For most of its history, Chicago has trailed New York City in key rankings in America â€” hence one of the alleged reason behind its nickname "Second City" â€” but its cultural, gastronomic and architectural offerings today put it among the first rank of cities anywhere.Â Â
Looking for culture? At the top of the list are the Chicago Symphony and its summertime Ravinia Festival; top theaters; public art including sculptures by Pablo Picasso and Joan MirÃ³ in and around Daley Plaza; and the Art Institute of Chicago, the crowning glory of the city's lakefront. Opened in 1879, the Art Institute is one of the country's premier art schools, with alumni ranging from Thomas Hart Benton and Georgia O'Keeffe to Orson Welles and Walt Disney. More important to the visitor who doesn't plan on taking classes, it houses one of the world's greatest art collections, some 260,000 works spanning nearly five millennia, in a handsome beaux arts structure built for the 1892â€“93 World's Columbian Exposition.
The Institute is known worldwide for its collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings, one of the most extensive outside of Paris's MusÃ©e d'Orsay. The American collection is renownedâ€”it includes the iconic American Gothic by Grant Wood and Edward Hopper's somber portrait of urban loneliness, Nighthawksâ€”as is the pioneering collection of photography.The building itself is a Chicago landmark and its broad front steps, a favorite meeting place, are flanked by two large bronze lions, which get dressed up for holidays and other special occasions. Come back in 2009 to see its cutting-edge addition designed by Renzo Piano. Â
(111 S. Michigan Ave. Tel 312-443-3600; www.artic.edu. )
Nearby Grant Park, otherwise known as Chicago's front lawn, has been one of America's greatest civic spaces for over a century. One of its components is the Museum Campus connecting the Shedd Aquarium (one of the oldest and largest in the world), the Adler Planetarium (home to one of the world's finest collections of astronomical instruments and rare books), and the Field Museum (most famous, perhaps, for Sue, the world's biggest and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex)
Shedd Aquarium: Tel 312-939-2438; www.sheddaquarium.org. Field Museum: Tel 312-922-9410; www.fieldmuseum.org. Adler Planetarium: Tel 312-922-7827; www.adlerplanetarium.org.Â
Grant Park's brightest addition may well be the hugely ambitious 24-acre Millennium Park completed in 2004. Its centerpiece is the Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a stunning band shell named in memory of the philanthropist and Hyatt Hotels founder who, with his wife, Cindy, established architecture's most prestigious prize in 1979. Honors for the pavilion design went to 1989 Pritzker Prizeâ€“winner Frank Gehry, and its exterior bears his signature billowing sheets of stainless steel. The resident Grant Park Orchestra gives free summertime concerts from June til August, just as it has done in the park since the 1930s, and the adjacent Harris Theater provides indoor music and dance programs.
Two of Millennium Park's top attractions are major additions to Chicago's collection of public art. Anish Kapoor's massive Cloud Gate dominates AT&T Plaza, offering funhouse-mirror reflections of sky, skyline, and spectators in its highly polished steel surface. (Chicagoans call it by the more tangibly descriptive nickname the "Bean.") South of the plaza is the Crown Fountain by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, which features two 50-foot glass towers on either side of a very shallow reflecting pool.Stay tuned for more to do in Chicago...
Patricia Schultz is the author of 1000 Places To See Before You Die (Workman) and 1000 Places to See in the USA & Canada Before You Die (Workman)
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