Art on the Mart and More New Public Art in Chicago

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


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Private Tour Coordinator and Tour Guide

There is no shortage of things to discover in Chicago—I love being an urban explorer and uncovering its hidden places. I have an MA in Public History from Loyola University Chicago, and I have worked as a museum educator and kindergarten teacher. My desire to learn new things fuels my passion for educating others, which I get to experience every day as a Chicago tour guide. I live in the northern neighborhood of Rogers Park.

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Chicago is unique as it always evolves into the future while holding on to the past. I’m fascinated by how people latch on to old architecture but happily pave over others. My background is in theater and performance and I’ve been a tour guide here for more than 10 years. Currently I’m finishing my Master’s in Public History at Loyola University because I love to teach the history of this scrappy city. I’m in the Edgewater neighborhood.


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Operations Coordinator and Tour Guide

As a fourth generation Chicagoan, I have been living and loving Chicago by bike, on foot, public transit or automobile. I am a graduate of UIC where through the College of Urban Planning and Public Affairs, began my eagerness to understand the nature, history and impacts of urban planning and development. It is incredibly rewarding to give back to this wonderful city by helping out in the office of Chicago Detours. I live in the incredibly diverse neighborhood of Albany Park.
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Chicago has so many neighborhoods, buildings, and by-ways that it’s hard to go long without seeing something new, or something familiar from a new angle. I studied Cinema History for my M.A. from the University of Chicago. I’ve worked as a culture writer for various publications and as an educator of the humanities at the City Colleges of Chicago. I’m thrilled to share my love of this city’s busy past and unique architectural spaces with Chicago Detours. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of Lincoln Park.

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I’m an interpreter of personal stories from the past and the city’s landscape. I love to imagine what originally happened inside old unmarked buildings, and what forces have shaped their design. I studied Chicago history, architectural history, and anything Chicago-related through my M.A. in the Humanities at the University of Chicago. My love for stories was enriched by my B.A. in Literature from the University of Michigan. I’ve written travel articles for publications like Rick Steves’ Italy best-selling travel guides, the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and The Chicago Food Encyclopedia. I live in the Chicago neighborhood of West Avondale.
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