Art on theMart – Chicago’s Best Lightshow

Chicago, Illinois, USA
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I love amazing light shows. Probably one of the best year-round installations is probably the Symphony of Light at Victoria Harbour in Hong Kong. I knew about that light and laser show even before I arrived in Hong Kong. Finding out about the Art on theMART light show was more a coincidence. 

While browsing Google Maps for cool places to check out while on my assignment in Chicago, I saw theMart on the map and wanted to get pictures of the building either way. But I was planning to take these pictures during the day to get a better view of the building. 

What makes this building so interesting is that it is the largest privately-held commercial building in the United States. theMart, formerly known as The Merchandise Mart, encompasses 4.2 million gross square feet and spans two city blocks. When the building was opened in 1930, it was the largest building in the world. The building rises 25 stories of the ground and is located in Chicago’s River North submarket. It is home to some of Chicago’s most creative and technologically innovative companies like Motorillab Mobility, Yelp, PayPal as well as Fortune 500 companies Allstate, Kellog, Grainger and many more. 

One evening while out taking pictures of the city by night while in the area surrounding theMART, I got a phone call from a co-worker. As we had a long discussion I took a break from shooting and sat down to enjoy the conversation on the phone. Little did I know, that in a few minutes a gorgeous light show would kick off – Art on theMART. I watched the show from across the river on the street level next to Wacker Drive while still on the phone. 

As I missed most of the show due to the phone call, I planned on coming back and doing some research on what this light show exactly is.

Art on theMart

This light show was introduced back in 2018. Now it is a permanent part of the city and runs throughout the year. The shows and  showtimes  vary according to seasons. To get the latest programming and showtimes visit the official website.

During my stay in Chicago their winter program was showing

  • After School Matters’ “Shaping the Future”
  • Joffrey Ballet’s “The Nutcracker”
  • Ouchhh Studios’ “Harmonic AI.”

This show ran from November 26, 2021, until December 30, 2021. There were two shows each night starting at 7:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.

Location

The show is projected onto the south side of theMART, a 25 stories tall building sitting next to the Chicago River. The best viewpoints are from the Chicago River Walk between Franklin and Wells Street. Alternatively, you can also position yourself on the street level next to Wacker Drive between Franklin and Wells Street. 

Viewing from the river walk has one gigantic advantage, you can hear the sound better. The speakers are mounted on the wall supporting Wacker Drive and facing towards the river. While you can still hear it from the street level, from the river walk is just the better experience and you have less car noise from the street. However, there is no way to tune out Chicago’s L trains passing over the river nearby. They are just too loud.

Technology

You might wonder how all this is possible. If you stand at street level next to Wacker Drive you won’t see the projectors as they are built into the riverwalk. A custom weatherproof projector room housing with maintenance capabilities and HVAC was created to house the 34 Christie Digital Boxer 4K30 30,000 lumen projectors. 

Over one million lumens are projected on the building facade which has a size of 556’x165’ or 91,740 ft² (over 2 acres). The projection itself has a resolution of 6000 x 2620.

Projector Room

The whole facade of the building got scanned to get the best way of developing shows to incorporate the 3D structure of the building. All projectors are calibrated to minimize color correction issues and software masks out the building windows to prevent light shinning actually into the windows. This is insane. 

When you stand below on the Chicago Riverwalk, turn around during the show and watch the projectors. If you are into technology, this is definitely an amazing accomplishment. 🙂

Photos & Videos

I took countless photos of the shows and also filmed the Holiday show of 2021. For some reason, I had an issue with the microphone on my camera and got super-crappy audio. I went back another day and recorded the audio with my phone and put the video and audio together in post-processing. 

Conclusion

No matter if you live in town or are just visiting. It’s always cool to stop by and watch the show. Especially every time a new light show comes out. Check theMart’s website and social channels for up-to-date information on what’s coming. I really enjoyed this show and it is something which isn’t as commonly known as other light shows. Stay tuned and see what comes next at Art on theMART.

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