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The Artist and the City

6 artworks from 6 artists across 5 galleries
The tour is ordered to begin from the Michigan Avenue entrance. If you are starting in the Modern Wing, simply do your tour in reverse order.

Take a tour inspired by the exhibition "Georgia O'Keeffe: 'My New Yorks'" and discover the varied ways other artists have responded to the hustle and bustle of urban life.


  • Model Depicting a Ritual Center


    This distinctive West Mexican sculpture depicting an ancient ceremonial center may have been included in a tomb as an offering for the afterlife. It features houselike temples populated by flute players, a drummer, conch-shell trumpeters, dancers, women with children, and animals. In the middle of the circle, a masked figure—likely the ruler—stands atop a stepped pyramid.

    "This sculpture symbolizes the way cities grow outward from a cultural or spiritual center. A similar model of a modern city might feature financial districts and cultural institutions such as art museums."

  • Ogden Avenue Bridge House Panel, Chicago, Illinois

    Scipione Del Campo

    During the Great Depression, one of the many unemployed, and now unknown, artists hired by the WPA created this stone relief for a bridge house, where the bridge tender worked. This relief casts the bridge tender as a god-like figure—not unlike Mercury, the Roman god of trade and commerce—pulling a lever to raise the bridge.

    "Chicago has more moveable bridges than any American city, and this relief was created for a bridge house at Ogden Avenue. A mix of design and mythological references highlight the practical magic of bridges—an important aspect of many cities."

  • Arrival of the Normandy Train, Gare Saint-Lazare

    Claude Monet

    The Impressionists frequently paid tribute to the modern aspects of Paris, depicting scenes of grand boulevards and modern constructions. Monet made 12 paintings of the Gare Saint-Lazare. Here, he focused on the glass-and-iron train shed, where he found an appealing combination of artificial and natural effects: the rising steam of locomotives trapped within the structure and daylight penetrating the large, glazed sections of the roof.

    "From his rented Paris studio space near the Gare Saint-Lazare, Monet responded to both the industrial and natural effects of this urban setting, capturing the sensation of atmospheric changes billowing against a glass modern structure."

  • Train Station

    Walter Ellison

    Born in Georgia, Walter Ellison moved to Chicago in the 1920s, one of more than six million African Americans who left the South for the promise of a better life. After studying at the School of the Art Institute, the artist began exhibiting his paintings depicting scenes of Black Americans during the Great Migration, like this one of a segregated train station.

    "Chicago, Detroit, New York—these are the cities where Black travelers are headed in this painting of a Southern train station during Jim Crow. In contrast, white passengers, assisted by black porters, board trains to vacation in Florida."

  • Strange Worlds

    Todros Geller

    Born in Ukraine, Todros Geller immigrated to Chicago where he attended the School of the Art Institute and became an influential educator. In this work, Geller reflects on the complex blending of immigrant traditions, such as his Jewish upbringing and the modern culture of early 20th-century Chicago—a collision of “strange worlds.” The figure’s posture and expression suggest his resistance to—and perseverance in—a changing world.

    "The anonymity and busyness of city life come through in the blur of people and newspapers layered behind the main figure in this painting. The man himself stares out at the viewer from beneath the industrial bones of Chicago."

  • City Landscape

    Joan Mitchell

    Although influenced by Abstract Expressionist artists in New York in the early 1950s, Joan Mitchell did not prioritize her own self-expression. Her often exuberant abstractions were “about landscape, not about me,” she once explained. Mitchell painted large, light-filled canvases animated by loosely applied tangles of bright color—here, infused with the energy of a large metropolis.

    "While from Chicago, Mitchell spent the 1950s traveling between two other cities: Paris and New York. This work can be interpreted in various ways: a skyline and its reflection on water, the commotion of a downtown street, or the view from an airplane."

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