Happy Birthday, Giant Perplexing Picasso

Is it a woman?  Is it a cow?  Is it a baboon?  We will never know, because enigmatic artist Pablo Picasso took the answer to the grave with him, having never visited Chicago or seen the work he graced the city with.

The untitled Picasso

But this month is the 50th anniversary of the erection of Picasso’s gift to the city in what was then called Civic Center Plaza.  Ever since, tourists and locals have gazed into its narrow-set eyes and puzzled at what it might represent.

When the statue was unveiled in 1967, some people thought it was an Afghan dog.  Picasso had pet Afghans.  But he also had a muse.  A November, 2004 article in the Sun-Times explains that it’s likely supposed to be Lydia Corbett.  She was an Englishwoman born in 1934.  By the time she was 19, she was living in France and posing regularly for Picasso. According to the artist’s grandson in his book Picasso: The Real Family Story, the girl posed dozens of times for Picasso and the artist was fascinated by her long neck and ponytail.

One of the Picasso statue miniatures created in the 1960's. This one seen at the Art Institute of Chicago.

One of the Picasso statue miniatures created in the 1960’s. This one seen at the Art Institute of Chicago.

These days, it’s the focal point of a million Instagram pictures for teens, and a playground slide for the wee ones.  At 50 feet tall, and 162 tons, it simply cannot be ignored.

Picasso didn’t actually build the statue.  What his studio put together was a 42-inch-tall model that U.S. Steel turned into what we see today.  There were also a number of miniature Picasso statues made and given to influential people of the day.  They occasionally appear in museum exhibits.

Though the actual 50th anniversary is next Tuesday, August 15th, the city is having an official celebration at noon tomorrow, Tuesday, August 8th.  The mayor’s office is going to recreate the 1967 unveiling of the statue in what is now Daley Plaza.  With any luck, the people in attendance will make an effort to dress the part, meaning business attire and briefcases, not polo shorts and backpacks.

While you’re trying to remember where your fedora is, enjoy the following pictures of the original U.S. Steel Picasso blueprints that we managed to snap years ago.





Author: Editor

Editor founded the Chicago Architecture Blog in 2003, after a long career in journalism. He can be reached at chicagoarchitectureinfo@gmail.com.

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