It’s Chicago’s Year of Public Art, so let’s get out and experience some of this creative art.
I was always aware that Chicago has a great tradition of making public art available to all, and its collection of public art is one of the defining characteristics of the city, but this special year gives another dimension to this.
2017 has been designated Year of Public Art Chicago, with a new 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project. Managed by DCASE (Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), the 50×50 initiative will provide up to $1 million for new public arts projects.
Chicago has a long and rich history of public art, so why now? This initiative was
inspired by Chicago’s 50 wards and the 50th anniversary of 2 of Chicago’s most famous seminal public art works: The Picasso in Daley Plaza, and The Wall of Respect, which once stood at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue on Chicago’s South Side.
DCASE manages the Chicago Public Art Collection, which includes 500+ works exhibited in over 150 municipal facilities around the city, such as police stations, libraries and CTA station. DCASE also administers the City’s Percent-for-Art Ordinance, which was established in 1978 and stipulates that 1.33% of the cost of constructing or renovating public buildings will be used for public art.
What an amazing concept. Go Chicago!
There will be many special exhibits and tours, but I was only in Chicago for 3 days this April, so could only track down a few of these special art works at this time.
Turns out that many of these famous public art works have an interesting story and history, starting with the Picasso. To co-incide with this Year of Public Art, the Chicago Cultural Center has a small exhibit called The Fame and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art. The introductory board tells us that, “Planning and creating public art can be a risky venture. Depending on how or what you count, the placement of art in Chicago’s public spaces has a 200-year long history. Sometimes the art is loved. Sometimes it is hated. To further complicate matters, times change—and so do the tastes of people.”
So…to start with Picasso’s “Untitled”.
“Untitled” by Pablo Picasso, on the Richard J Daley Civic Center Plaza, 50 W. Washington Street. In 1967 Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled in Chicago’s Civic Center (now called the Richard J. Daley CivicCenter).
In 1963, imagining a work for the new Chicago Civic Plaza, architect William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill turned to Pablo Picasso. Using an introduction from English artist Roland Penrose, Hartmann contacted Picasso describing a “site for the most important piece of sculpture in the United States.” Picasso accepted and worked on plans for the largest work of his career, mostly with his vision of an abstract female figure, which he gave as a gift to the city.
This abstract design was not originally popular when the monument was erected in
1967. In fact, as I learned from the small exhibit in the Chicago Cultural Center, many Chicagoans thought it was a giant portrait of the artist’s Afghan hound. An alderman from the City Council proposed replacing the Picasso with a giant statue of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, and a local paper ran a story with a photo of Banks superimposed on that of the Picasso.
At the time of the opening of the Picasso, Mayor Richard J. Daley insightfully dedicated it with these words, “what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” That has proved true, and 50 years later it’s an iconic part of the city’s landscape, and much loved by locals and visitors. So much so, that Northwestern grad and vocal art advocate, Patricia Stratton, has written a book dedicated to the sculpture called “The Chicago Picasso: A Point of Departure”.
I find this work of Picasso’s very interesting: I can definitely see the Afghan hound in there, but also a female figure. What do you think?
Picasso’s work was Chicago’s first major pubic art work in the modern style, rather than historical effigies and memorials that had been traditional before. It inspired much private and public investment in art for the city center, including Marc Chagall’s mosaic “The Four Seasons” in 1974, which then inspired his “America Windows”. Other commissions included monuments by Joan Miro (1963), Jean Dubuffet (1969) and Alexander Calder (1974), among many others. And so a tradition was born.