It was August 15th, 1967. I remember it like it was yesterday. I had just picked up my new girlfriend. She was quite a catch for me. I don’t think I ever had a girlfriend as beautiful. She was blond with a long ponytail.
Well, anyway, to get back to my story. The plan was to go to downtown Chicago, wander around, have lunch and maybe take in a movie. But we got caught up in a crowd at the Civic Center Plaza.
“What’s up?” I asked a bystander.
“They’re unveiling Picasso’s gift to Chicago.”
“Oh, he’s the guy that paints those funny pictures.”
“That’s right, but this is supposed to be an iron sculpture.”
“I can’t wait to see what it looks like,” said my girlfriend.
“Well, according to the papers, it will be a sculpture for people who like to laugh at the ridiculousness of the human condition.”
Up on the podium, were the Mayor and several men of the cloth, giving speeches. I thought that strange because Picasso was an atheist.
Then the Mayor pulled the ribbon and the covering fell away. My girlfriend and I stood there with a thousand other people with our mouths open. There was some applause but most of the audience were silent!
“What is it?” my girlfriend whispered.
“I don’t know,” I stammered.
Before us stood a three-dimensional, cubist iron sculpture standing 50 feet tall.
“It’s a big ugly metal thing,” someone shouted.
“If Picasso did it, it must be wonderful,” someone else exclaimed.
“It looks like a horse from the front,” a teenager shouted.
“Chicago now has culture,” someone said sarcastically.
My girlfriend and I walked around the metal thing to see it from different angles. Most of the people that were still there stood completely blank-faced.
Some people wandered off shaking their heads.
The eyes of the sculpture had a cold mean look. One man said it reminded him of Al Capone!
We were at the side of the sculpture, when I said:
“It looks like you in profile with your long ponytail.”
My girlfriend stared at me in disbelief.
The guy next to us said, “No, it looks like a baboon.”
My girlfriend walked off in a huff and got lost in the crowd. I never saw or heard from her again!
A month later, when I happened to be walking past the sculpture, I thought about the girl with the ponytail…
This is Chicago, land of the mob, home to scarface Capone, anything can happen. She’s probably just another victim of the Chicago Nightstalker, one of many that disappear in Chicago and are never heard from again. So I can’t blame myself for insulting her, it wasn’t my fault. If she didn’t like the Picasso, she had no soul!
It’s funny though, as the years went by, Chicagoans came to love the IRON LADY!
Not a fan of this artist and I sometimes think in the art-world it is a case of the Emperor’s New Clothes when it comes to art.
Very interesting blog. Shows art is in the eyes of the beholder.
Everyone feels something different.
Interesting story,Dave !
Did a quick google trawl for Chicago “Iron Lady” Picasso …much mention of Thatcher …lol…but brought me straight back here ,to your blogpost !
Visited the town Guernica a few yrs ago…when visiting Bilbao …atmosphere still redolent of the attrocity …captured by Picasso.
In an art appreciation class in college we studied Picasso. We learned exactly what he was interpreting in his art. It was extremely interesting and I felt like I could really understand Picasso. I aced the class. Then I never looked at a Picasso again. I never understood the “Iron Lady” and I thought it was a joke on Chicago.
I totally agree with Jane Risdon. I think the emperor is naked.
Great post Dave…art imitating life?
Mayor Daley said of the Picasso sculpture:
“What is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.”
But, all these years later, it is still very strange to us Chicagoans!