Chicago Blue

The famous skyline is always changing

It was 103F when we arrived, so we decided to jump into the river – well, onto a boat – for the architectural tour. It was just a shade cooler there, especially after I found a perch to shoot in the shadow of the bridge. Make sure you get the tour offered by the architectural society. It was guided by a wonderfully well-informed volunteer whose calm manner and gentle humour stood in marked contrast to the screeching wannabe comics we encountered later on the double deckers. Some of the photos here are from the boat, some from the bus, but  most were taken from my favourite perch: standing still.

Chicagoans, knowledgable about architecture and proud of the international style, are divided over post
modernism, shaped buildings and decorative accents

The skyline is as magnificent as it is famous, and its functional purity, derived from the school of Mies van der Rohe, has really leaked into Chicago’s mindset: things work for people here. That’s the simple rule. But time passes, and the simple skyscrapers of yesteryear are now taking a back seat to neo-classical, neo-deco and new-neo, many of which play dramatically off the black boxes of the Chicago school. Not everyone is happy, but I am.

Staggered balconies reflect the sky and mirror the lake

We spent most of the rest of the day at the Art Institute, a museum whose lighting, openness, coolness!, photo policies, layout and quality of the collection make it my favourite – ever. Did I mention how cool it was?

Griffin Court, with Frank Gehry’s Millennium Park Bandshell in the background, outside

Flooded with light, the modern wing boasts a brilliant collection of American, Impressionist and Contemporary Art. I have to admit that it’s difficult to get around in, but its simple grandeur more than makes up for it – and makes bumping into things more fun. That’s not how a Chicagoan would see it though. Shusheela Bhat, writing in Chicago Art Magazine says of the airy, Church-like feel: “You get over that fairly quickly though, as you wonder where to go”. That’s that functional mindset at work again.

One of the things we bumped into was this massive Paris street scene by Gustave Caillebotte – I had never even heard his name, though he was the primary financial sponsor and a major exhibitor at the first impressionist exhibition. He became wealthy enough to retire at 34. (Not from art). You can find a lovely video of the first exhibition here.

A young visitor enjoys the brushstrokes of Caillebotte’s masterpiece

The highlight of the day, however, was the Lichtenstein exhibit, an artist who I only sort of liked in the past. But the breadth of his work is truly fantastic. I miss the fun he brought now, his amusing play on the comic strip and his pop art take on pointillism.. His ascent into the world of high art was a breath of fresh air in the rarified art world of his day.  In retrospect that now seems more important than ever as the art world seems once more to be sinking back into academic irrelevance.

My favourite piece was Perforated Seascape #1 (Blue). Using a top layer of punched metal in his signature dot form, he created this fantastically kinetic sculptural piece for the viewer.

Perforated Seascape #1(Blue)

Just looking at it as a still object is dizzying enough. Have a seat before you look at the iPhone video below. Apologies in advance for the vertigo and the camera work!

As we staggered our way out of the Art Institute (failing to find the Richters were were after)  we found another Chicago masterpiece: Millennium Park, a lesson in urban planning that topped off our first day in Chicago.

Pure anarchic joy is a draw for every kind here

Read more about our day there in my previous post, My Kind of Town. After a wonderful anniversary dinner, we headed off to dreamland. Night fell over the river, with four more wonderful days yet to come.

The view from our hotel, Hotel 71 on Wacker Drive

—————————— MORE TO COME  ——————————–

My Kind of Town

Chicago is.

Not just big, rich, gutsy and beautiful, but expansive, inclusive, big-hearted and fun. What other city’s millennium project includes a park with a giant wading pool and a massive, distorted mirror, shaped like a bean?

People + architecture = Chicago

Make no mistake about it: Chicago is crazy about architecture: everybody “gets” it. And as sure as you can say “form follows function”, the architecture is all about people. The wading pool is probably 75 yards long and filled with people from every culture and walk of life.

I was lucky to get this boy on his own on the first of July – the place is crowded with kids – never moreso than when the character in the video fountain (really? You can do that?) offers them a kiss, which is a ploy for spewing what looks like a fountain of spittle. Apparently there have been multiple complaints, all of which are rightly ignored.


It was 103 F the day we were there, so I was torn, looking around for someone responsible enough to hang on to my camera (my wife had gone off while I did some shooting) so I cool myself below those watery lips. Sadly, recording awesomeness is sometimes inferior to doing awesomeness!

As for the Bean and people of all types doing awesomeness, here’s a group of Islamic ladies having as good a time as anyone.

Everyone is welcome, and everyone has fun, in Millennium Park

My wife and I were in Chicago for our 25th anniversary, and we had five brilliant days to enjoy all that the city has to offer – great cuisine, art, architecture & music. Everything except a nightcap out of doors in the heat. We thought we were in luck when the hotel bar’s patio was empty after we got back from dinner. Apparently not. Chicago has a curfew of 10pm for patio drinking, a rule so out of character that I’m going to have to return. A nice long study on Chicago and its contradictions are in order I think.

Chicago’s enduring prohibition – against late night patio drinking –
comes with the dusk



The Sky’s The Limit

I’m always on the lookout for odd little displays that seem to “speak for” us. Especially us guys. Poses that ex-pose us, “Society’s Little Freudian Slips, I used to call them. On my way to Chicago I had the luck to find something at the Island Airport that perfectly encapsulated Toronto’s small-man neurosis. There, in the waning light, through the (thankfully) recently cleaned windows of the walkway, was my Toronto, it’s pert little tower sticking out nicely, but into a worrisome dusk. How apt. On the left, the doubled reflection of the city off a corner window; to the right, the reflection of a travel ad behind me. In the distance, superimposed above the horizon, rose the ghostly presences that haunt our troubled skyline: the reflection of a photomontage that includes, from left to right, the Statue of Liberty, The Petronias Towers, Something that might be the Burj (but doesn’t really look like it) and either Big Ben or Canary Wharf. (Just click on the image to enlarge)

How is a city to keep up? With Petro dollars clogging the Dubai skyline, bloggers like Perpustakaan have had the nerve to drop Toronto from their top seven list. And if we’re no longer on the list of the seven sturdiest erections in the world (read “wonders”), we might as well go back to doing something more modest. Something more service oriented, perhaps. Like … subways;?)