Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Dedication of the Chicago Picasso

JWB Photo, 2008
It was on this day in 1967 that Chicago dedicated its new 50-foot Picasso statue in what was then the Civic Center Plaza.  To say the least, the unveiling of the Kor-Ten steel colossus was greeted with mixed reviews.

Just before the unveiling, August 15, 1967
Festivities featured The Chicago Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Seiji Ozawa, playing a short program, culminating in George Gershwin’s American in Paris.

Two men spoke, the first being William Hartmann, senior partner at Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, the man most responsible for bringing the Picasso to Chicago as a gift of the great artist to a city which he had never visited.  Hartmann observed that the unveiling of the statue “may prove to be a singular event in the cultural history of the world.”

Mayor Richard J. Daley followed Mr. Hartmann, proclaiming, “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.”  His remarks were certainly optimistic, but I’m not sure he realized how prescient they were. 

A star is born as Mayor Richard J. Daley unveils the new Picasso
With a tug on a cord attached to 1,200 square feet of blue-green fabric, the Mayor unveiled the sculpture, which had been fabricated in the Gary plant of the United States Steel Corporation’s American Bridge division. 

It took $300,000 to assemble the sculpture with the cost underwritten by the Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Fund, the Field Foundation, and the Woods Charitable Trust.

Reaction to the great work was predictably strong, and letters to the editors of The Chicago Tribune prior to the dedication underscore that fact.  Here are a few of those . . .

It is said that Picasso made the design for the large monument in the Civic center plaza to show his commie friends how decadent and gullible Americans are or can be in matters of art.  This monstrosity should never be permitted to afflict the eyes of the good people of Chicago in our most public place . . . Tho Republican by nature, I would rather look daily at a statue of his honor, the mayor, then at this jeering Communist jest.
Frederick J. Bertram, Chicago

I can’t for the life of me understand how the people of Chicago can sit idle while this so-called statue donated by the card-carrying Communist, Picasso, is unveiled right in our heartland.  To think that our children and grandchildren will have to look at this monstrosity for years to come!
M. A. Troiona, Altoona, Pa.

The Picasso piece depicts a baboon, without a doubt . . . Picasso has perpetrated a hoax, over which he and the world would have a great laugh at our being taken in on such a joke  . . . And not just a little joke, but a big one, five stories high.
Helen McKee, La Grange Park

Is Chicago blind! . . . Picasso is looked on as one of the greatest artists to live.  Yet, because his work is modern, the people of Chicago refuse to accept it.  I do not especially like all of Picasso’s works, but just the thought of his giving a work, one no other city has the likeness of, makes me swell with pride.
O. J. Stacey, Chicago

When it comes to raising a memorial on the plaza of our new Civic center for all the world to see what is of most importance to the “hog butcher of the world,” what is selected?  Picasso’s dog . . . The most shocking aspect of the whole thing is that, with all the really fine and nationally known art talent native to and resident in Chicago, it was found necessary to go to an artist halfway around the world, who has never seen Chicago—and is a notorious Communist to boot.
Frank H. Marks, Chicago

Google Image
Today, of course, the Picasso statue comes as close to a symbol for the city as anything else that you could name.

Pablo Picasso once said that art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.  I don’t know for sure whether the 50-foot sculpture at the corner of Dearborn and Washington is a soul-washer, but it has, I think, been a good thing for this great city’s soul.

For more information on the process that led to Pablo Picasso’s gift to Chicago, you may go to


  1. The only comment I liked was one from some undying Cubs fan. Who wanted the Picasso replaced with a giant statue of Ernie Banks.....I liked that but not for the same reasons the Cubs fan did. I also thought replacing Buckingham Fountain with a giant windshield wiper that would make rainbows was a great idea.....oh well..
    Today we have a Beautiful Miro, Chagal, Henry Moore, but in homage to Baseball, we have Claes Oldenberg's "Bat Column.
    Chicago is a world class city......All the Communists Aside.

    Waiting for a positive answer
    Hopefully I´ll get a mecenas to build and install my own metal sculptures
    worldwide...Then you´ll have a very rich friend:me

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