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What Is the Chicago Picasso?

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  • Written By: Britt Archer
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 20 November 2014
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The Chicago Picasso is a large outdoor sculpture designed by artist Pablo Picasso for the city of Chicago, Illinois. A giant example of modern art, it confounds viewers who try to determine what it represents. Some people see a curvy figure of a woman from a certain angle, while others look at the small eyes and broad nose and declare the Chicago Picasso to be a representation of a baboon. Other people say they see in the sculpture the figure of the artist’s Afghan hound, Kaboul, and still others declare it is simply a piece of abstract art which does not represent anything particular.

The city of Chicago was not initially entirely welcoming to the Chicago Picasso. The steel statue, weighing 320,000 pounds (145,150 kilograms) and standing 50 feet (15.24 meters) tall, was installed in the summer of 1967 at the Chicago Civic Center, which is now the Daley Center. From the start, some people derided it, with one woman at the dedication ceremony calling it a cow, and a local newspaper columnist scorning it. The city eventually embraced the Picasso sculpture and even has some fun with it. On special days, for example, the head of the Chicago Picasso is adorned with a variety of hats, such as the helmet of a Chicago sports team.

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Pablo Picasso declined to say what his creation represents, and he also failed to give it a name, leading to the simple title of the Chicago Picasso. He refused to be paid for the artwork, donating it to the city and its people. It was generally agreed the city did not have the money to pay the artist what the Chicago Picasso was worth. A news article about the sculpture's public unveiling published in 1967, however, says Pablo Picasso, when approached with a request to create an outdoor piece of art for the city, was given $100,000 US Dollars (USD), funded by the Chicago Public Building Commission. Among the other gifts presented to him was a Sioux Indian war bonnet.

The artist never visited Chicago, not even during the creation or installation of his sculpture. Chicago honored him upon his death in 1973 with a mayoral proclamation. Pablo Picasso had brought much attention to Chicago’s outdoor art, and the Chicago Picasso was the first outdoor sculpture of such monumental dimensions created by the artist for installation in North America.

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