A Celebration of Picasso in Chicago

7. Picasso's scultpture

Although he had never visited Chicago, Pablo Picasso, the most famous Spanish artist, donated to the windy city, in 1967, a monumental sculpture, known as Chicago Picasso. It was his “gift to the people of Chicago” and since that year this iconic sculpture placed on Daley Plaza has become the symbol of Chicago and its public art.

Fifty years later, this beautiful city still shows its gratitude to Spanish artist and his untitled sculpture. On Tuesday, August 8th, a birthday ceremony dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the unveiling the sculpture was held at Daley Plaza and led by Mayor Rahm Emanuel.


‘It is called ‘Everyone’s Picasso’ because it belongs to all of us,” Mayor Rahm Emanuel said. It is interesting that he designated 2017 year as the year of public art and the 50th anniversary of Picasso’s sculpture fits right in it.

‘Imagine the life without art’, said artist Edra Soto and invited audience to cover their eyes for few seconds with pink fans she’d designed for this occasion. 


Edra Soto invited the audience to cover their eyes for few seconds with pink fans 

Nora Brooks Blakely, the daughter of poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks, recited her mother’s poem dedicated to the sculpture 50 years ago. We also heard Lisa Yun Lee, director of the School of Art & Art History, Jacqueline Terrassa, chair of learning and public engagement at the Art Institute of Chicago, Carlos Tortolero, president & CEO and Founder of National Museum of Mexican Art and Mark Kelly, Chicago’s cultural commissioner. All of them emphasized the importance of Picasso’s sculpture for Chicago and its openness to the public art.


Nora Brooks Blakely, the daughter of poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Gwendolyn Brooks

‘After School Matters Orchestra’, ‘Chicago Children’s Choir’ and other artists performed in front of an audience. In one moment, during the celebration, microphones got silent and kids from ‘Children Choir’ jumped to sing while organizers were fixing the sound. For that intervention, they got huge applause from the audience and greetings from the Mayor.

Participants also recalled the day of unveiling the statue and the words of former Mayor Richard J. Daley: ‘We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow’.


But how Picasso decided to create this unnamed 162-ton piece statue?


In 1963 William E. Hartmann, Chicago architect, and senior partner of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, was assigned the task of procuring an appropriate sculpture for the plaza bordered by Washington, Randolph, Dearborn and Clark Streets. The plaza was in front of the newly-built The Richard J. Daley center – black steel tower. For this grandiose place, Hartmann was interested only in one artist – Pablo Picasso, one of the greatest artist of all time.


Pablo Picasso, William Hartmann and friend

Using his connections in art world Hartmann, the architects of Chicago Civic Center – Charles F. Murphy (of C.F. Murphy Associates), Richard Bennett (of Loebl, Schlossman & Bennett) and administrators of the Art Institute, reached famous artist in 1963. They tried to find a way how to convince him to create a sculpture, so William E. Hartmann traveled to Mougins (southeastern France) to visit an 82 year Spaniard. He wanted to talk in person to him and show him how much he is important for Chicago. He brought many gifts: a Sioux Indian war bonnet, a White Sox hat and blazer, a Bears’ helmet, a Chicago Fire Department helmet and a check for $100,000.

Pablo Picasso and William Hartmann, observed by Jacqueline. Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, France

Pablo Picasso (in the middle), William Hartmann and Jacqueline Roque, muse and Picasso’s second wife.  Notre-Dame-de-Vie, Mougins, France

The famous painter accepted everything, except the check. He said he will create a sculpture, but this is going to be his gift to people of Chicago. Many people believe that he wanted to show his appreciation to the Art Institute of Chicago, the first museum in America to show the work of the young Picasso back in 1913.

During this interesting visit, Chicagoans showed to Picasso a photo of his paintings exhibited at Art Institute of Chicago. At that moment an 82-year-old artist saw his painting ‘The mother and the child’ from 1921. He went to the other room and came back with the third part of this composition – a painting of Father. He gave it to them saying that Art Institute of Chicago will know what to do with it!

POtvrda da poklanja skulpturu

Pablo Picasso’s letter to the city in the 1960s where he confirmed that he donates the statue to Chicago

After that visit, Picasso started working on the sculpture. He made numerous sketches for the sculpture and remained in constant contact with William Hartmann. Two years later finished maquette came to Chicago. Mayor Daley and the public building commission in a gallery of the Art Institute approved it and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill finalized everything. At the end, American Bridge Company in Gary, Indiana, built the statue from the same rusty steel as the exterior of the Daley center.

Finally, Mayor Richard J. Daley unveiled the sculpture on August 15, 1967, at the Chicago Civic Center. A lot of people gathered at Daley Plaza and Hartmann personally hired and paid Chicago Symphony Orchestra to perform at that event.

9. Picasso is working on the sculpture

Picasso in his studio working on the sculpture (left) and with his second wife – Jacqueline Roque

But, unveiled statue confused Chicagoans. Many of them didn’t know what to think about it and some of them even said that the artist was making a joke with them. Nevertheless, very soon Chicagoans has begun to love an unnamed statue and very soon it has become one of the most famous art pieces of the windy city. Today, Chicagoans are very proud of it, although no one knows for sure what the statue represents. Some people say that the sculpture reminds them of a woman, of the horse, or of the dog… Picasso has never explained what it was intended to represent.

8. Unveiling Picasso sculpture on August 15th 1967

Unveiling Picasso sculpture on August 15th 1967

As well as its creator, who remained mysterious until the end of his life despite the e fact that the whole world was staring at him, this monumental sculpture also remains secretive although it placed right in front of our eyes.

Milica Puric

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