The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

Photos: The Picasso Was Unveiled 50 Years Ago, & Some People REALLY Hated It

By Stephen Gossett in News on Jul 21, 2017 8:44PM

The City of Chicago has announced that it will host a 50th anniversary "re-staging" of the 1967 unveiling of the famed Picasso sculpture, set for Tuesday, Aug. 8. It'll be arranged by Paul Durica, the historian behind Chicago's much-loved Pocket Guide to Hell tours, so we so expect to see well-studied verisimilitude. If that's the case, expect to see a bit of hostility.

We found some amazing photographs of the original unveiling, from Aug. 15, 1967, from the Chicago Public Library. The public interest is readily apparent by the images of a packed Civic Center (now known as Daley Plaza). So too is a sampling of that anti-Picasso antagonism: "Let's Give 'It' Back Now!!!" reads one sign.

Mayor Richard J. Daley of course looked to quell some of that skepticism at the unveiling. "We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow," he famously said. Daley's words proved prescient, and 50 years later, the statue—Picasso's first big-scale public-art project in America and a key moment for contemporary art in the public arena—is undeniably entwined into the city's cultural and civic fabric. But it's detractors were not a lonely bunch in 1967.

Some objections were aesthetic. Some in the art world have come to the conclusion that the sculpture is inspired by a combination between Picasso's muse and second wife, Jacqueline Roque, and the artist's Afghan dog. But Picasso was evasive, and that lack of clarity fueled people to come up with their own ideas—and criticisms.

Tribune reader Helen McKee wrote the paper, in 1967:

"The Picasso piece depicts a baboon, with a doubt … Picasso has perpetrated a hoax, over which he and the world would have a great laugh at our being taken in on such a joke … And not just a little joke, but a big one, five stories high."

Some in the establishment bucked, too. Local art critic Franz Schulze considered it a self-serving ode to the artist himself.

But some of the heat was much more political. One Frederick J Bertram, of Chicago, found the whole thing to be little more than a pinko prank. He wrote the Tribune, in 1967:

"It is said the Picasso made the design for the large monument in the Civic center plaza to show his commie friends how decadent and gullible Americans are or can be in matters of art. This monstrosity should never be permitted to afflict the eyes of the good people of Chicago in our most public place… The Republican by nature, I would rather look daily at a statue of his honor, the mayor, than at this jeering Communist jest."

Fellow reader M.A. Troiona sounded the same red-panic note:

"I can’t for the life of me understand how the people of Chicago can sit idle while this so called statue donated by the card-carrying Communist, Picasso, is unveiled right in our heartland. To think that our children and grandchildren will to look at this monstrosity for years to come."

It wasn't all ire, of course. "I fail to see why Picasso’s gift to Chicago should still be the reason for dissension," wrote a Berwyn resident at the time. "A great artist has given a great city a gift. I think the people of Chicago can appreciate the sentiment behind the gift."

Fifty years later, agreed.