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Five great works of public art in Chicago

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By Kyle Macmillan

When the weather improves, make a point to see how art intersects with the outdoors.

From works by such luminaries as Mary Miss and Mark di Suvero at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Park at Governors State University to Augustus Saint-Gaudens' noble 19th-century equestrian statue on South Michigan Ave., Chicago boasts a wealth of public art old and new.

The Sun-Times asked five area art professionals to name their favorite pieces:


 Bruce Nauman,

Bruce Nauman, "Human Nature/Life Death" (1983), Art Institute of Chicago

Susanne Ghez executive director and chief curator, The Renaissance Societyghez1 (1).JPG
The City of Chicago's public art program acquired this circular neon work, which is 6 feet in diameter, in 1985. Through 1992, it hung at the entrance to the State/Madison Street Red Line CTA station. It was placed on long-term loan at the Art Institute of Chicago in 1997, and the museum purchased it in 2004.

"My real favorite has been taken down. It was probably six feet tall, a circular piece with the neon words - 'love,' 'death,' all these things. It went down into the subway, and it looked like a big beer sign - so beautifully installed. I think they probably got worried about the value, as the value of Nauman rose. So, now it is at the Art Institute of Chicago."

THEBEAN-CST-020812-2_25086629-600x364.jpg
Tristan Hummel, program manager and curator, Chicago Loop Alliance
hummel-CST-043013-007.jpgAnish Kapoor, "Cloud Gate" (2006), Millennium Park, 55 N. Michigan Ave. This 110-ton, 33-foot-tall sculpture, which reflects the city skyline, clouds overhead and constant onlookers in its mirror-like stainless-steel surfaces, has become a must-see stop for visitors and an international symbol of Chicago.

"There is a cool factor to finding that obscure piece, but there is nothing better than 'The Bean." It has everything a piece of public art piece should have. It's massive. That's plus one. It's got the parakeet effect. People love seeing their reflection in the mirror and interacting with that. So, it's immediately interactive, but it's interactive without needing electronics."

Ruth Duckworth,

Staci Boris, chief curator, Elmhurst Art Museum
Ruth Duckworth, "Serenity" (2005), Northeastern Illinois University, 5500 N. St. Louis Ave.

elmhurstart-CST-xxxxxx-01.JPGThis semi-abstract two-story bronze work depicts two figures - each with a bird perched atop its head -- seated on a pyramid.

"It's literally on my street at Northeastern Illinois University, and when I first moved to the area I had no idea it was there. Once you kind of open up into the campus, you see this really dramatic, figurative sculpture raised on this plinth, and it has this kind of Egyptian feel to it. I never got to talk to Ruth about it specifically, but I'm sure it must be influenced by this famous Egyptian sculpture, 'Mycerinus and his Queen,' which is one my favorite sculptures from my art-history classes way back when."


Wisotzki, Paula.jpgPaula Wisotzki, associate professor of art history, Loyola University
Louise Bourgeois, "Helping Hands" (1996), Chicago's Women Park and Gardens, 1801 S. Indiana Ave. Originally installed at Navy Pier and relocated in 2011 because of vandalism, this subtle piece consists of six rough-hewn stone bases each topped by one or more sets of clasping hands carved from granite.
"I think public art should address its location in some way, and this is a memorial to Jane Addams, an important figure in the history of Chicago. And for me, it was made by an artist who is significant and interesting and who I don't think compromised her vision in making this public monument and, therefore, that makes it a more interesting project than many, I think."


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Naomi Beckwith, curator, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Dan Peterman, "Running Table" (1997), Millenium Park. Exploring issues of consumption and ecology, the Chicago artist's 100-foot-long picnic table was made of recycled plastic -- the equivalent of 2 million milk bottles. First installed in Grant Park, it was moved to its current site in 2009.

beckwith.jpg"I came to the arts through the sciences, and I became interested in (Peterman's) work over time, because here is an artist who is interested in ecology and the sciences and turning that into sculptural practice. I'm really interested in sculpture that is useful, and I love the idea of creating a sculpture that - like the park - is free and accessible and open to the public. And, so it really does create this accessible, communal space for the entire city."

Kyle Macmillan is a local free-lance writer

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1 Comment

As a lifetime art history student and, sometimes, a practicing artist, I enjoy much of Chicago's public artwork. Although I initially didn't think the Picasso was a very good example of his work, I have come to a better appreciation of it over the years. I believe the Miro is a really interesting work. At NEIU, I like the sculptures of Shencheng Xu. The piece that was formerly in front of the Salme H. Steinberg Fine Arts Building captured the feelings of family, community, youthfulness in an immediately appealing way. 'The Bean' downtown is wonderful; I can't stand the silly rabbit sculptures that became popular: by using a cheap trick,the sculptor hopped his way into recognition and wealth. Although Ruth Duckworth created some fine work, the sculpture of hers at NEIU isn't one of them. Its pyramidal base is much too large in relation to the seated couple and far too often the symbolism of the birds perched on their heads is missed because the first impression is a reminder of the pigeons and geese that we have to watch out for; the word 'birdbrain' also comes to mind. There are far more appealing works to be seen in the park north on Kimball. The Goethe statue in Lincoln Park is extremely idealistic but it's still impressive. Loredo Taft's sculpture is of high quality.

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