chicago from river

I’m a nerd. I took art history in high school – one year earlier than allowed. Flying buttresses and surrealism excite me, so to be surrounded by the stuff I studied is nerd heaven.

But you don’t have to be a geek to appreciate Chicago’s architecture. From the skyscrapers to classically detailed buildings to Frank Lloyd Wright’s simple open homes, the designs here influenced the rest of the world. It’s all breathtaking.

ART FROM THE RIVER

The best views are from an architectural cruise along the Chicago river. Sure, it’s a tourist thing but it’s worthwhile.

We took the “official” tour sanctioned by the Chicago Architecture Foundation and hosted by a volunteer docent. Anybody who loves architecture enough to VOLUNTEER for 90-minute tour, three times a day is worth listening to, I think.

Our boat’s open top deck with no cover overhead meant we sizzled during the heat wave. A few other boats cruised by with canopies. I envied their shade until I heard their guides talking loudly like wannabe radio DJs, in love with their own voices and rattling off memorized facts.

I may be getting sunstroke but damned if I have to sit there and listen to some irritating dork. Our guide was smart, entertaining and truly passionate about what she was doing. We win!

First Lady Architecture Cruises, departs from Michigan Avenue and Wacker Drive.

chicago art instituteART FROM THE GROUND

I arrived at the Art Institute of Chicago Museum after a sudden and short thunderstorm. I rolled up the wet legs of my jeans and squished up to the second floor. But I didn’t feel inappropriate like I would if I was roaming the Louvre and its ancient masterpieces.

This place is fresh. Like if the Louvre made Buick commercials, then this museum would be behind Volkswagen ads. The security guards are less crabby-looking too.

I did the quick Ferris Bueller tour and hit the “famous” pieces, especially the 18th-century and Impressionist paintings. Like visiting your grandma first before you go clubbing with your friends.

chicago art institute

There’s a great energy here (look, I already said I was a nerd) and I think the vibe comes from the 20th-century collection – amazing works by Picasso, Modigliani, and Georgia O’Keeffe.

chicago artIt was also fun to see such a big American collection that showed contemporary artists as well as Mexican and African painters I’ve never seen in established museums.

I wish I could remember what this painting was called. At first, it looks like a completely black canvas but if you look closer you can see the back of a head with a mohawk, tattoos and body markings. Very cool.

chicago art instituteAlso cool is this small section called American Decorative Art. It looked like a fabulous retro furniture store except these are the original designs.

My only regret is not being able to see Marc Chagall’s stained-glass America Windows. They were taken down because of renovations in the area.

Art Institute of Chicago Museum, 111 South Michigan Ave. Check for hours and admission.

ART ON THE STREET

The joy of Chicago though is you can go visit a Chagall on the street! He gave the city a mosaic in 1974. Made of glass and stone, The Four Seasons is a triumphant jolt of life and colour in a downtown surrounded by office towers.

Just a few blocks away, you can also see outdoor sculptures by Picasso and Joan Miro. Only in Chicago.

Chagall mural, Chicago

Four Seasons by Chagall, First National Plaza at Dearborn and Monroe Streets
Untitled by Picasso, Daley Plaza, 50 W. Washington St.
Chicago by Miro, 69 W. Washington St.