An unlikely Chicago neighborhood is emerging as a museum of fabulous street art.
The eight-block stretch of Wabash Avenue, roughly between Jackson Boulevard and Roosevelt Road, is a pretty gritty area. Known to locals as the South Loop, it is a hodge-podge of mismatched aging and modern architecture, budget eateries and parking lots. College students rush to class along broken sidewalks, and elevated trains run overhead.
But over the past couple of years, more than a dozen large-scale colorful, sometimes whimsical, sometimes thought-provoking murals have been covering blank building facades. As you walk down the street, be sure to look up and around corners. You’ll find an engaging alternative to the glitzier Michigan Avenue a block east.
Spearheading the project is the nonprofit Wabash Arts Corridor, a coalition of educational institutions, art galleries, performance spaces and hotels. Its goals are to give a visible identity as a laboratory of creativity to the urban landscape and, of course, draw tourists, shoppers and businesses. Well-known street artists from around the world, some of them former graffiti vandals, have been invited to express themselves in this transformation.
Here’s a sampling. The first three wrap two sides of the parking lot at Wabash Avenue and Harrison Street.
* A wall of hand-painted black-and-white stylized hieroglyphics (or is it a new form of calligraphy, perhaps?) by RETNA, one of the Art Alliance: The Provocateurs artists.
* “Harmony,” by Bene Eine, measures 240 feet by 30 feet and stands 17 feet off the ground.
* My favorite, “Moose Bubblegum Bubble,” by Jacob Watts.
* Never 2501 at The Buckingham rises nine stories at 59 E. Van Buren St.
* “Be the Change You Wish To See” by Kashink, Wabash Avenue and 8th Street.
* A black-and-white war scene at 634 S. Wabash Ave. by Cleon Peterson. It overlooks a Harold’s Chicken Shack, another great Chicago institution.
Much more artwork is sure to come. Among them is a rainbow-hued light installation beneath the elevated train tracks.