Over the course of a short walk through downtown Chicago on a rare sunny afternoon, the city’s pioneering modern architecture and distinct mix of styles is immediately evident. Gleaming glass and steel towers loom over the city’s first modern skyscrapers, built in the wake of the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Elaborate and stately buildings by Louis Sullivan, John Root and Charles Atwood dating from the turn of the century stare down minimalist, mid-century Miesian structures typical of firms like Skidmore, Owings and Merrill—marking an architectural transformation driven by modernist idealism.
Holabird & Roche’s elegant Chicago Building (1904-5), located at Madison and State Street on what was once known as the “World’s Busiest Corner,” is exemplary of the enormously influential Chicago School of architecture. The most famous architects associated with the Chicago School include Dankmar Adler, Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan, Henry Hobson Richardson, John Root, William Holabird and Martin Roche. The Chicago Building’s steel-frame construction, ornate terra cotta masonry cladding, and large window bays are typical of Chicago School buildings from this period. The building currently functions as a residence dormitory, housing students from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Picasso’s untitled sculpture in Daley Plaza is commonly referred to as just The Picasso or with a bit more specificity, The Chicago Picasso. Picasso famously refused to make work on commission, but agreed to the project after one of the architects working on the Civic Center Plaza (renamed the Richard J. Daley Center, Daley Plaza in 1976), Richard Bennett, wrote him a poem asking him to create a sculpture. Picasso refused the $100,000 he was offered in payment, stating that the work was a gift to the city and people of Chicago. Fabricated in Gary, Indiana, by the American Bridge Company division of the United States Steel Corporation, the sculpture was unveiled to great controversy on August 15, 1967. Huge crowds gathered for the ceremony and the sculpture was immediately the source of public debate. The day after the ceremony, Chicago reporter Mike Royko wrote what would become one of his most cited Sun-Times columns about the plaza commission, “Picasso and the Cultural Rebirth of Chicago.” To quote a few lines from the final passages of Royko’s piece: “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. …”
Picasso’s Chicago monument/sculpture (perhaps Tony Smith, whose work so consistently explored the ground where monument and sculpture meet, would have known what to make of it exactly) was dedicated on August 15, 1967; ground had been broken on May 25, 1967. In between those two dates, marked, among other things, by the death of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte and the delivery of John Lennon’s psychedelic Phantom V Rolls Royce, Malgorzata Macuga is born in Warsaw. In October that year, the MCA opened its doors in a building at 237 East Ontario Street (formerly a bakery that had also housed the headquarters of Hugh Hefner’s Playboy magazine) with the maiden exhibition Pictures To Be Read/Poetry To Be Seen. Other major events that took place in Chicago that year were the infamous blizzard, the Lincoln Park Be-In, the creation of the Wall of Respect on the city’s South Side, and the Martin Luther King-led New Politics Convention at Palmer House. In the artist’s place of birth, the Rolling Stones played their first ever Polish concert—in fact their first ever performance in a communist country.
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Kluczynski Federal Building, one of three buildings he designed in Chicago’s Federal Center Plaza, and, temporary home to the offices of President Obama following his election in 2008.