When I first saw photos of the massive sculptural installation called Agora, I didn’t much like it. Chicago has so much public sculpture, many by great modernist masters, that I thought Agora would not be high on my list.
Eventually, Agora was the only sculpture I managed to see, apart from the Cloud Gate and the famous lions of the Art Institute. What changed my mind? Meeting up with a very determined eleven year old who led me here early on a Sunday afternoon.
Walking through the sculpture changed my mind. This is a piece you need to interact with. As I walked through the crowd of towering legs, hollow men of rusted iron, I liked the way Magdalena Abakanowicz has used space. Situated at the southern end of Millennium park, on Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road, you can look north through the crowd of walkers and see the skyscrapers of downtown Chicago (featured photo). Its a short walk from there to the many attractions of the Museum Park.
Many years ago I came across a wonderful exclamation in a film whose name I’ve completely forgotten: “Ce n’est pas une chateau, c’est patisserie.” When you try to describe the Chicago establishment called Macy’s on State Street or the Marshall Field Building, patisserie is a word which comes easily to mind.
I’m not a great shopper, and when confronted with miles and miles of shopping racks, my neocortex shuts down. I head for the toilets. I bring you happy news from the trenches: the building has clean and usable toilets. The rest of the time I stood near the Lancome and Estee Lauder counters, gawking at the five storey tall atrium topped off with the piece of uncompromising pattiserie you see in the featured photo. It is called the Tiffany’s mosaic ceiling.
Exiting on State Street near where it meets Washington Street, I saw the signature clock of the building. Its said to be 6000 Kgs in weight, and is a popular landmark to meet at. I hope it is well anchored. The mural on the wall behind it celebrates Black History Month. That’s a wonderful tradition. I wish in India we had even a week dedicated to the history of the less-advantaged sections of society.
It is interesting to walk through the Loop area of Chicago with its lovely skyscrapers. If I remember correctly, it was in Chicago that the first skyscapers were built in the late 19th century. Sullivan then branched out into a new style of architecture called the Chicago School. Later developments in the construction of these buildings also came from Chicago. I think this is also the correct season to emphasize the role of Fazlur Khan in the structural engineering fundamentals of all modern skyscrapers: he worked in the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago.
I liked walking through the fog on Michigan Avenue. The best thing about fog in Chicago at this time of the year is that it keeps the city warm. On a night without fog the temperature dropped almost to 10 Celsius below zero. With the fog the temperature is a mild 2 degrees above. The second is that you get lovely photos of the city: from the view of Michigan Avenue above, to the riverside skyscrapers in the featured photo. Chicago is beautiful at this time.
When I visited Chicago the last time, the sculpture by Anish Kapoor called “Cloud Gate” had not yet been installed, and I had not come across any work by Anish Kapoor. In the years between one began to hear more about him. I saw his monumental sculptures on a visit to Seoul where, coincidentally, the Samsung Gallery of Art, Leeum, had an exhibition of his works. The Family and I wandered through his sculptures, and loved his play with space.
So, trying to keep myself awake in order to beat jet lag on my first day in Chicago, I walked down Michigan Avenue to the Millennium park, and climbed the stairs next to the skating rink to look at the bean-shaped piece. The little plaza was full of people looking at it. Among all the public art that I’ve come across, this seems to be the one which invites most interaction. People walk through it and stare at their own reflection. I walked around it slowly and took photos, some of which you see here.
I don’t visit Chicago very often, maybe once in a decade. So there’s a lot of this lively city which I haven’t seen. Now that I have to spend a week there on work, I’m trying to figure out what I can take the time out to see.
The first step: recall what I’ve seen already. The one thing I remember most clearly is a wonderful dinner in Greek Town. At the end of the long dinner I wanted to taste the house-made baklava. I pleaded with the waiter to give me a small piece because I was too full to eat the normal serving, but I was told it was not possible. I got a full large helping, which I had to bag to eat at breakfast in the airport the next day. It’s such a great memory that I don’t want to go back and find something different.
The next thing I definitely remember is the Art Institute. I wandered through it once looking at the incredible collection of Mesoamerican and Andean art. That was the first time I’d seen such a variety of art from this part of the world. I don’t think I’ve seen such a collection ever since then. I might go back to look at it.
It is 33 degrees in Mumbai today, and I see that it is 3 degrees below freezing right now in Chicago! Even if I’m bundled up well, I’m afraid I might find it a little too cold for a few things: walking the lakefront trail, for example. I haven’t seen Anish Kapoor’s "Cloud Gate" (photo above), or Magdalena Abakanowicz’s "Agora". I hope I can acclimatize enough to go see at least one of these pieces of sculpture.
I do plan to visit the Ledge at Sear’s Tower. I’m sure it’ll be fun comparing this experience with standing on the viewing platform of the World Financial Centre in Shanghai.
While browsing for attractions I found a link to the Chicago Pedway. This sounds so quirky that I want to walk through this. I guess this list more than fills up the few spare hours I might have. Is there anything else which I could do?