The year I moved to the South Loop, 2013, Wabash Avenue from Roosevelt north about half a mile — the very area where I live — was slated to become an arts corridor.
Before then the only tourists likely to go to South Wabash were headed to Buddy Guy’s Legends. An excess of parking lots made for a lackluster street. Those parking lots enabled the arts corridor because they were surrounded by exposed walls on which murals could be painted.
Conceived at Columbia College, which has several buildings on Wabash and more throughout the South Loop, the Wabash Arts Corridor was intended to transform the street into a cultural asset. The idea was to present murals by both local and world-known street artists aided by Columbia College students. With dozens of murals today, this area has one of the largest concentration of public art in any US urban center.
Most of the murals are not on Columbia College property. Other building owners have agreed to let street artists have at their walls and to leave the murals up at least six months. I’ve never noticed that a mural disappears except when a building is constructed next door and hides it.
I don’t know how many tourists visit this stretch of Wabash now, but for those who live here, the art entitles us to a bit of swagger.
I recently boned up on the murals to give a Chicago Greeter tour to French journalists in town to report on Chicago’s public art. For those of you who care to venture just south of the Loop, here’s a walk highlighting a few of my favorites. You’ll see others along the way.
Walking south, in the middle of the block between Congress and Harrison, you’ll notice cute birds painted over the parking garage entrance on the east side of Wabash. Local street artists Lady Lucx and Sarah Stewart created the untitled mural.
Cross to the west side of the street, to the parking lot under the el tracks. Look north to see Moose Bubblegum Bubble by Jacob Watts, one of the winners of Columbia’s 2014 student and alumni competition and a self-described “photo illustrator and Photoshop wizard.” This piece is fun; I doubt it has any hidden meaning.
Continuing to walk down the west side of Wabash, between Harrison and Balbo you’ll come to Ricky Lee Gordon’s I Am You, You Are Me. It faces an empty lot. Watts, a famous street artist from South Africa, said this piece deals with his favorite theme of interconnectedness. The horses “appear to almost bow to one another, aware that they are interdependent,” he said. The leather jacket on the human connects with the hide of the horse.
At 8th Street, cross to the east side to see Stop Telling Women to Smile by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, a Brooklyn-based artist known for her anti–street harassment messages. The faces, of 22 actual women who experienced such harassment, appear serious and almost confrontational.
On the same side of the street, between 9th and 11 Streets, is Impossible Meeting, a painting of two deer rubbing noses, by Marina Zumi of Buenos Aires.
Walk east through the parking lot toward Michigan Avenue and you’ll see From Boom to Doom by Collin Van Der Sluijs of the Netherlands. Van Der Sluijs’s message is about conservation: the red-headed woodpecker is in need of protection, and the yellow-headed blackbird has disappeared from this region. What I particularly like is that instead of painting a background, Van Der Sluijs painted directly onto the brick wall, so his images share the space with ghost signs of long-gone businesses.
On the west side of that block is Shepard Fairey’s We Own the Future, with the allegorical figure from the Columbia Pictures logo on what appears to be the cover of a 33 LP. This one, presumably a statement about decision making in the art and music world, doesn’t do much for me, but I want to mention it because of Fairey’s history: he created the famous Obama HOPE poster.
That’s just a small fraction of the murals adorning the walls of my neighborhood. Come take a peak someday. You ought to find a few you like.
ANTI-TRUMP QUOTATION: 23RD IN AN ONGOING SERIES
"I would say a face-off in integrity between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen is not to be confused with Mother Teresa against Abraham Lincoln. I mean, both of them start with enormous obstacles and impediments to believability."
— Mark Shields, on the July 27 PBS NewsHour