Pablo Picasso had never been to Chicago prior to designing his 50-foot-tall, 162-ton sculptural gift to the city that still stands in Daley Plaza, in front of the Richard J. Daley Center, which are both named after the longtime mayor that originally approved the art piece. Today is the 49th anniversary of its unveiling, which was originally marked with fanfare including a performance by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and a reading by Pulitzer-Prize winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks.
The work, now known as the Chicago Picasso, was commissioned by the team that designed the Daley building—Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), C.F. Murphy, and Loebl Schlossman Bennett & Dart commission—and led in their lengthy and persistent efforts to recruit the famous Spanish artist, who wound up donating the work to the city, by former SOM managing partner William Hartmann.
The unveiling of the edifice signified a key moment in the public’s acceptance of the display of modern art, though its effect wasn’t immediate. As Chicago journalist Mike Royko described the audience’s response to the ceremonial reveal: “The silence grew. Then people turned and looked at each other. Some shrugged. Some smiled. Some just stood there, frowning or blank-faced. … They had wanted to be moved by it. They wouldn't have stood there if they didn't want to believe what they had been told that it would be a fine thing.”
Today, the sculpture is seen as an icon, rising beneath the towering Daley Center in the heart of the city’s downtown. Read more about the sculpture’s history at SOM.