Culture + Style

Murals, Fountains and Sculptures: See the Best of Chicago’s Public Art

Beautiful art exists everywhere in Chicago, even beyond its myriad museums. It’s well worth visiting classics like the Art Institute of Chicago and Museum of Modern Art, but some of Chicago’s best and most unique art is right in the middle of the city.

Keep your eyes attuned no matter what neighborhood you are in — you’ll find exquisite murals and works of art nearly everywhere, all accessible to the public. Here are nine spots to check out some of the best public art in the city.

Cloud Gate at Millennium Park

Few actually call it by the name the London artist Anish Kapoor gave it; instead, locals often refer to Cloud Gate as “The Bean” because, well, it looks like a giant mirrored bean.

It was given its official name because most of its surface reflects the sky, and the reflection bends into an almost gatelike shape. Regardless, this centerpiece of Millennium Park gathers tourists and locals alike for a chance to take a photo of their own reflection or the skyline reflected within this 33′ x 42′ x 66′ steel piece of art.

Crown Fountain

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Crown Fountain (Photo: Getty Images)

After checking out the sun reflecting on The Bean, cool off on the other side of Millennium Park and check out art in the Crown Fountain. Comprised of two 50-foot, skyscraper-like structures designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, the fountains incorporate elements of light, photography and water as they project moving faces on LED screens of a multicultural subset of Chicago citizens.

As the photos of visages change and make different facial expressions, water flows out of their mouths. The fountain has become popular in warmer months as a splashing ground to cool off from the heat.

Art on theMART

Unveiled in September 2018, one of the city’s newer art installations is actually a multimedia projection onto the acclaimed Merchandise Mart building. Renowned artists-in-residence create visual landscapes shown in the evenings and perfectly viewed from Chicago’s Riverwalk. Check the website, as dates, times and artists vary throughout the year.

Greetings from Chicago Mural

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Greetings From Chicago (Photo: Getty Images)

This Instagram darling has only been in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood since 2015, but it quickly became a fan favorite. Designed by the duo of New York City graffiti artist Victor Ving and photographer Lisa Beggs, the mural’s bright colors and motif resemble old “Greetings from … ” postcards. Each letter of the word “Chicago” depicts city references, from deep-dish pizza and Chicago sports teams to Ferris Bueller and blues singer Muddy Waters.

Four Seasons

Chicago’s Chase Tower Plaza (10 S. Dearborn) is home to a mosaic by artist Marc Chagall built in 1974 and restored in the late 1990s. Using glass and stone from around the world, Chagall created six scenes that depict the four seasons on this 70-foot-long, colorful mosaic — a true sight to behold.

Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain

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Clarence F. Buckingham Fountain (Photo: Getty Images)

One of Chicago’s oldest pieces of public art, constructed in 1927, the stunning Clarence F. Buckingham fountain is the marquee of Grant Park. The fountain runs from 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, May through October, depending on the weather.

Major water displays happen every 20 minutes — with water shooting over 150 feet in the air, accompanied by music after dusk. This is definitely one of Chicago’s most iconic pieces of art and includes the actual fountain designed by architect Edward H. Bennett as well as the seahorse figurines that represent the border states of Illinois by French sculptor Marcel Francois Loyau.

Hebru Brantley Wicker Park Mural

It’s hard not to mention the local Chicago artist whose work can clearly be identified by his “Flyboy” character. His work now appears in galleries and in partnerships with brands (with art owned by celebrities like Beyoncé and Jay-Z), but he still takes the time to beautify Chicago with murals like the one in Wicker Park (a redo of an original mural of his that got painted over).

The Flamingo

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The Flamingo (Photo: Getty Images)

Designed in 1974 by Alexander Calder, this 53-foot red abstract sculpture resides in Federal Plaza (Dearborn and Adams streets). For architecture buffs, the sculpture lies in front of three Mies van der Rohe buildings. The open concept of it allows visitors to pass through and under the massive 50-ton steel work of art and adds a much needed pop of color — which they call Calder Red — to the otherwise serious federal buildings.

The Picasso

Not every city can claim a gift from renowned artist Pablo Picasso. Although the untitled sculpture in Daley Plaza was initially met with cynicism because nobody can exactly identify what it is, the steel sculpture today brings many to gaze at and interpret this gift to Chicago from the great Spanish artist.