Has the Picasso lost its groove?

March 18, 2010


(photo by Lee Bey)

I'd like to think clusters of‚ school children still race toward the Picasso at Daley Center Plaza, excited--as I was when I was a tike--to experience this masterpiece of modern art by taking turns joyfully sliding down the slanted base of the Cor-Ten steel colossus.

But I don't see much of that anymore. The kids and‚ crowds are wowed by that other steel sculpture now, that‚ bright, shiny new thing in Millennium Park. (Even‚ the Jonas Brothers were a few years back.) The Mayor's Office of Special Events programs Daley‚ plaza with‚ enough interesting activities to keep the Picasso company, but I can't help but look at the‚ old statue--that once- modern thing, now weathered and middle-aged--and feel for it a bit.


(photo by Lee Bey)

The untitled statue by Pablo Picasso was unveiled in August of 1967 outside of the brand new Chicago Civic Center. The uber-connected William Hartmann of SOM convinced Picasso to design the work. Picasso--who'd never been to‚ the U.S., let alone‚ Chicago--created the 3 1/2 foot tall model from which the statue was made. He gave it to the city as a gift but never came to see the finished work. Nor did he say what the statue depicted.‚ To me,‚ it kinda looks like his wife Olga. Mike Royko, writing from the unveiling, said the Picasso "has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect. It has eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean."

The statue and the Cor-Ten steel Civic Center symbolized a bold and modern Chicago throwing off its Rust Belt status‚ while simultaneously celebrating its vestiges (the‚ steel exteriors of both building and statue‚ were picked because they would oxidize over time, the patina changing along with it.) Forty years later, we forget what a big deal the Picasso was. This clip of the unveiling ceremony is a reminder:


(photo by Lee Bey)

So what would I recommend? ‚ Part of me wants to‚ paint its elements different colors within the same tan-to-russet family to give it some depth and life. But the‚ benefit of using‚ Cor-Ten steel is that it doesn't have to be painted. Or maybe it needs love, rather than a makeover. There could be‚ "Picasso on Parade"--like "Cows on Parade" back in the 1990s--with imaginative re-interpretations of the‚ Picasso‚ placed around downtown.

A shiny stainless steel one at Millennium Park would be cool, actually. And maybe it would get‚ the kids excited enough to slide down the real thing again.

What's fair is fair: In yesterday's post I showed renderings from Chicago's unbuilt 1992 World's Fair. For years I've thought world's fairs had grown passe because we've lost the ability to be truly surprised by anything new anymore. Turns out China did not get my memo.‚  Shanghai is set to open May 1 what they are billing as the biggest world's fair ever. They are expecting 70 million visitors between opening day and the fair's closing in October.

Photographs of the fair grounds, courtesy of the Boston Globe, are amazing. Thanks to reader Selima Ani for passing this link on.