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An ode to Chicago’s iconic Picasso sculpture

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The public artwork at Daley Plaza celebrates its 50th birthday this week

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Ben Campney

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.

Happy 50th birthday Chicago Picasso!

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/John Iwanski

Thousands of Chicagoans looked on as you were unveiled 50 years ago.

Sun-Times Library

Many were confused and perhaps perplexed by you at first sight.

Chicago Tribune

But you helped to complete Daley Plaza and bring flair to a stoic midcentury office tower.

Hedrich Blessing/Estate of Pablo Picasso via SOM

While an abstract artwork, your Cor-Ten steel frame is as brawny as the Chicago skyline.

Carol Highsmith/Library of Congress

You’ve kept watch over Washington Street as Chicago changed over the decades.

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Chris Wilson

You’ve brought joy to many residents over the years...

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Yooperann

...and consoled others during a period of grief.

You’ve also made numerous cameos in popular films like Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, The Fugitive, and The Blues Brothers.

Paramount Pictures/Youtube

Here’s a photo from your 40th birthday. Remember that?

Flickr Creative Commons/Fuzzy Gerdes

Despite your unusual appearance, you are many things to Chicagoans.

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Ben Campney

You’re a place for play...

Flickr Creative Commons/John Iwanski

...and a place for leisure.

Flickr Creative Commons/Stephen Scott

You are a rallying point...

Flickr Creative Commons/Jean Paul Holmes

...and an expression of fandom.

Flickr Creative Commons/John Kannenberg

You have big shoulders like the skyscrapers that surround you.

Curbed Chicago Flickr pool/Ben Campney

You are a symbol of Chicago.

Flickr Creative Commons/ Fuzzy Gerdes