Chicago’s iconic (truly iconic) Picasso-designed sculpture that anchors Daley Plaza in The Loop celebrates a big milestone this week: it celebrates its 50th birthday. A beloved public art piece, the 50-foot-tall Cor-Ten steel sculpture wasn’t always so admired by Chicagoans. When it was dedicated by Mayor Richard J. Daley on August 15, 1967, reactions from attendees and the general public at large were mixed.
Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks questioned the sculpture in a poem written specifically for the dedication and journalist Mike Royko ripped on the artwork in his coverage of the occasion.
“The fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect,” legendary Chicago journalist Mike Royko said of the steel sculpture. “Its eyes are like the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from a slum owner to make it all possible.”
Anticipating a skeptical reaction from the public, Mayor Daley suggested that the public artwork would one day become a symbol of endearment to Chicagoans. "We dedicate this celebrated work this morning with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow," Daley said at the Picasso’s dedication in 1967.
Pablo Picasso, the Spanish artist who designed the piece for Chicago famously turned down a a $100,000 commission for the sculpture, offering his design as a gift to the city. Famously, Picasso never saw the finished sculpture in person—he never even visited the United States.
However, at its 50th anniversary as a beloved gathering point and symbol of Chicago, it’s safe to say that the untitled sculpture designed by Picasso has earned its place in the hearts and minds of generations of Chicagoans.