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ART & CULTURE ON THE CHICAGO RIVERWALK

The 1.25-mile Chicago Riverwalk provides a blank canvas for a potpourri of art and culture right in the heart of the city.

There are grassy areas and endless skies crying out for sculptures, vast walls perfect for murals, inviting plazas, gardens and site-responsive museum spaces that create a one-of-a-kind, open-air showplace for art and cultural programming. 

Last summer, large-scale installations by Tony Tasset, Scott Reeder, Candida Alvarez and other Chicago artists brightened the Riverwalk expanse. This summer and beyond, a host of art and cultural programming is in the works — from Arts in the Dark to Art on the Mart, and more. 

Permanent Art Installations along the Riverwalk include: 

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Plaza 

Vietnam War Memorial RiverwalkPhoto: Ross Buchanan Moore

The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial Plaza, designed by Ross Barney and Jankowski Architects, is located at 25 E Riverwalk South, near the State Street entrance to the Riverwalk. It’s one of the largest memorials in the nation outside of Washington, D.C. The design echoes that of Maya Lin’s D.C Memorial wall, commemorating the 58,000 men and women across America who lost their lives in the Vietnam War. 

On the top of the wall is a plaque that states, “Chicago Remembers.” Below is a timeline of events that took place during the confrontation. 

The plaza offers a poignant and contemplative area where visitors can pay tribute to the 2900 Illinois veterans who are no longer with us. The space also features a fountain with 14 water jets, a waterfall sculpture of the Vietnam Service medal and seating areas. 

Ballerinas

Self-taught Chicago artist Tyrue “Slang” Jones has worked as a graffiti artist, fine artist, graphic designer, and professional television animator. 

The artist’s four-panel work, Ballerinas, combines flowing shapes and abstracted forms known as “figurative graffiti” that can be viewed on the south wall of the Riverwalk between Franklin and Lake. 

Mask on: Vejigante

Riverwalk ArtPhoto: Ross Buchanan Moore

Chicago artist Sam Kirk’s single-panel graffiti, Vejigante, Mask On, can be viewed along the Riverwalk between Franklin Street and Lake Street. The brightly colored mask celebrates a folkloric figure whose origins trace back to medieval Spain. Kirk’s work is a call to engage the community about issues such as cultural and racial segregation, gentrification, poverty, and homelessness, and aims to inspire pride in and recognition for underrepresented communities. 

Kirk was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, and working-class communities continue to be her inspiration. 

Rising From the Lake

Sculptor Milton Horn’s Rising from the Lake can be seen on the north side of the Chicago River at the Columbus Drive Bridge. The bronze bas-relief sculpture features a female figure emerging reborn from the bottom of Lake Michigan, following the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. 

Note that the sheaf of wheat, bull and eagle reference Chicago’s historic role as a center of commerce, the livestock market and air transportation. The floral forms evoke the city motto, “Urbs in Horto” or “City in a Garden.” And the bronze ring that arches across the relief represents Chicago’s central geography within the United States. The piece has an interesting story that you can read here

Gateway by Ellen Lanyon 

Gateway, created by Ellen Lanyon, is a series of mosaic panels that document Chicago's story and its relationship to the river. Lanyon, who is identified with Chicago Imagism, created 28 ceramic tiled mural artworks that line the north and south walls of the underpass below Lake Shore. 

The river is the primary focus of the works, beginning with a piece that marks the arrival of Europeans by canoe. Her artwork features bridges, maps, dates, plants, and wildlife that record the changes in the city's landscape and the evolution of bridges.

Lanyon, a Chicago native who moved to New York in the 1980s, has works in the collections of major museums throughout the United States, including the Art Institute of Chicago, the Brooklyn Museum, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, and the Walker Art Center. 

Allium

Allium, a 10-foot cast aluminum sculpture crafted by Carolyn Ottmers, is located on the Riverwalk between Columbus and Lake Shore Drive, and represents a plant native to Chicago. 

The hardy allium, able to survive Chicago winters just like the stormy, husky, brawling Chicagoans in Carl Sandburg’s Chicago, is one of three plant sculptures representing the beauty and strength of the city. 

The trio, Allium, Parsnip and Shepherd’s Purse, are collectively called Equilibrium. 

Museums

Chicago Architecture Center (CAC)

Chicago Architecture CenterThe Chicago Architecture Center, courtesy of the Chicago Architecture Foundation​

Opening summer 2018, it’s only fitting that the Chicago Architecture Center (CAC) will be housed in One Illinois Center (111 E Wacker Dr) — a building designed by Modernist genius Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Occupying 20,000 square feet and located above the dock for the Chicago Architecture Foundation Center River Cruise Aboard Chicago’s First Lady Cruises (the city’s #1 tour, according to TripAdvisor users), the CAC will become a hub and gateway for discovering everything architecture in Chicago, through docent-led tours, exciting programs and imaginative, interactive exhibits. 

The McCormick Bridgehouse Museum 

McCormick Bridgehouse & Chicago River Museum ©Ranvestel Photographic©Ranvestel Photographiy

The 5-story McCormick Bridgehouse Museum celebrates Chicago’s world-famous moveable bridges, and provides an opportunity to explore an historic landmark bridgehouse. 

At river level, visitors can view the massive gears that move Chicago’s famous bridges up and down. As they ascend the building, they learn all about the Chicago River. Upon reaching the very top, visitors are treated to magnificent 360-degree views of the city. (Note: Only the first floor is handicap accessible.) 

Upcoming Art Installations & Events

Arts in the Dark 

Arts in the Dark on the Riverwalk honors three of Chicago’s cultural organizations this summer, with creative lantern processions on the second Tuesdays of July (July 10th) and August (August 14th). 

Each procession will begin at 8:30pm on the south side of the Chicago Riverwalk at the jetty between Franklin and Wells. As the light fades, a colorful pageant will make its way east almost to Lake Shore Drive, providing a whimsical display for those watching from the Riverwalk and looking down from Wacker Drive. 

Art on the Mart 

At the close of the 2018 summer season, Mayor Emanuel and DCASE will join theMART to unveil Art on theMart, a permanent large-scale lighting installation that will run across nearly three acres of the building’s south-facing façade. 

TheMART will provide ‘the largest canvas in the world’ for video art, with a curated, ongoing series of ever-changing images becoming a permanent nighttime riverfront feature. 

S25

Architect Santiago Calatrava has unveiled his plans for a riverfront sculpture. 

The bright red art piece, whose intent is to “grow from the ground” at 444 W Lake St (where the Chicago River’s north and south branches meet) will rise 30 feet in the air in a spiraling “lyrical form.” 

Currently called S25 while awaiting its official name, the piece is scheduled to be installed in the summer of 2019.

The Spanish-born, Zurich-based artist’s work has been exhibited in museums and public places such as the median of New York’s Park Avenue, where seven of his pieces — red, black and silver works of painted aluminum — were displayed in 2015. 

The Riverwalk is open to the public from 6 a.m.–11 p.m. throughout the year. 

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