 colors and is situated in the Chase Tower Plaza. Built in 1974, the installation depicts six scenes of life in Chicago.

Big Fruit mural
Photograph: Courtesy Sick Fisher

24. Big Fruit mural

The intricate, glowing designs of local artist Nick Fisher (better known as Sick Fisher) adorn the facades of many local businesses, including Bric-a-Brac Records and Fry the Coop. The Florida-born muralist likes working on a large outdoor canvas, much like the back of Sol Cafe in Rogers Park, visible from the Howard Red Line station. Featuring bright orange fruit amid a sea of blue leaves, Fisher’s “Big Fruit” mural is the kind of striking visual that every neighborhood should welcome visitors with.

Kwanusila totem pole
Photograph: Kris Vire

25. Kwanusila totem pole

On the lakefront, just east of where Addison Street meets Lake Shore Drive, stands a colorful 40-foot-tall totem pole, a reminder of Chicago's connection to the Native tribes of the Pacific Northwest. Alaskan ethnologist George Hunt introduced the city to the Kwakiutl tribe of British Columbia with an expansive exhibit at the 1893 World's Columbian Expo. In 1929, processed cheese patent-holder James L. Kraft donated a Kwakiutl totem pole he'd acquired to the city. The current pole, called Kwanusila, is a replica of Kraft's, commissioned in 1985 by Kraft Inc. to replace its weathered predecessor.

The Gentlemen
Photograph: Shutterstock

26. The Gentlemen

Located in the AMA Plaza outside of The Langham, Chicago, The Gentlemen depicts a group of blocky figures in suits and hats, clutching umbrellas and briefcases. The piece is the work of Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming and is part of his "Living World Series," which depicts his interpretations of humans living in the contemporary world.

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