Chicago: Picasso sculpture, Richard J Daley Ctr
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Chicago: Picasso sculpture, Richard J Daley Ctr
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photo: 10/11/2004


Picasso: A Paris View of Chicago?

Pablo Picasso’s sculpture is such a familiar, well known image, I wanted to take a photo of it at a somewhat different angle than that from which it’s usually seen.

I also wanted to put the Richard J. Daley Ctr. in the backgound so you could see the details of its architectural facade more clearly. The steel and its color of the Picasso sculpture and Richard J. Daley Ctr. behind it match, too! (The Richard J. Daley Center was designed by the architect Jacques Brownson, who worked for the firm C. F. Murphy Associates. The building’s consstruction was finished in 1965.)

Mayor Richard J. Daley’s facial profile is said to appear when the Picasso sculpture is viewed from behind, at a corner angle. According to the Emporis website (which provides images and information about tall buildings in cities around the world), if you look at the Picasso sculpture from the northeast, you’ll see the profile of the man who was mayor of Chicago during the second half of the 1950s, all of the 1960s, and the first half of the 1970s. (His son, Richard M. Daley became the mayor of Chicago in 1989.) The photo is by: Daniel Kieköwer.

Look for the same sort of caricature profile you think of if you’ve seen the profile drawing of Alfred Hitchcock on the television show "Hitchcock Presents" which ran on air from 1955-1965. Both are a simple composition done in a few curved lines drawn. Alfred Hitchcock’s profile was drawn by the movie director, himself.

The Picasso sculpture was placed in Daley Plaza in 1967. It was commissioned in 1963 by the architects of the Richard J Daley Center. Picasso produced a maquette (small scaled model) of the sculpture in 1965.

Pablo Picasso did not accept a commission for his sculpture.

The steel sculpture is 50 feet tall, 162 lbs., and was made by U.S. Steel in Gary, Indiana.

There are many different ideas about what Picasso’s sculpture "is."

Some have described it as a "wolf." Some are more specific, saying it resembled Picasso’s dog, an Afghan. Others see the figure of a woman’s body (with very pronounced hips) in the part of the sculpture beneath its canine-shaped "face."

Of course, there is no "correct" way to interpret the sculpture. In fact, perhaps to your annoyance, it’s typical for artists to ask you what you think their work is. In other words, they are interested in your reaction to their art. They are not interested in telling you what you should think (about their art).

Creativity belongs to everyone: artist and audience. In other words, feel free to be create your own interpretations of Picasso’s sculpture.

That could be why the sculpture has no title naming it. If Picasso had titled the sculpture, he risked imposing his interpretation of it upon others.

If you look at what most people might call the sculpture’s "face," you might see a closely set pair of eyes. They are set inside what you could call a very furrowed "brow." (It has the same elongated shape as an American football or the hydrogen-filled Hindenburg, the zeppelin that exploded into flames upon landing in Lakehurst, New Jersey on May 6, 1937.) The "face" has a long, tapering canine snout that ends in a pair of "nostrils."

One the ways I interpret the sculpture is as a human figure who is impressed by his visit to the city. The woman’s "body" in this interpretation becomes, instead, two different pairs of lips. Each pair of lips faces outward from the sculpture in the opposite direction, away from each other.

Enlarge the sculpture’s face under this new interpretation to include the lips. The "snout" can then be reinterpreted as a long Gallic nose on the face of the human figure whose paying a visit to city.

Instead of limiting the sculpture to a single moment in time, the human visitor’s head has turned in three different positions as it looks up at the city around it. Each time it turns, the head is seen at a different moment in time, of course. (The head sits on top of a very short body. This short body is not done to true human scale.)

The sculpture turns its head to one side and then the other. You can see the profile of its nose when it turns its head: a high rounded hooked nose ending in a sharp point. (It’s the part of the sculpture that might otherwise be interpreted as one of the "ears" of the "wolf.")

As it turns its head, the sculpture also stops at mid-turn. It stares straight ahead.

In this photograph, you see how much the "eyes" are turned up at an angle, as if the sculpture’s "head" was cocked upwards at a severe angle, looking at the sights of the city.

The sculpture’s expression, to my eye, appears to take a somewhat unconscious delight in having the opportunity to see new places and meet new people. The lips are slightly parted: perhaps showing an unconscious opening of the mouth. This reveals the keen interest the sculpture takes in its Chicago setting.

A sense of culture "shock" can follow upon being exposed to a different world of unfamiliar habits and ways of thinking. Perhaps the human visitor to Chicago with the long, rounded hooked Gallic nose is suffering from such culture shock, too.

Such culture shock always absorbs you mind in your new surroundings. So much is unfamiliar to you. All your senses become heightened. This new place has got hold of you. Whether you want to be there or not, you are paying attention to where you are in a way you never do in more familiar surroundings..

Certainly, a visitor from Paris might be surprised by the attitudes of people and many of the things they do that Chicagoans simply take for granted as being part of the "ordinary" routine of their daily lives.

Despite their roughly equivalent population both as cities and metropolitian areas, Chicago and Paris have very different cultural personalities.

Picasso, who placed himself in self-imposed exile from Franco’s Spainand, lived in the French capital. He’s one of the interesting links between Chicago and Paris, two cities so radically different from each other in temperament in many ways that they are not often thought of together at the same time – even for the purpose of juxtaposing them against each other.

Chicago is often thought of as being "down to earth," "practical," "self-deprecating," "egalitarian," "blunt," "ordinary," and even "crude."

Paris, in contrast – especially as it is often thought of by many Americans – is supposed to be "proud," "haughty," "artistic," "romantic," "haute couture" ("high style"), and "sophisticated."

Chicago is never fond of ideological certainties. It goes againt the grain of the city’s character as much as pulling a handful of screeching fingernails down a blackboard would set its teeth on edge. Chicago is not known for the most stringent application of somebody else’s theoretical presumptions about how other people should live (or even how to "interpret" the law), most notably in matters of: race, the functioning of city government, and, during Prohibition in the 1920s, speakeasies and alcohol.

I think Chicagoans evaluate how good an idea is by its success in improving their daily lives. They are not temperamently disposed to the blind logical consistency of burdening others with lofty abstract principles that ignore the situation they find themselves living in.

Chicagoans, taken as a whole, for all the monumental scale of its downtown skyscraper studded skyline and the big lake, seem to take great delight in the most ordinary things. Of course, daily life is as "human scale" as it gets.

Paris intellectual and artistic life, however, lives for "big" ideas. It draws its mental breath from the intoxicating perfumes of their abstract ideological resins. These are often, furthermore, refined to a very high grade of greatest purity.

Paris, in other words, starts with the big idea and works down from there (seeking a strict application of theory to practice in daily life). Chicago, however, starts at the "bottom" (ordinary life) and works its way up.

But both cities have a strong streak of anti-authoritariansim in their political character.

Paris, of course, is a city of revolution: the Great Revolution of 1789 (which quickly resulted in the end of the French monarchy); the Paris Commune in 1871 (in the aftermath of France losing a war with Prussia); May 1968 (starting as a student protest against police arrests in the aftermath of a volatile meeting of opposing leftist factions at Nanterre University, an extension of the Sorbonne, built on the outskirts of Paris in the 1960s as an American-style campus – isolated on its own grounds, separate from the town and neighborhood in which it was placed). France also has a long history of labor unrest and general strikes.

Chicago has a long history of labor strikes and political protest: the Haymarket Riot (May 4, 1886, on the corner of W Randolph St. & Desplaines St., west of the Loop, a few blocks across the South Branch of the Chicago River, during a rally promoted by anarchists for the eight hour work day in which a bomb was thrown into police ranks, the police opening fire in response, the events resulting in the deaths of at least seven police officers and four workers); the Pullman Strike (May 11, 1894, which occurred after the Pullman Palace Car Co. cut wages in the early 1890s when there was an economic downturn); and the Democratic Party National Convention (August, 1968, in which young protesters opposed to the American government’s continued prosecution of the Vietnam War clashed with the Chicago police force).

Another example of the meeting of the (different) minds of Chicago and Paris is the downtown Van Buren St. Metra station entrance. It is a gift the city of Paris gave to Chicago in 2001. (The Metra is Chicago’s commuter rail network to its far-flung suburbs. The Van Buren Street Station is a station in downtown Chicago.)

The station entrance is a reproduction of a Paris Metro subway station entrance that was designed by Hector Guimard (1867-1942) in an art noveau style. The florid details and elongated designs of art noveau (a style known for stretching the human figure into a greater ratio of height to bredth than would occur in a more naturalistic depiction) stand in contrast to the "modern" functionalist designs of Chicago architecture by Louis Sullivan at the end of the nineteenth century and Mies van der Rohe in the middle of the twentieth century.

Paris is one of Chicago’s many sister cities. Perhaps it’s a question of "opposites attract," even when they don’t understand each other (especially when they don’t understand each other.)

Wikipedia: Alfred Hitchcock

Wikipedia: Chicago Picasso

Wikipedia: enlargement of the image of the Chicago Picasso…

Wikipedia: Haymarket Riot

Wikipedia: Hector Guimard

Wikipedia: May 1967

Wikipedia: Pullman Strike

Wikipedia: University of Parix X (Nanterre)

Wikipedia: Van Buren Street (Metra)
Encyclopedia of Chicago: Picasso Sculpture in Daley Plaza

Glass Steel Stone: Chicago’s untitled Picasso sculpture

Paris, France: Chicago’s Sister City Since 1996

Emporis: Richard J. Daley Center, Chicago

Emporis: Picasso sculpture from the northeast showing Mayor Daley’s profile

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