Just after noon, Mayor Richard J. Daley pulled a cord attached to 1,200 square feet of blue-green fabric, unwrapping a gift “to the people of Chicago” from an artist who had never visited–and had shown no previous interest in–the city. The artist was Pablo Picasso, who at age 85 had dominated Western art for more than half a century. He had been approached by William E. Hartmann, senior partner of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill, one of the architectural firms collaborating on Chicago’s new Civic Center; Hartmann wanted a sculpture for the plaza bordered by Washington, Randolph, Dearborn and Clark Streets.
The architect visited Picasso at his home in southern France, presenting several gifts (including a Sioux war bonnet and a White Sox blazer) plus a check for $100,000 from the Chicago Public Building Commission. Picasso responded not with an original design but one from the early 1960s that he modified, combining motifs from as far back as the start of the century. The result was a forty-two-inch maquette, or model, for a sculpture made of Cor-Ten steel, the same material used on the Civic Center building. The American Bridge division of U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana, translated the maquette into a piece that weighed 162 tons and rose to a height of 50 feet. It was the first monumental outdoor Picasso in North America.Daley said at the unveiling: “We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.”
The process of familiarization brought trouble. Picasso’s untitled sculpture proclaimed metamorphosis the chief business of an artist by crossing images of an Afghan dog and a woman. However, the effort at first did not count for much, in part because Chicago’s earlier monuments–statues of past leaders–commemorated a different idea: civic achievement. Col. Jack Reilly, the mayor’s director of special events, immediately urged removal of the sculpture. Ald. John J. Hoellen went further, recommending that the City Council “deport” the piece and construct in its place a statue of “Mr. Cub . . . Ernie Banks.”
In 1970, a federal judge ruled that since the full-size sculpture was technically a copy of the maquette, it could not be copyrighted. This opened the way to countless reproductions that bred familiarity, the first step toward love. The name-brand quality of the sculpture inspired other commissions–from Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, Claes Oldenburg, Henry Moore–that found easier acceptance among Chicagoans. As much as the Water Tower, the Picasso became a symbol of the city.