The Picasso

50 W Washington St Chicago

Free Chicago Walking Tours
Written By Free Chicago Walking Tours

Free Chicago Walking Tours offers guided 2-hour walking tours of Chicago's most iconic neighborhoods and sights. We are Chicago's only locally owned free tour operator. Our experienced guides take pride in their tours and it shows - we received the Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence in 2018 and are proud partners of Choose Chicago.

Daley Plaza can shockingly be easy to miss at times. Often there are events, markets or other activities taking place in the plaza and you can zip right by. No matter was though "The Picasso" stands tall amongst the crowds and can be spotted!

Cor-Ten Steel

Welcome to The Daley Plaza – which includes this gorgeous 31-story Cor-Ten steel structure (The Daley Center) that is considered one of the architectural gems of Chicago. We specifically call out Cor-ten steel because it’s a very unique type of steel that strengthens when exposed to the weather elements in Chicago. The steel is actually engineered to rust. Its this rust that gives the building it’s beautiful and distinctive red-brown hue. This building is home to more than 120 courthouses, a law library and offices of the Clerk of the Circuit Court. This is the premier civic center in Chicago and thus when it was built the building was originally known as the Chicago Civic Center. The building was renamed in December of 1976, just days after the passing of Chicago’s Mayer Daley.

A first for Chicago

Untitled by Pablo Picasso represents a stepping stone for Chicago in bringing contemporary art to public spaces. Up until the 1960s Chicago had very little public contemporary art. This piece was one of the firsts – and what a way to make a statement by having a 50-ft tall, 162-ton steel structure plopped right smack in the middle of the city! For those of you familiar with Picasso you know that he NEVER. Never ever responds to requests to commission his work. When you’re that good you don’t have to – you do what you want when you want. But still, an architect working on the Daley Center project wrote Picasso a poem asking him to make the sculpture. And Pablo accepted, saying, “You know I never accept commissions to do any sort of work, but in this case I am involved in projects for the two great gangster cities.” (The other being Marseilles – in France). Perhaps to help with his piece of mind that you cannot simply commission his work, Picasso refused the $100,000 payment and instead considered the sculpture a gift to the people of Chicago. The process for making something like this is tricky. Starts with a drawing, then a 42” (3.5ft) mini replica. The American Bridge Company from Indiana then had to make a 12ft tall wooden sculpture that was sent to Picasso for approval. He gave it the thumbs up and work began on the final piece. Chicago hosted a large unveiling party on August 15, 1967 right here in this Plaza.

Another sad unveiling

Well, at the beginning of the unveiling party this sculpture was hidden by a large canvas. After a big build up the canvas was pulled away to reveal this untitled contemporary sculpture from a popular Spanish artist who had never visited Chicago. And the reaction was not good. You could hear the gasp from the crowd. They didn’t know what to think. Soon a petition was started – prominent figures in Chicago politics were calling for the sculpture to be replaced by a bust of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks. One official went as far as to say,​ “If it is a bird or an animal, they ought to put it in the zoo. If it is art, they ought to put it in the Art Institute.” Thankfully none of that happened, the Picasso stayed and is one of the city’s most popular landmarks. But the biggest question of all still remains.

But .. what is it?

Great question. Picasso never named the sculpture. It’s simply “Untitled” and often referred to just as “The Picasso”. There are a few theories… Theory #1 - a baboon. Picasso is said to have a love for Africa and this was his way of representing that as Baboons are native to the continent of Africa..

Theory #2 – it’s an Afghan​ hound dog! Picasso himself had a Dachshund named Lump that befriended an Afghan Hound dog that belonged to Picasso’s friend David Douglas Duncan

But the theory that seems to stick the most is that this is a sculpture inspired by a French lady named Sylvette David, now known as Lydia Corbett who posed for Picasso in 1954.

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