CHICAGO (CBS) — When Chicago’s Picasso was unveiled in 1967, many wondered what it was?
“I was 16-years old and living on the far south side of the city when Chicago’s Picasso was unveiled,” said Mark Kelly, Commissioner, Department of Culture Affairs & Special Events.
“I vividly remember the aftershocks with the arrival of the Picasso. During our family dinner, there was an animated discussion about this new, and seemingly alien art object. Was it a joke on us, had we been had, what the hell was it? Who was this dude called Picasso?”
Chicago columnist Mike Royko famously described the reluctant applause from a disappointed crowd of VIPs as the Cubist structure was unveiled. He described that it looked like “a giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect.” But the sculpture grew on Chicago and its visitors and it became a popular tourist attraction.
Fifty years later the Picasso is known for sparking a cultural renaissance in the city.
“It inspired interest and support for public art as a defining Chicago experience. The Chicago Picasso excited our imaginations and laid the foundation for Millennium Park and it’s public art,” Kelly said.
The Chicago Children’s Choir and the After School Matters Orchestra entertained hundreds of dignitaries, civil leaders, Chicago artists and the downtown lunchtime crowd.
“We’re thrilled to be celebrating 2017 as a monumental year for public art in Chicago and what a better way to do so than continuing to show appreciation for what I think is one of the biggest treasure that has been ever given to our city. The Children’s Choir performed at this unveiling in 1967 and we’re proud to do so again today,” said Alexa Moster, Chicago Children’s Choir.
The Chicago Picasso is considered to be artist Pablo Picasso’s first large scale civic sculpture in America. It stands 50-feet tall and weighs over 160 tons. It was commissioned in 1963 by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center to anchor the plaza on the east side of the building. Picasso worked on this commission for two years. On August 15, 1967, thousands of people gathered in Daley Plaza to witness the unveiling and dedication. In his dedication letter, Picasso gave the sculpture as a gift to the people of Chicago, without ever explaining what the sculpture was intended to represent.
“What happened here 50 years ago, was more than just an unveiling of a work of art. It was a critical inflection point in Chicago’s story. It was a spark that ignited five decades and more than 1,400 pieces of public art throughout our city,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Chicago’s public art is a reminder of our shared history of the great migration, of the Haymarket riot, of a city that rose again after the Chicago fire. Picasso’s gift to the people of Chicago inspired so many artists to follow in his footsteps.”
The work of art has even make its mark on pop culture, as it’s appeared in movies such as The Blues Brothers, The Fugitive and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
The 50th birthday celebration continues with a film and lecture series at Chicago Cultural Center and is part of 2017’s Year of Public Art.