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Happy Birthday Untitled

By Peter Mavrik in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 16, 2007 4:45PM

2007_08_picasso2.jpgWhat's 50 feet tall, weighs 162 tons, was forged in Gary, Indiana and has no name? No, that's not the start of a really bad joke, it's a description of the statue that Pablo Picasso gave to Chicago in 1967. Many of us local yokels know it as The Picasso. And it just turned 40.

Untitled (the official name) was dedicated on August 15th 1967, just two years after the Richard J. Daley Center was completed in 1965. The architects of the Daley Center had commissioned it a few years prior, but it wasn't until 1966 when the final model of the sculpture was completed by Picasso.

At that time in Chicago, most major public works were sculptures of famous historical figures. Yet the group of architects associated with the Daley Center and Plaza intended to reflect the major cultural changes moving through America.

They decided to toss names in a hat of who they'd like as the sculptor. Much to their surprise, everyone chose Pablo Picasso, the flamboyant, eccentric, and generally crazy Spaniard who happened to be an artistic genius. But he was a man unlikely to create a major work like many of the Chicago War Memorials.

Richard J. Daley would have the final approval for the sculpture, but would ├╝ber conservative Daddy Daley go with the plan? Most of the group wasn't sure. In another surprise, Daley came on board immediately. The task then fell to architect William Hartmann to get Picasso involved.

Hartmann had a tough sell for Picasso, but in the end he won him over and Picasso signed on. Once the initial model came through, Daddy Daley remarked "It looks like the wings of justice."

U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana, handled forging the Cor-Ten steel for the sculpture. They played an integral part in the creation of the sculpture, but not just because they forged the parts. Much of their work consisted of creating new and unique tooling to forge the oddly shaped bits and pieces to Picasso's exacting design.

Finally, during the dedication which was an immense public spectacle, many recalled the initial gasp of the crowd. It wasn't one of amazement or astonishment. The question on everyone's mind was "What is it?"

We're still not sure what it is, and the controversy continues to this day. It definitely has an avian look to it, but who really knows. All we know is that when we were little kids, there was nothing more enjoyable in the world than sliding down the base of it after a winter snowfall.

Happy Birthday Untitled. Here's to another 40 years!

Images courtesy of peter mavrik