Jacob Watts is a photographer and visual storyteller based in Chicago, Illinois. A graduate of Oswego (Illinois) High School (class of 2008), Watts received his B.F.A. from Columbia College Chicago in 2012. The photo-illustration of a moose blowing bubblegum hangs on a blue wall in the South Loop of Downtown Chicago at a size of 48′ by 43′.
Jacob Watts has been passionate about the medium of photography since before he was a teenager. From the start of his interest in photography, Watts was wholly intrigued by Photoshop. Today the artist creates illustrative and conceptual images with an emphasis on post production. Most of Watts’ work consists of graphic, imaginative, surreal, and composited works from his own images. His current headline work includes images in areas entitled Strangers, Recovery: Movie Posters, Some Time Alone. Portraits, Hvrbrd, Motion, Conceptual, Things are Strange, and Building A Universe.
According to the artist’s website, he is passionate about collaboration and finding creative solutions to exceed expectations. Watts is represented by Catherine Edelman Gallery in Chicago.
In the spring of 2014, Columbia College Chicago’s Wabash Avenue Corridor (WAC) Campus Committee launched a student and alumni competition to install artwork in the heart of the South Loop. Watts’ Moose Bubblegum Bubble was selected as one of the winners.
The scores of educational and cultural projects and programs that WAC advances strengthen the ties between students, artists, curators, academic institutions, cultural organizations and local businesses. Artists and curators from around the world have participated in WAC projects and programs to create murals, performance, installations, actions and large-scale projections that are always free of charge and open to the public.
This public arts program brings together the visual, performing, and other arts and media which are expansive, diverse and accessible so to provide a transformative experience to the many tens of thousands of urbanites who live, work and play in the city on a daily basis.
Starting in 2016 WAC began a focus of “diversity, equity and inclusion,” and developed one of the largest street art and public art collections of women artists and artists of color. This effort continues in 2021.
FEATURE image: Muddy Waters, King of the Chicago Blues, by Brazilian artist Eduardo Kobra in a photograph taken in May 2021. The 10-story mural tribute was painted in 2017 and is located on State Street in Downtown Chicago.
This 100-foot-tall (10 stories) mural of legendary Chicago blues musician Muddy Waters (1913-1983) was dedicated in June 2017 on the north wall of the 19-story Stevens Building at 17 N. State Street in Downtown Chicago.
Painted by Brazilian street artist Eduardo Kobra (b. 1975), it took over two weeks to paint it. The new mural covered over a big, yellow “Go Do Good” painting. The Stevens Building itself is a notable early skyscraper on the east side of State Street near its intersection with Washington Street. When it was built in 1912 by Daniel H. Burnham (1846-1912), it was one of the most modern business structures In Chicago and filled with retail shops. The Charles A. Stevens & Bros. building is nineteen stories above ground and three below,
The colorful portrait mural of Muddy Waters is part of a campaign to beautify the walls of some tall buildings in Chicago as well as to mark the significance of Black music in Chicago. Specifically, Eduardo Kobra’s mural is a tribute to the legacy of Muddy Waters in the Chicago blues music scene. Among Muddy Waters’ many titles and accolades, he may be perhaps best known as the “King of Chicago Blues.”
Growing up in Mississippi, Muddy Waters was first exposed to music at the local Baptist church. During World War II, when Muddy Waters was still in his 20’s, he moved from Mississippi to Chicago. He came to Chicago because he wanted to be a professional musician and Chicago since the 1920’s had been a center for jazz and blues music production.
In 1951 when Muddy Waters recorded his song “Still A Fool” at newly-founded Chess Records on the southside of Chicago, he started the next decade making several blues classics. In 1951, the Chess brothers, Leonard and Phil, both around Waters’ age, wanted the new blues musician to record using the new label’s professional musicians instead of Waters’ own band.
By September 1953 Waters was recording with his own band which became one of the most acclaimed blues bands in history. It included Little Walter Jacobs (1930-1968), a Blues Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame harmonica virtuoso; Jimmy Rogers (1924-1997), a Blues Hall of Fame musician on guitar who, with Little Walter and Muddy Waters, helped define the Chicago Blues sound; rural blues legend Elga Speed Edmonds (1909-1966) on drums; distinctive keyboard stylist and Blues Hall of Fame inductee Otis Spann (1930-1970) on piano—and, at times on bass, Willie Dixon (1915-1992), Grammy Award winner, and inductee in the Blues, Rock and Roll, and Songwriters Halls of Fame. The clarity of the clip of Muddy Waters’ electric guitar and his gravelly voice, deep and wide, were also distinctive features in a career that spanned 50 years and included 11 Grammy Award nominations with 6 wins.
In June 2017 at the dedication of the mural at the busy intersection of State and Washington Streets in the heart of downtown Chicago’s business/shopping districts, Muddy Waters’ family was in attendance. Of Muddy Waters’ legacy, born in Mississippi and living and working in Chicagoland since the 1940’s, Rolling Stone wrote: “With him the blues came up from the Delta and went electric.”
Chicago’s “Picasso” in today’s downtown Daley Plaza was officially unveiled on Tuesday, August 15, 1967 at 12 noon.
Weeks before the public event excitement (and some dread) swirled among Chicagoans and others as to what Pablo Picasso’s monumental outdoor sculpture would be like.
In the photograph on the wall, Mayor Daley and others pull the cord on August 15, 1967 unveiling Chicago’s iconic Picasso.
The famous Basque artist was first approached by Chicago leaders in May 1963. This encounter led more than four years later to the Cor-Ten steel sculpture’s installation and unveiling on a beautiful Tuesday summer’s afternoon in the Chicago Civic Center Plaza. Many in the crowd of thousands who had gathered to witness the historic event gasped and jeered at the modernist art work when the fabric cover was taken off. Local newspaperman Mike Royko wrote in The Daily News that the art work looked like a “giant insect.” Photo Credit: “Picasso in Chicago” by Emily Barney is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (October 2011).
Chicago’s first major public outdoor sculpture started a long term national trend to display massive outdoor contemporary art for the public
The now-iconic Picasso unveiled in 1967 is credited with being the first public outdoor sculpture installed in Chicago that put Chicago on the map as one of America’s first major cities to display massive outdoor contemporary art for the public.
In 1958 there was an untitled art work by Richard Lippold (1915-2002) constructed in the lobby of the Inland Steel Building (1954-58) by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in downtown Chicago. It is four blocks from City Hall and the new Civic Center Plaza that the same architectural firm was helping to design and build in the early 1960’s.
Untitled (known today as The Radiant One), Richard Lippold, commissioned in 1957, Inland Steel Building, Chicago. Author’s photo (December 2017).
This was followed in 1964 by a large modernist work unveiled at the University of Chicago Law School entitled, Construction in Space and in the Third and Fourth Dimensions. It was made in 1959 by Russian Constructionist Antoine Pevsner (1886-1962).
The reputation and fame of Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) in 1967 helped catapult the idea and cultural practice of the installation of modern art, often monumental, in high-profile public spaces across the country, and starting in large measure, in Chicago.
In the following years and decades installation of public art that had broadened beyond the commemorative extended to established artists, many with international reputations, as well as more recent and sometimes emerging artists. In 2021, one online list of public art on campus at the University of Chicago demonstrates its extensive practice that was largely ushered in with Chicago’s Picasso (Ira J. Bach and Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture, University of Chicago Press, 1983, p. xiii; https://arts.uchicago.edu/public-art-campus/public-art-campus#Antoine_Pevsner – retrieved June 9, 2021).
Since before the mid-20th century, public art in America has been often characterized by Modernism (i.e., MoMA’s modernist sculpture garden dated from the 1940’s). Modernism began as a cultural rebellion against prevailing classical-romantic art work. Until around Rodin’s Balzac in 1898, art work in the classical and romantic style filled parks and plazas throughout the 19th century and afterwards that memorialized people, places, and events. Modernists identified the classical-romantic style as old, trite, exhausted, and artistically bankrupt in rapidly changing times. Instead, Modernism offered artistic forms and creative responses that met and expressed an increasingly global and machine age – and not by grand depictions and tired motifs of old Romans standing (or lying) on privileged porticos in togas (i.e., Thomas Couture (1815-1879) Romans during the Decadence, 1847, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay).
Thomas Couture (1815-1879), Romans during the Decadence, 1847, oil on canvas, Musée d’Orsay. Starting no later than 1900, contemporary society was increasingly artistically influenced by Modernism. Characterized by the rejection of centuries-old literary and historical subjects and forms, it turned to abstraction and imaginative artistic responses as more fitting expression for a rapidly changing modern society.
Pablo Picasso had dominated the modern art scene for most of the 20th century, starting and particularly as the innovator of Cubism with French painter Georges Braque (1882-1963). Picasso was one of several artists who, as Harper’s Bazaar observed about the magazine’s engagement with modern artists, “broke new ground, challenged established thinking, and signaled seismic shifts in the culture” (Harper’s Bazaar, March 2021, p. 236).
Pablo Picasso, Three Women, 1908, oil on canvas, 200x 178 cm, The Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg, Russia.
Picasso, Student with a pipe, Paris, 1913, Oil, gouache, cut-and-pasted paper, gesso, sand, and charcoal on canvas, 28 ¾ x 23 1/8 inches, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza from the side looking to the southeast. Author’s photo (July 2015).
On a representational level, a woman’s facial profile (eye, nose, lips, chin) followed by two “wings” of flowing hair, and rounded shoulders are in plain sight. Yet other interpretations for the sculpture are also reasonably feasible. For example, from the back, are the top symmetrical curves of the wings reflective of the curves of a woman’s buttocks with legs constituting the rest? Are the cut-out shapes like a head and neck in this context possibly a phallus? Picasso famously did many pieces of art that were highly sexualized. In 1932 Pablo Picasso produced an entire series of what would become iconic paintings of Marie-Thérèse Walter, his young, blonde-haired mistress, in the most lascivious and sensual positions imaginable. Picasso’s Minotaur and Wounded Horse is one example of it produced in Boisgeloup (outside Paris) on April 17, 1935 and today in the permanent collection of The Art Institute of Chicago. (See – https://johnpwalshblog.com/2013/05/15/picasso-and-chicago-the-show-may-be-over-but-its-best-parts-stay-on-display-its-called-the-art-institute-of-chicagos-permanent-collection/).
Picasso narrowed the central plane of the head toward the top, and indicated its slight tilt backward. Using Student with Pipe as a guide, what is usually interpreted as flowing hair past a woman’s head and body, these immense curved symmetrical “wings” in Chicago’s Picasso may be conceived as the shadow or shadows of a head and body. If the rods are not representative of something specific – i.e., guitar strings – but, as Picasso alluded in the LOOK interview of November 1967, an aesthetical connection, then this interpretation of a figural foreground and shadowed background that makes for a sculptural whole is also feasible.
The Chicago sculpture’s circular eyes and long flat nose are typical of Picasso heads of the 1913-1914 period which were translations of the features of African, specifically Wobé, masks. Picasso used their economy and schema to transform them into his personal and whimsical art work. (William Rubin, Picasso in the Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, New York, 1972, pp. 88-89).
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza, Author’s photo. (December 2017).
Mask (Kifwebe), Songye, late 19th or early 20th century. Wood, pigment, 12 x 7 1/8 x 6 1/8 in. (30.5 x 18.1 x 15.6 cm). Brooklyn Museum. The object is a female mask with projecting mouth, triangular nose, pierced eyes, overall concentric linear carving, and polychrome pigment.
The mask type that was shared by other African societies is characterized by angular and thrusting forms, and the entire face is covered in unique patterns of geometric grooves. Female masks, such as this one, are distinguished by the predominant use of white clay and, in a feature shared by Chicago’s Picasso, the rounded form of the head crest. (See – https://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/objects/169088– retrieved June 9, 2021).
Picasso was 72 years old and Jacqueline Roque was 26 years old when they met in 1953. Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova, died in 1955. Picasso romanced Jacqueline until she agreed to date him and they married in 1961. During their courtship and marriage of 20 years, Picasso created over 400 portraits of Jacqueline, more than any of his other muses.
Picasso’s widow, Jacqueline Roque Picasso (1927-1986), gave her portrait to the president of Iceland and the bust was consigned in 1988 to the National Gallery of Iceland. A more realistic figure, Picasso’s slightly earlier art work evokes features and forms found in the abstracted sculpture for Chicago done a little later, such as the wing-shaped curves of the flowing hair that comes to a point at the bottom. https://www.listasafn.is/english/exhibitions/nr/476
Pablo Picasso, Jacqueline with a Yellow Ribbon, 1962, sheet metal, cut-out, bent, and painted, 19 5/8 inches, National Gallery of Iceland, Reykjavik.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Completed no later than 5 years after Jacqueline with a Yellow Ribbon in 1962 the dramatic shapes and formulations of the monumental sculpture share recognizable affinities. Author’s photo (July 2015).
Perfect Summer’s Day for Unveiling Ceremony
August 15, 1967 was a perfect summer’s day with temperatures in the low 80s and no rain to worry about in the forecast. The Woods Theater across the Plaza on Dearborn was playing Jack Nicholson’s new film, Hells Angels On Wheels. Before the unveiling, Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) spoke before the crowd. The mayor told the crowd that he was “very happy” that they had “come to share” in the dedication of what was “a great gift to our city” by Picasso. That Mayor Daley and Pablo Picasso, both Roman Catholics, unveiled Picasso’s gift on August 15 would be coincidental to the significant Catholic religious holiday of the Assumption of the Virgin Mary that also falls on the date.
A lunch-time crowd packed the new Civic Center Plaza on the day of the unveiling. The new plaza fronted a new modernist courthouse skyscraper and a modern outdoor sculpture – Chicago’s Picasso – as the major components of architectural plans virtually from its start.
In 1963, the Public Building Commission of Chicago decided to build a new modernist 31-story civic center fronted by a public plaza. The new complex would complement and contrast with the 10-story City Hall across Clark Street that opened in 1911. The new courthouse and plaza development was part of Mayor Daley’s overall downtown development that by 1963 was in high gear and would remain so past his unexpected death 5 days before Christmas in 1976 at 74 years old.
Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, the architectural firm associated with the project, wanted the art work to be by Pablo Picasso. When the project’s coordinator, architect William E. Hartmann (1916-2003), told Mayor Daley of these plans, the mayor quickly supported the choice. The challenge now was to convince Picasso.
The Chicago Civic Center’s supervising architects was C.F. Murphy led by the Aurora, Illinois-born architect Jacques Brownson (1924-2012). Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Loebl, Schlossman, Bennett & Dart were associated architects. Al Francik was this drawing’s delineator.
The Chicago Civic Center was the first of several important new public buildings constructed in Chicago from the late 1950s to the 1980s as part of Mayor Richard J. Daley’s development of municipal government. The glass-and-steel modernist building held over 100 courtrooms, office space and a large law library. It boasted wide spans between weight bearing columns and 18-foot-tall floor to floor heights. Though the plan included a sculpture in the public plaza, Picasso’s sculpture came later after he was persuaded by William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill to make the artwork. Chicago’s Picasso continues to draw Chicagoans and visitors from all over the world to the plaza.
On August 15, 1967, Mayor Daley continued his remarks to the assembled crowd: “Today, with its unveiling, it becomes a permanent part of the Chicago scene. As mayor, I dedicate this gift, in the name of the people of Chicago, confident that it will have an abiding and happy place in the city’s heart.”
The Deed of Gift, dated August 21, 1966, was signed by Picasso with one of its witnesses being, Jacqueline, his wife and written in both English and French. The entirety of the Deed of Gift in English reads: “The Monumental sculpture portrayed by the maquette pictured above has been expressly created by me, Pablo Picasso, for installation on the plaza of the Civic Center in the City of Chicago, State of Illinois, United States of America. This sculpture was undertaken by me for the Public Building Commission of Chicago at the request of William E. Hartmann, acting on behalf of the Chicago Civic Center Architects. I hereby give this work and the right to reproduce it to the Public Building Commission, and I give the maquette to The Art Institute of Chicago. Desiring that these gifts shall, through them, belong to the people of Chicago” (Balton-Stratton, The Chicago Picasso, p. 33).
Picasso donated his sculpture to the people of Chicago in 1967. Skateboarder on Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (July 2015).
Children’s slide on Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (May 2021).
Picasso’s “gift” cost $300,000 to fabricate–or around $2 million today
Picasso donated his sculpture to the people of Chicago in 1967. The artist’s gift constituted the 42-inch maquette and the rights and privileges surrounding it. The monumental sculpture based on Picasso’s “gift” of the maquette cost $300,000 to fabricate–or around $2 million today – and paid for by private monies (Bach, p. 76).
The Picasso sculpture could not be completely a matter of artist largesse (though he did not accept a fee). Gertrude Stein in Picasso, her memoir of the artist written in 1938, writes of the young and then-impoverished Picasso who gave a prominent collector one of his desirable art works when he might have paid for it. Picasso told Stein about the collector: “He doesn’t understand that at that time the difference between a sale and gift was negligible” (Stein, Picasso, p. 8). Fast forward about fifty years and something similar might have applied for Picasso in 1967 in terms of acknowledging the people (and collectors) of Chicago.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (May 2021) .
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. Author’s photo (July 2015) .
Not everyone who gathered at Daley Plaza in August 1967 during the “Summer of Love” and then-escalating Vietnam War was there to welcome Picasso’s sculpture. Though Chicago had a long and venerable history with Picasso’s art – The Art Institute of Chicago began collecting it in 1923 and the first Picasso exhibition was at The Arts Club of Chicago that same year—protesters held signs at the unveiling, some of which read: “Let’s give it back now!!!,” “The Colossal Boo Boo,” and “It’s a Monsterment.” To what degree connoisseurship influenced protesters in August 1967 would appear to lie in the outright rejection of Modernism though more nuanced criticism could include crass commercialization of Picasso’s art work.
From its unveiling in August 1967 until today, Chicagoans have been mystified by their publicly owned “Picasso.” Picasso’s untitled artwork has had its boosters and detractors. Over the years, it appears public opinion has mellowed about the 50-foot-tall, 162-ton Cor-Ten (self-weathering) steel sculpture, even turning mostly in favor of the enigmatic work of art.
In more than 50 years of debate, Chicagoans have come to accept that they probably will never know exactly what it is that Picasso gave “to the people of Chicago.”
Though mysterious – is it a butterfly or bird? or, as Sir Roland Penrose (1900-1984) interpreted it, the abstracted head of a woman with ample flowing hair – many seek it out or find it as they cross the plaza. It adds grace, beauty, personality, proportionality and perspective to the urban space between Dearborn and Clark Streets at Washington Street.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza looking to the northeast. Author’s photo (May 2021).
The sculpture’s rods have been compared to the strings of a guitar (Bach, pp.75-76). Always in the public domain, it is a popular icon for Chicago.
The Picasso bestows international and modernist value to the “City of the (19th) Century” which in 1911 – the year City Hall was erected – poet Carl Sandburg (1878-1967) called “hog butcher for the world” in his poem, Chicago. Though Sandburg wrote these literary images in and of another era, the famous poet was just 3 years older than Picasso and died in July 1967, only weeks before the official unveiling of the Picasso that ushed in a new age for the city.
In May 1963, Picasso was a vigorous 81 years old and living in Mougins, France. By way of literary and artistic contacts in Chicago and Europe, William Hartmann was helped on his mission to visit Picasso as the young American architect headed to the south of France to await the outcome of his request to meet the aging Basque artist.
Picasso was 81 years old and living in the south of France when Chicago architect William Hartmann tracked the artist down to ask him to consider creating a sculpture on a monumental scale for Chicago’s new modernist Civic Center development project. Photo credit: “PABLO PICASSO” by marsupilami92 is licensed under CC BY 2.0.
William Hartmann, 47 years old in 1963, was born in New Jersey and started his architectural career in Boston after attending MIT. He joined Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in New York City following World War II and was working in its Chicago office since 1947. Hartmann, elected to the College of Fellows of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) in 1963, is credited for personally enticing Picasso to design a sculpture for Daley Center Plaza in Chicago. In 1968, the year after the installation of the Picasso sculpture in Chicago, Hartmann was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Lake Forest College. (For Hartmann biographical information and interviews, see the Ryerson & Burnham art and architecture archive – https://digital-libraries.artic.edu/digital/collection/caohp/id/26834/rec/1– retrieved June 9, 2021).
At their meeting Hartmann looked to familiarize the artist with the downtown Chicago project: he brought photographs of Chicago, the building site, and its people. Hartmann included photographs of the many Picasso works owned by Chicagoans and its institutions to show him this city’s longstanding regard and love for him.
Picasso told Hartmann he would think about it.
Hartmann continued to visit over the next months and years bringing various Americana and Chicago-related items as gifts, such as major sports team paraphernalia. Hartmann also updated the artist on the modernist Civic Center construction project.
Picasso produced a draft.
Before starting his maquette, Picasso asked Chicago leaders to keep the art project “relatively confidential” and out of the public eye
Hartmann told him, “We want to commission you so that I end up with a study I can take back.” Maintaining his flexibility, Picasso told Hartmann, “I may not produce anything—or produce something that you don’t like. It’s best that we keep this low-key from start to finish, calm, and relatively confidential.”
Thus, out of “relative confidentiality” was born much of the mystery and intriguing quality of the “Picasso” at its unveiling in Chicago in August 1967.
In 1963 Mayor Daley looked to persuade Picasso to do a monument. In 1965, Picasso looked to persuade Mayor Daley to accept his foremost Cubist original work that would be seen and interpreted each day by thousands in the heart of Chicago’s downtown government, business and shopping district.
Chicago’s collection of public art was initiated on August 15, 1967, when Mayor Richard J. Daley dedicated an untitled sculpture commonly known as “The Picasso” in Chicago’s new Civic Center (now the Richard J. Daley Center). Four years earlier, architect William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill had approached Pablo Picasso with the commission. The artist accepted and crafted two steel maquettes: one he kept in his studio at Mougins and gave the other to the architect to use in planning the potential fabrication of the sculpture. With the Picasso sculpture’s unveiling in 1967, its presence inspired private and public investment in many more artworks throughout the cityscape, including Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) completed in 2006 at Millennium Park.
Cloud Gate (“The Bean”), Anish Kapoor, 2006, Millennium Park, Chicago. Chicago’s Picasso in 1967 inspired private and public investment in art works throughout the cityscape well into the future. Author’s photo (May 2021).
When Picasso produced a 42-inch maquette of the sculpture, the board of the Public Building Commission of Chicago was given a private viewing of it. Afterwards, they passed a resolution authorizing the payment of $100,000 to Picasso (about $850,000 today) with the sum to include the purchase price for the right, title and interest in and to the maquette as well as copyright and copyright renewals. When Hartmann offered the $100,000 check to Picasso, he asked the artist to sign the “Formal Acknowledgment and Receipt.”
Picasso refused to accept the money or to sign the document.
In the chalk drawing (above) the importance of the sculpture’s forms, both empty of steel and fabricated thereof, carry greater significance to the outcome of the piece. In the drawing Picasso does not include the rods of which much representational conjecture has been made (i.e., guitar strings) as the artist himself admits adds value for structural stability of the modernist monument.
Based on Picasso’s design and the 42-inch maquette he made, the monumental statue was built by U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana. Anatol Rychalski was the engineer in charge of the design and construction.
Rods of the Chicago Picasso in Daley Plaza, Author’s photo (July 2015).
“My job was to make an exact but giant likeness of Picasso’s 42-inch original. Being a follower of Picasso’s works, I knew that no snap judgement of this one would suffice. But those of us who built it accepted the challenge of its interpretation with as much enthusiasm as the challenge of its construction” (Chicago Tribune, August 20, 1967). Rychalski, a Polish immigrant to the U.S. in 1950 and, in 1967, senior designer in the American Bridge Division of U.S. Steel corporation, observed, “We had to roll steel to sizes which never have been rolled which means that the whole technology had to be to some extent improvised at the time.” Nearly 50 years later, in 2016, the 91-year-old Rychalski, said about the sculpture, “It defines the city as ‘spirit in flight.’ You look at the wings and the profile of an overwhelmingly powerful lady…the value of it is enormous.” (quoted in https://www.shawlocal.com/2016/07/28/shorewood-man-expresses-the-profound-through-his-acrylic-paintings/askc2p1/-retrieved June 9, 2021.)
Pablo Picasso and William E. Hartmann with the maquette in the artist’s Mougins studio in August 1966. This image appeared in the 1967 program pamphlet. Picasso made two maquettes – one he kept in his studio and the other he gave to The Art Institute of Chicago for the behalf of the people of Chicago.
Daley pulled the cord on the multi-color fabric that hid Picasso’s gift to the people of Chicago. Chicago poet Gweldolyn Brooks (1917-2000) read remarks and members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra played music.
Collective gasp from the crowd followed by jeers at unveiling
With the veil removed, the crowd let out a collective gasp and began to shout negative comments about the art work. In its first public appearance, the crowd of potential Picasso admirers turned into a Picasso peanut gallery – an unintended, unwanted but not wholly unforeseen consequence by city authorities. Bemused criticisms of the Picasso were also part of what became – in the mayor’s words at the sculpture’s unveiling – “a permanent part of the Chicago scene.”
The Chicago Picasso at the dedication ceremony before the unveiling on August 15, 1967. Photo credit: case 69C353: The Letter Edged in Black Press, Inc. vs. Public Building Commission of Chicago in records of the U.S. District Court, Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division, RG 21.
Controversial reaction better than “no reaction at all”
For William Hartmann and others responsible for bringing the Picasso to Chicago the local crowd’s visceral and negative reaction to the monumental public art work in the downtown location was better than no reaction at all.
“Picasso’s work, frequently, if not always has been the center of controversy,” Hartmann philosophically observed, “So it all fit into that pattern beautifully.”
A few days after the unveiling, Mayor Daley offers his thoughts at a press conference about the Picasso
A couple of days after the unveiling ceremony, Mayor Daley at a press conference offered what he thought about the Picasso sculpture. Though it was “wonderful,” Daley admitted like the rest of Chicago that he did not know what the sculpture really represents.
One idea the mayor floated was that it was a woman as some believed and that it was very appropriate that she stood in front of the courthouse.
“We’ve always looked at justice as a woman and it is outside a hall of justice,“ the 65-year-old Big-City Irish Democratic mayor said. He speculated further: “But it could also be a Phoenix. It would symbolize the rise of Chicago as a city of vitality out of the ashes caused by [the Great Chicago Fire]” (Chicago Tribune, August 19, 1967).
Considering the many conversations that were held over four years with city planners and the Basque artist through William Hartmann about Chicago’s Picasso it is fair to say that the mayor – the city’s biggest booster – would state his interpretation on the art work based on what he believed he saw after talking to the experts.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza, made from a 42-inch maquette in Mougins, France into a 50-foot-tall, 162-ton Cor-Ten steel sculpture in Gary, Indiana, is an engineering marvel. Author’s photo (July 2015).
From 42-inch maquette in Mougins, France, to 50-foot-tall, 162-ton Cor-Ten steel sculpture in Gary, Indiana
In those same days, Anatol Rychalski (b. 1925) was open-minded about the Picasso’s precise artistic representation. “It doesn’t really matter how you personally interpret the sculpture,“ he told the Chicago Tribune on August 20, 1967, “as long as you not ridicule for the sake of ridicule.” He then shared his interpretation: “To me it represents the winged spirit of justice, with the serenity and compassion of a woman. It is a benevolent but stern and powerful justice.”
LOOK magazine interviews Pablo and Jacqueline Picasso and they talk about Chicago’s Picasso
In November 1967, LOOK magazine interviewed Picasso and Jacqueline and the Chicago sculpture came up. They were both amused by the baffled reaction of Chicagoans to the art work. Jacqueline offered that it was obviously “a woman’s head” and shoulders but “no more.” Picasso observed that the “cage” of steel rods was more an aesthetic than a representation. In the LOOK interview Picasso observed: “I am touched that the [Chicago] public could mysteriously share my joy over the results of many years work in sculpture. In a way, my sculptures are more my children than my paintings. I am caught up in shaping my vision of the world. In sculpture, I cut through appearances to the marrow, and rebuild the essentials from there. I cannot invent a detail that has not been carefully planned and my wish is that the public, through thinking and meditation, may retrace my intentions” (LOOK, November 28, 1967). The Basque artist’s challenge to the viewer to discover an objective answer to his artistic intentions makes the sculpture’s meaning more intriguing.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza. In a November 1967 LOOK magazine interview, Picasso and Jacqueline expressed amusement at Chicagoans’ reaction to the art work. Jacqueline said it was obviously “a woman’s head” and shoulders but “no more.” Author’s photo (July 2015).
“Eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean…”
Probing the artist’s intentions was met soon with succinct anecdotal insight from Chicago’s newspaperman, Mike Royko (1932-1997). Royko wrote creatively and personally about the significance of the art work for Chicago in 1967. The columnist’s cynical eye on the possible relationship of the modernist steel art work and the city he loved was published in the afternoon newspaper, the Chicago Daily News:
“That is all there is to it. Some soaring lines, yes. Interesting design, I’m sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect. It has eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean.
But why not? Everybody said it had the spirit of Chicago. And from thousands of miles away, accidentally or on purpose, Picasso captured it.
Up there in that ugly face is the spirit of Al Capone, the Summerdale scandal cops, the settlers who took the Indians but good.
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.
It has the look of the dope pusher and of the syndicate technician as he looks for just the right wire to splice the bomb to.
Any bigtime real estate operator will be able to look into the face of the Picasso and see the spirit that makes the city’s rebuilding possible and profitable.
It has the look of the big corporate executive who comes face to face with the reality of how much water pollution his company is responsible for – and then thinks of the profit and loss and of his salary.
IT IS ALL THERE in that Picasso thing – the I will spirit. The I will get you before you will get me spirit.
Picasso has never been here, they say. You’d think he’s been riding the L all his life.”
Soft Version of Maquette for a Monument Donated to the City of Chicago by Pablo Picasso, Claes Oldenburg (b. 1929), 1969. Canvas and rope, painted with synthetic polymer, dimensions variable (38 x 28¾ x 21 inches, full height), Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.
What could be seen as an early parody of the Picasso sculpture by Claes Oldenburg is, in fact, the artist’s homage to the art work as well as conversation with it on aesthetics.
In Oldenburg’s version Picasso’s steel becomes soft cloth; straight rods become limp ropes. More malleable than the original, Oldenburg dubbed his work “Super-Cubism” in that where a Cubist work offers the viewer multiple viewpoints, Oldenburg’s piece offers viewpoints that are unlimited (Picasso and American Art, Michael FitzGerald, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 2006, p. 259).
Gertrude Stein by Pablo Picasso, 1905–6, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. The Met writes about this work: “[Picasso] reduces her body to simple masses—a foreshadowing of his adoption of Cubism—and portrays her face like a mask with heavy lidded eyes, reflecting his recent encounter with Iberian sculpture.” see- https://www.metmuseum.org/art/collection/search/488221 – retrieved June 4, 2021.
Reaching farther back in Picasso’s career at the start of the 20th century, American writer Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) knew Picasso in Paris and later wrote about him. Stein observed that Picasso was “the only one in painting who saw the twentieth century with his eyes and saw its reality and consequently his struggle was terrifying …for himself and for the others, because he had nothing to help him…he had to do it all alone and, as in spite of much strength he is often very weak…” (Stein, Picasso, p. 22).
In 1906 when Picasso was 25 years old, he painted Gertrude Stein’s portrait. According to Stein, she posed for him in Paris “eighty times” but, finally, he “painted out the head” and, following a break in Spain, painted in a new head without seeing her again beforehand (see G. Stein, Picasso, 1938, p. 8). Though Stein was “satisfied” with the portrait and remained so over 30 years later, Picasso was criticized in 1906 for the depiction. The artist responded with a remark now considered famous and certainly, as Stein and the world discovered, prescient: “Everybody says that she does not look like it but that does not make any difference, she will.” (See G. Stein, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas).
The bold creative vision of the Cubist artist is very much in evidence in Picasso’s gift to the people of Chicago that stands in Daley Plaza. It may be that Picasso’s intentions for the iconic untitled sculpture may only be known in future days. For, at first, they said it did not look like Chicago, but it didn’t make any difference – because it will.
Chicago’s Picasso in Daley Plaza from the back looking to the southwest. Author’s photo (October 2015).
Chicago’s Picasso (June 2022).
Bach, Ira J. and Mary Lackritz Gray, A Guide to Chicago’s Public Sculpture, University of Chicago Press, 1983.
FitzGerald, Michael, Picasso and American Art, Exh. Cat. Whitney Museum of American Art/Yale University press, New York, 2006.
Rubin, William, Picasso in the Collection of the Modern of Modern Art, , MoMA, New York, 1972.
“The Chicago Picasso,” Progressive Architecture (November 1966), p. 66 (ill.).
The Art Institute of Chicago, Annual Report (1966–1967), pp. 26–27 (ill.).
Chicago Picasso Dedication program (August 15, 1967) (ill.).
Lael Wertenbaker, The World of Picasso (New York: Time-Life Books, 1967), p. 153 (ill.).
“A Picasso Statue for Chicago,” The Burlington Magazine 109:766 (January 1967), pp. 34–36, figs. 68 and 70.
Burton Wasserman, “Picasso: The Touch of Magic,” Art Education 21:4 (April 1968), p. 29 (ill.).
Clarence Page, “Giant Iron Sculpture: Picasso Leaves His Mark on the City,” Chicago Tribune (April 9, 1973), section 1, p. 6.
Roberto Otero, Forever Picasso: An Intimate Look at his Last Years (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1974), pp. 46, 50, 52–55 (ill.).
Roberto Otero, “It’s more charming this way: How the master made us a gift,” Chicago Guide, vol. 23, no. 10 (October 1974), pp. 86–87.
Marilyn McCully, A Picasso Anthology: Documents, Criticism, Reminiscences (London: Arts Council of Great Britain, 1981), pp. 266–267 (ill.).
Sally Fairweather, Picasso’s Concrete Sculptures (New York: Hudson Hills Press, 1982), p. 85.
The Picasso Project, Picasso’s Paintings, Watercolors, Drawings, and Sculpture: A Comprehensive Illustrated Catalogue 1885–1973, The Sixties II 1964–1967 (San Francisco: Alan Wofsy Fine Arts, 2002), p. 133, no. 64–373 (ill.).
Gary Tinterow, Master Drawings by Picasso, exh. cat. (Cambridge, Mass., 1981), p. 255, no. 27.
Stephanie d’Alessandro, “Picasso and Chicago,” (Art Institute of Chicago, 2013), p.26, cat 245 (ill.)
Helmut Jahn was famous in Chicago and around the world for his prolific postmodern architecture particularly his work in steel and glass.
Born in Germany near Nuremberg, in 1940, Jahn graduated from Technische Hochschule in Munich and moved to Chicago in 1966. Jahn arrived in Chicago just as “downtown development” during the administration of Mayor Richard J. Daley (1902-1976) was finding its greatest momentum. Jahn began to study under Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and, in 1967, joined Charles (C.F.) Murphy Associates which later became Murphy/Jahn. The younger man would carry on the powerful influence and energy of these Chicago personalities for building big, creatively, and prolifically for the next fifty years into the first quarter of the 21st century. Jahn would add his own significant contribution and footprint in Chicago and around the nation and world in those same long years of his activity.
One of Jahn’s early projects in his first years in Chicago was McCormick Place. The original concrete and steel permanent exposition hall on the lakefront that opened in 1960 was destroyed in a fire in January 1967, just as Jahn was starting to work as a professional architect. Named for Col. McCormick of the Chicago Tribune, the newspaper owner and publisher had boosted the idea of a permanent exposition hall on Chicago’s lakefront for years prior to his death in 1955.
Jahn had come to Chicago at an exciting time to be building there — during Jahn’s first years in Chicago the John Hancock Building was completed in 1969 and the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the world for the next 24 years, was completed in 1974. In 1971, C.F. Murphy completed the new and massive McCormick Place, a powerful steel and glass structure with enormous cantilever eaves, on the same lakefront site as the old exposition hall. Out of that single successful building project, Helmut Jahn and the rest of the world saw the significant development in Chicago that would blossom around this important and functional modern architecture over ensuing decades — including the North building constructed across Lake Shore Drive in 1986; the South building built in 1996; a hotel built in 1998; the massive West building built in 2007; and, in 2017, the Wintrust Arena.
In the mid 1980’s one of Jahn’s most significant creations was the James R. Thompson Center in Chicago. Aesthetically grandiose and controversial, the “State of Illinois Building” was put up for sale in 2021 by the administration of Governor J.B. Pritzker, citing its historically high operating and maintenance costs.
There were mixed reviews for Helmut Jahn’s massive semi-circular Thompson Center at 100 W. Randolph completed in 1985. The criticism begins at its entrance where Jahn saw placed “Outsider” French artist Jean Dubuffet’s fiberglass Monument with Standing Beast. During the building’s planning and construction some of the architect’s dazzling concepts met with resistance from contractors. For example, the contractors prevailed over Jahn’s idea for a completely locked-down outer skin using silicone glazing. In the final construction the appearance of red, white, and blue locked-down skin belies the several places throughout the design where windows are made to be opened. Inside, though its soaring 17-story atrium is airy and impressive exposing floors that hold various state bureaucracy—and signaling the idea of state government’s day-to-day practice towards transparency —the practicalities of the new building’s heating and cooling design proved seriously problematic during Chicago’s summer heat and winter cold though that major issue appeared to be eventually resolved. In 2021 Jahn’s mega-structure has been put up for sale by Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker from Chicago citing that the building costs hundreds of millions of dollars to operate and maintain.The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
In Chicago Jahn designed the exposed steel frame United Airlines Terminal 1 at O’Hare International Airport between 1985 and 1988. Air travelers for decades have enjoyably traversed its entertaining walkway connecting concourses that include moving sidewalks, colorful lighting and futuristic sounds.
To the left is UBS Tower (1 N. Wacker) built in 2001 and to the right is Hyatt Center ( 71 S. Wacker) built in 2005. At 42 years old, Jahn spoke of his building at 1 S. Wacker as a synthesis of two major Chicago architectural styles—that of Louis Sullivan (1856-1924) and, Jahn’s mentor and fellow German, Mies van der Rohe (1886-1969). The building is a concrete stepped-back 50-story building with a curtain wall of dark glass defining the vertical bands of windows. Its vision remains fresh and stunning as it sits majestically between two postmodern buildings built in Chicago a generation later. The photograph was taken by the authoron May 25, 2014.
Jahn designed the 23-story addition to the Chicago Board of Trade in 1980 and Accenture Tower at 500 W. Madison in the West Loop which opened in 1987. Across the nation and world Helmut Jahn’s fresh, grand, and innovative designs have made their way into the annals of postmodern architecture. Any complete list of Helmut Jahn’s active and completed projects extends necessarily into the many scores. A list of notable buildings could include the 1999 K St. NW, a 12-story structure, in Washington D.C. completed in 2009; the twin 37-story Veers Towers in Las Vegas, Nevada opened in 2010; and, in his native Germany, the 63-story Messeturm in Frankfurt opened in 1990 and the Sony Center, a complex of eight buildings, in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin completed in 2000. The hard-driving list goes on…and on.
Originally called the State Street Village Dormitories, Jahn’s postmodern structure that anchors the campus to the east, consists of three five-story buildings. Jahn’s design was the first major architectural addition to the IIT campus since the early 1960’s. U.S. News & World Report called it one of the “coolest dorms in the nation.” Stretching one city block along busy State Street from 33rd to 34th Streets, Rowe Village is next to the El tracks whose Green Line zips back and forth to Chicago’s Loop. Each dorm building consists of two wings that flank an interior courtyard. The building is finished at the rear on 34th street by an insulated five-story glass wall. Entry is through the courtyard which leads into a corridor that connects the two wings.It is built of reinforced concrete with the front elevations and roof dressed in custom corrugated stainless steel panels and tinted glass framed in aluminum. The building’s sleek curvature, three compartments and chained block-long length, reflects and evokes the image of a streamlined train making for a building as Art Moderne object in the Miesian tradition.From its rooftop the Rowe Village looks north for views of Chicago’s downtown skyline while the dorm offers suite-style living in a modern setting surrounded by the mind, serious and playful, of Helmut Jahn. The photograph was taken by the authoron August 21, 2015.
At the time of his death at 81 years old on May 8, 2021 in a bike road accident in the far western suburbs of Chicago, Helmut Jahn was working on a 74-story residential building in Chicago at 1000 S. Michigan. It was scheduled to be opened in 2022 but its construction was already delayed because of the Covid-19 pandemic that postponed construction. Helmut Jahn taught at IIT, the University of Illinois-Chicago, Harvard University, and Yale University. In 2012 Murphy/Jahn became JAHN and, according to a recent report from Dun & Bradstreet, the firm had a total of 55 employees and generated a little over $6 million in annual sales.
In what was one of Helmut Jahn’s first great urban achievements, the 40-story office tower on an important corner in downtown Chicago was built on speculation and soon took the name of its major tenant (Xerox). The sleek and simple curtain wall of enameled off-white fluoropolymer aluminum panels and reflective glass slide over a reinforced concrete structure and around its soft postmodern corners in contrast to the modernist box.
The tower is fitted to its site where the building’s corner is exaggerated at street level with varying glaze percentages, and the white-black-silver palette of the lobby follows a diagonal pattern (also on the roof) in contrast to the exterior curvilinear design.
Silver double-glazed reflective glass pays homage to 1950’s and 1960’s Chicago modernism and the Xerox building’s closest neighbors: the kitty-corner Inland Steel Building (1954-1958, Skidmore, Owings and Merrill) and, directly across to the north, the First National (today, Chase) Bank building (1964-1969, C.F. Murphy Associates with Perkins and Will) .
Some have observed that Jahn’s curving tower may have been inspired by Louis Sullivan’s 1899 Schlesinger and Mayer department store building on State Street (what became in 1904 Carson, Pirie, Scott and Company Building and today is The Sullivan Center). The 1980 project’s original conception was for two curvilinear towers though obviously only one was constructed obfuscating and negating the original design’s uniquely bold impacts.
The glass and aluminum are arranged to alternate in horizontal bands which have modernist predecessors in Chicago and Europe. Hidden from the street view are more diagonals that cut a pattern across the roof. The building is a major transition for Jahn who, steeped in mid-20th century Modernism, harkened back to earlier 1920s modernist sources for the 55 W. Monroe (Xerox) building.
SOURCES for 55 W. Monroe: Building Chicago: The Architectural Masterworks, John Zukowsky, New York: Rizzoli with Chicago History Museum, 2016, p. 237.
AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Alice Sinkevitch, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 67.
The Sky’s The Limit: A Century of Chicago Skyscrapers, Jane H. Clarke, Pauline A. Saliga, John Zukowsky, New York: Rizzoli, 1990, p. 233.
Chicago Architecture and Design, 3rd Edition, Jay Pridmore and George A. Larson. New York: Abrams, 2018, pp. 210-211.
Helmut Jahn, Nory Miller, New York: Rizzoli, 1986, pp. 76-81.
A Mentor building has stood on this northeast corner of State and Monroe since 1873 when there had been a 7-story building erected here.1
Howard Van Doren Shaw’s only skyscraper presents an unusual mixture of styles.
There are windows grouped in horizontal bands between a four-level base of large showroom windows. The top is classically inspired with details that are strong and idiosyncratic. The building retains the character of its classical sources though they are used as large-scale motifs.2
Shaw’s 1906 building is 17 stories high with two basements on rock caissons.3
The photograph was taken on July 5, 2015.
1 Frank A. Randall, History of Development of Building Construction in Chicago, Second Edition, Revised and Expanded by John D. Randall, University of Illinois Press, Urbana and Chicago, 1999, p, 196.
2 Alice Sinkevitch, AIA Guide to Chicago, 2nd Edition, Harcourt, Inc., Orlando, 2004, p. 59.
3 Randall, p.265.
Seven years after Howard Van Doren Shaw’s sole skyscraper, Chicago Downtown’s Mentor Building (above), was built in 1906, the architect raised this highly sophisticated “great house” design in Evanston, Illinois.
The light-colored brick house is Colonial Revival with modifications. The façade’s symmetry is prominently displayed in its 5 equal openings for its two main floors and topped by a shortened pitched roof with three flat-roofed dormers. A chimney protrudes at the roof line to the north.
For the main mass there are aligned windows with a middle opening for both the first and second floor symmetrically displaying diverse residential functionality: a broad-arched porchway and genteel fanlight above a double door entry on the first floor and, at the second level. a wrought iron balcony providing a small, mainly decorative step landing.
The great house is situated on the northeast corner lot of a leafy yet trafficked suburban residential intersection, with the main building’s symmetry broken to the south by the then-popular sun porch extension. It is a low, two-story flat-roofed projection with an enclosed porch on the first floor and an open porch originally on the upper level.
A Guide to Chicago’s Historic Suburbs On Wheels & On Foot, Ira J. Bach, Chicago, Athens, Ohio, London: Ohio University Press (Swallow Press), 1981, p. 518.
FEATURE image: Picasso, Bust of a Woman, late 1909, Watercolor and gouache on cream laid paper, laid down on buff laid paper, 363 x 278 mm overall. The Art Institute of Chicago.
Armory Show, International Exhibition of Modern Art. The Cubist room, Gallery 53 (northeast view), Art Institute of Chicago, March 24–April 16, 1913. On the long wall are three of seven Picasso artworks included in that landmark exhibition. None are in “Picasso and Chicago” in 2013.
By John P. Walsh.
Almost as long as Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) was making his art, there have been bragging rights on the Catalan artist that have come from others. Even 40 years after the artist’s death at 91 years old, media talk in 2013 for Picasso and Chicago, a large art exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago from February 20 to May 12, 2013, revolves around American collector “firsts” associated with Picasso.
Which institution collected Picasso first? The Art Institute of Chicago in 1923.
Which institution collected Picasso most? The Chicago Renaissance Society by 1930.
Which institution had the first Picasso exhibition? The Arts Club of Chicago in 1923.
Which institution had the first Picasso retrospective? The Wadsworth Atheneumin Hartford, Connecticut in 1934.
The Art Institute of Chicago is able to put imagination aside and quote itself in Picasso and Chicago. Nearly all of the same inventory of Picasso artwork in this 2013 show were assembled and displayed in the exact same order in a previous exhibition at the museum called Picasso in Chicago held from February 3 to March 31, 1968. According to the museum director writing at that time, that exhibition had been inspired by the dedication of the Picasso sculpture on August 15, 1967, a five-story Cor-10 steel Chicago icon that still stands enigimatically in Daley Plaza. If public attention is what Pablo Picasso craves, then he should have no worries.
In the summer of 1906, during a working sojourn to Gósol in the Spanish Pyrenees, Picasso painted his mistress and muse, Fernande Olivier (French, 1881-1966).
Image above and below: Pablo Picasso, Nude with a Pitcher (detail).
Fernande Olivier and Pablo Picasso in 1905 in Paris.
The pairs of figures are related by both being involved in intimate activities, but represent two different subjects Picasso studied months apart. One dates from 1905 and the other from 1906. The pair on the right is a study for a major painting, La Coiffure, in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
There are several excellent reasons to see Picasso and Chicago in 2013 and they don’t always revolve around his art. It is a matter for city pride to know that Chicago possesses within its own collections the breadth of art resources to showcase, in chronological order, this Picasso show comprehensive of every major period. In these tight economic times kudos goes out to museum curators who have effectively displayed a vast amount and range of artwork by Pablo Picasso to produce a blockbuster show. The chronological exhibition of Picasso’s art includes works from The Art Institute of Chicago, The Arts Club of Chicago and The Renaissance Society and is front loaded providing for immediate pleasures.
The visitor is greeted nearly at the door by The Old Guitarist painted by Picasso in 1903-1904—a revered Blue Period painting in the Art Institute—and for the viewer to be edified by its presence is worth any exhibition’s admission price though there was no special exhibition fee beyond the price of general admission to the museum.
If front-loaded, does the rest of the show retain the same high interest? The answer is: yes and no. For all future Picasso shows in Chicago, curators can find several avenues to whittle away at the volume of artwork on display for Picasso and Chicago to present its most interesting parts. That downsizing opportunity intimates this show’s arguable shortcoming: as it displays the Spanish master’s later, increasingly commercial artwork, the Art Institute of Chicago’s 500 Picasso works in all mediums begins to reveal the challenges of building a seamlessly qualitative collection of contemporary art even when the artist is Picasso.
In late May 1901 Picasso came to Paris with three weeks to prepare for an exhibition at Vollard’s gallery. The exhibition was arranged by a Catalan dealer who roomed with the 19-year-old Picasso on the Boulevard de Clichy. Crazy Woman with Cats is one of the 64 paintings and several drawings Picasso prepared for the show.
Robert Allerton, a museum trustee since 1918, began to acquire Picasso drawings in 1923 with the sole purpose of donating them to the museum. Sketch of a young woman was Allerton’s first Picasso drawing purchase and museum donation in 1923 purchased in Chicago from Albert Roullier Galleries.
By the end of 1906 Picasso stopped painting and instead started to fill sketchbooks for a new major composition: Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) today in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
Picasso, Two Nudes, Standing, fall 1906 Graphite, with stumping, on cream laid paper (detail).
In the early 1920’s as Chicago started a buying frenzy of Picasso, another young Spanish painter twelve years younger than Picasso arrived into Paris and was immediately overtly critical of the great Picasso’s work at that time. That younger painter was Joan Miró (1893-1983).
Miró’s criticism of Picasso as well as of Henri Matisse (1869-1954)— it was more a kind of disgust—was basically that the pair, once young avant-gardists, were making all their art for their dealer. In other words, the older artists were making contemporary art mainly for the money. Such may be an inherent risk in making art that meets a market demand in that the artist is tempted to, after a fashion, sell-out. Miró knew at first look—and history has proven him basically correct—that the future of contemporary painting no longer rested in Picasso’s hands after about 1920. This is partly the reason why Miró turned to the “nonsense” art of the Dadaists for the future of his own painting.
Keeping Miro’s judgment in one’s mind at Picasso and Chicago one sees that, notable exceptions made, an earlier Picasso painting—from the Blue Period after 1901 to Picasso’s period of synthetic cubism until around 1920—offers cohesive artwork that contains a germ or seed of progress. The art collection in Picasso and Chicago, much of it produced following Miró’s critical judgment of Picasso, shares his problematic.
The Red Armchair of 1931 is hung at what is about the show’s halfway point. At this point, I might have exited. Yet where Miró’s critical judgment lags for me is that Picasso’s art is never incompetent or boring. His art is perceptibly linear and, despite its erotic themes, often contains qualities which satisfy and cleanse an art-hungry eye. Picasso’s art is ever ancient and ever new, and distinctly European. For me, seeing a Picasso connotes a stroll in Paris or feeling a sunburn on the face after revelry and reverie along some Mediterranean coast. Quite readily the show produced these kinds of vicarious experiences for me as i soaked up a plethora of Picasso’s later, lesser work in utilitarian Regenstein Hall.
Just before leaving Paris in September 1920, Picasso made a series of drawings of the Greek myth of the abduction of Hercules’ bride Deianira by the centaur Nessus. With this, Picasso became fascinated with Greek mythology and continued to make artwork using its themes.
Paintings and drawings by Picasso in winter 1909-10 continued to explore Cubism as it related to the human face and figure and its surroundings.
The painting (at left) of a Head of a Woman is one of the early Cubist artworks in “Picasso and Chicago.”
This painting dates to one of the most productive and inventive periods of Pablo Picasso’s career, a summer stay in the town of Horta de Ebro (now Horta de San Juan) in Spain, which lasted, with minor interruptions, from May to September of 1909. In these months, Picasso produced a series of landscapes, heads, and still lifes that are among the most highly acclaimed achievements of early Cubism. Fernande Olivier, Picasso’s mistress, was the model for the series of heads that the artist produced at this time.
This work is Pablo Picasso’s first large Cubist sculpture and represents the distinctive physiognomy of Fernande Olivier, who was the artist’s model and mistress from 1905 to 1912. Before making the bust, Picasso produced countless drawings and gouaches to explore the specific form and structure of his subject’s facial features. Her hair is in a coil and a topknot; her bulging jaw; her well-defined depression in the center of her upper lip. The Fernande series’ evolved from an agility of facial expression to fixed signs of its individual features.
German-born Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler (1884-1979) opened an art gallery in Paris in 1907. In 1908 Kahnweiler began representing Pablo Picasso (1881-1973) and introduced him to Georges Braque (1882-1963). Kahnweiler championed these artists’ revolutionary experiment with Cubism and purchased most of their paintings between 1908 and 1915. Kahnweiler sat for Picasso up to thirty times for this portrait.
Portrait photograph of Pablo Picasso, 1908.
Olga Khokhlova (1891-1955) in Picasso’s Montrouge studio, spring 1918. Olga married Picasso on July 12, 1918, at the Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Paris. On February 4, 1921, she gave birth to their son Paulo (1921-1975). After that, Olga and Picasso’s relationship deteriorated though they never divorced. Olga died in Cannes in 1955.
Picasso, Still Life, February 4, 1922, Oil on canvas 32 1/8 x 39 5/8 in. (81.6 x 100.3 cm), Dated, u.l.: “4-2-22-.” Ada Turnbull Hertle Endowment, 1953. Picasso produced a series of Cubist still lifes in 1922 that are simplified to flat planes in a patterned framework. Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) bought this canvas in 1923 to add to her collection of more than 30 Picasso paintings and even more of his drawings and watercolors. This still life was Stein’s last purchase of a painting by Picasso.
In late summer and fall of 1932, Picasso and Marie-Thérèse Walter (French, 1909-1977), the artist’s mistress from 1927 to 1935, were together in Boisgeloup. Picasso made three drawings on the same day on a theme of lovers serenading one another.
Marie-Thérèse Walter and Pablo Picasso. Their relationship began when she was seventeen and Picasso was 45 years old and married to Olga Khokhlova.
Picasso transforms the bullfighting theme where the half-man and half-bull Minotaur is the aggressor in the ring terrorizing a horse.
Dora Maar (French, 1907-1997) met Picasso in 1936 at the Café des Deux Magots in Paris. Her liaison with Picasso ended in 1943.
About making portraits of his mistress Dora Maar weeping, Picasso explained: “For years, I’ve painted her in tortured forms, not through sadism and not through pleasure either – just obeying a vision that forced himself on me.” At the end of their relationship Picasso confessed, “I can only see her weeping.”
Gilot was lover and muse to Picasso from 1943 to 1953. In the early 1990s I met Françoise Gilot accompanied by her husband, Jonas Sauk (1914-1995), when she was the featured speaker at the Alliance Française in Chicago. That evening Gilot made it perfectly clear upfront that she was not going to talk about Picasso.
Jacqueline Roque was muse and second wife of Pablo Picasso. Their marriage lasted 11 years until his death, during which time he created over 400 portraits of her, more than any of Picasso’s other loves.
Picasso and Jacqueline, his second wife. Pablo Picasso met Jacqueline Roque (1927-1986) in 1953 when she was 26 years old and he was 72. He romanced her until she agreed to date him. Only in 1955, when Picasso’s first wife Olga Khokhlova died, did Picasso decide to marry Jacqueline in Vallauris in 1961. They were married until Picasso’s death in 1973.
There are 250 items on display in Picasso and Chicago—including paintings, prints, drawings, sculptures, and ceramics—and only begins to manifest the prodigious genius of Pablo Picasso.
Picasso and Chicago may have closed, but many, if not most, of these works in Chicago’s cultural institutions and private collections can be savored with the simplicity of a museum visit. A visitor can do no better than visit The Art Institute of Chicago and see Picasso’s The Old Guitarist and The Red Armchair. By that begins one’s own new adventure of absorption of the Spanish master’s artwork whose home is Chicago. The 2013 show is over but more than a few of its best parts are on display right now in these institutions’ permanent collections.