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Art on the Mart and More New Public Art in Chicago

By Alex Bean on September 26, 2018


Art on the Mart, a gigantic new public art installation, is set to debut on September 29th. Video projectors on the Chicago Riverwalk will light up the river-facing walls of the Merchandise Mart with dazzling, dynamic designs. The Art on the Mart installation is the latest in a wave of public art installations, often using new media, consequently changing the look and feel of the city. To help you get a sense of this wave, here are some of our favorite new works of public art in Chicago.

#1. Art on the Mart

We’ll start with the big debutante. Art on the Mart will transform the historic Merchandise Mart into one of the largest art canvasses in history. If all goes to plan, then eight digital projectors will illuminate the 2.5-acres of the Mart’s river-facing facade. Four notable video artists, most of whom are local, have created the inaugural displays. You can expect to see a range of subject, from abstract imagery to figures of elephants, zebras and giraffes on Mount Kilimanjaro in Kenya. Current plans call for Art on the Mart to operate five nights a week from March to December. The big party for the first showing, on the 29th, will feature a live DJ (slight eye-roll), food trucks, and fireworks. Could be fun, but I imagine most will discover Art on the Mart on their own future wanderings around downtown.

#2. Black Tiberinus on the Riverwalk

Just a stone’s throw from Art on the Mart is another public art installation. Black Tiberinus is a modern sculpture installation in the “Riverbank” room at Wolf Point. As noted in the image above, local artist Robert Burnier created the piece for that particular curved section of the Riverwalk. The name references the Tiber River. The Roman god Tiberinus protected it in antiquity. As with much abstract art my response is a general “huh…okay.” I’d still mark this as an improvement on the kitschy giant deer sculpture from last year. Also, it’d be cool if DCASE just turned this Riverwalk room into an annually-rotating sculpture gallery.

#3. K9s for Cops

Any stroll down Michigan Avenue these past few months, including many runs of the Historic Chicago Walking Bar Tour, has included some dog-dodging. K9s for Cops is the series of 50 large dog sculptures dotted along the length of the Mag Mile since July. The sculptures pay tribute to the 70 members of the Chicago PD’s K9 unit. Each dog sculpture is a unique design. Some are corporate tie-ins while others pay tribute to first responders lost in the line of duty. Time to see these is running short, since they’re scheduled for removal on September 30th. After that, the sculptures will be auctioned off. Proceeds go to the families of first responders who lost their lives. Personally, they keep reminding me of the famous Cows on Parade back in 1999.

#4. Rush More at the Cultural Center

Rush More Chicago Cultural Center Public Art on the mart
Rush More, at the Cultural Center, is a tribute to the women of Chicago history. Photo by Alex Bean.

The backside of the Chicago Cultural Center is now a monument to Chicago’s women. “Rush More” is a gigantic mural which honors 20 of the most influential women in Chicago history. The Detours staff have been huge fans from the drop, since we’re very into badass Chicago women as evidenced from our event for Women’s History Month. A non-profit called Murals of Acceptance commissioned the work from South Side artist Kerry James Marshall.

According to a DNAInfo story, the artist “aim[ed] to brighten up the narrow, alley-like street by adding a ‘parklike view’ with a bright sun and trees.” Visitors will definitely spot recognizable faces like Oprah Winfrey and Maggie Daley. I love that women a little further from the spotlight, like Sandra Cisneros, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Harriet Monroe, also made it onto our Rushmore. It makes a great finale for the Loop Interior Architecture Walking Tour, since we end right there at the Cultural Center!

Public Art’s Role in Chicago History

As I wrote a few years ago, public art plays a big role in Chicago’s history. These expressions of civic spirit fundamentally shape the way we think of ourselves and experience the city. Exciting new projects, like Art on the Mart, carry on the progress begun by the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and the Chicago Picasso. Some of these works will wind up being thought of alongside those past triumphs across Chicago history.

– Alex Bean, Content Manager


Chicago Detours offers guided walking and bus tours of architecture, history and culture to public and private groups. We are a passionate team of educators, historians, artists and storytellers, and are proud to be one of very few tour companies in Chicago that is rated five stars on both Google and TripAdvisor.


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