I recently got into a discussion with a co-worker of mine who claimed to know outright that the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza is a portrait of the artist’s dog. Now, I had never heard that before, and I figured this would be a common known fact if it was true. Being the ass that I am, I had to look it up to prove her wrong. In the process I found out a lot of really cool crap about the sculpture that I wanted to share with you.
The sculpture was commissioned by William E. Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, who wanted a sculpture to reside in the plaza in front of the new Civic Center the firm was collaborating on. (The Chicago Civic Center was eventually renamed the Richard J. Daley Center.)
Hartmann personally visited Pablo Picasso – who was in his 80s – at his home in France with an invitation to create a piece for the city. While the firm offered Picasso $100,000 for his work, he refused so as to make it a gift to the people of Chicago.
(Picasso had never been to Chicago. Believe it or not, he had never even been to the United States. He was very vocal about his communist views, and since it was prime Cold War time he wasn’t allowed in the country.)
The sculpture doesn’t actually have a name, and Picasso never said what it was supposed to be. Some people did say it resembled his Afghan dog, but Picasso’s grandson seems to think it’s a portrait of a French woman who posed for the artist in 1954.
Picasso completed his model in 1965, and it was 42 inches and made of Cor-Ten steel. and three foundations came forward to pay the eventual $351,959.17 bill: Woods Charitable Fund, Chauncey and Marion Deering McCormick Foundation and Field Foundation of Illinois. The sculpture is of the same type of steel as the Daley center and was fabricated by the United States Steel Corporation under the supervision of the architects and engineers who were construction the Daley Center. It was pre-assembled in Gary, Indiana, disassembled, shipped to Daley Plaza and reassembled in its final form.
The sculpture weights 162 tons and is 50 feet tall.
The big unveiling and dedication took place on August 15, 1967. Mayor Richard J. Daley pulled the curtain and said “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.”
And people thought it was very strange. It was not received well at all. One Alderman even suggested replacing it all together with a statue of Ernie Banks. The problem was that public art in Chicago had, until that point, been a celebration of civic achievement rather than art.
Chicagoans eventually became used to the statue, and it opened the door to even more of the public art we know and love today.
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