From the moment it was commissioned, the world-renowned Picasso sculpture that graces Daley Plaza in downtown Chicago was a source of controversy. Time Magazine questioned whether it was “a bird, a woman, an Afghan hound, a Barbary ape, a cruel hoax, a Communist plot, or Superman?” Mayor Richard Daley called the statue a “free expression” of the “vitality of the city,” even as Chicago Aldermen introduced resolutions to have the artwork removed.
Let us hope that Pablo Picasso was amused by all of this, especially since he never received a dime for his efforts; he refused a $100,000 fee proffered by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center, who had commissioned the sculpture, stating that he wanted to make a gift of his work to the city. He began by crafting a 42-inch high steel model, which is now on display at the Art Institute of Chicago. The finished piece, which was fabricated by United States Steel Corporation in Gary, Indiana, stands 50 feet high and weighs 162 tons. Although Picasso had titled the smaller model Tête de Baboon (Baboon Head), he refused to name the completed sculpture when it was erected in the plaza, leading to intense speculation over what it represented. Most believe it represents a woman, albeit in Picasso’s infamous cubist style.
Regardless of one’s personal opinion, it is generally accepted that the Picasso sculpture marked the beginning of Chicago’s love affair with contemporary art and was the impetus for more than one hundred artworks located all over the Loop. Two of these lie just steps from the Picasso: directly across the street is “Miro’s Chicago,” another seemingly female representation by Joan Miro, while a block north “Flamingo,” a 53-foot tall red steel sculpture by Alexander Calder, commands the plaza of the Kluczynski Federal Building.
Whether a result of the abundance of outdoor artwork that sprouted up around the Loop or simply because the Picasso sculpture became one of the most recognizable landmarks in Chicago, public opinion gradually changed. Even the Chicago Tribune, which originally called it: “Picasso’s predatory grasshopper,” later proclaimed: “Picasso has done it again.”
Photos courtesy of Barbara Weibel
Article by Barbara Weibel of Hole In The Donut Travels