Tony Tassett, Paul, 2006. Fiberglass over steel frame. 360 x 252 x 176 in.

Chicago: Sculpture Town

Carl Sandburg’s “city of the big shoulders” has established itself as a city of big art, and it maintains a passionate, occasionally contentious, and fondly attentive relationship with its sculpture. In 1967, Chicago dedicated one of the first—if not the first—contemporary, monumental, non-memorial public sculptures in the United States in its city hall plaza, a 50-foot-high, Cor-ten steel abstraction by Picasso. The equine Cubist head prompted an initial, acrid buzz of criticism, which gradually faded as Chicagoans mulled it over, then affectionately adopted the work, dubbing it The Picasso.

The Picasso inaugurated and pioneered an extraordinary expansion of public sculpture, supported by federal, state, and municipal percent-for-art programs, as well as by private and corporate contributions. These initiatives turned the downtown into an outdoor museum filled with scores of large-scale sculptures by international artists with names such as Calder, Chagall, Dubuffet, Miró, Oldenburg, and Nevelson. The momentum culminated in 2004 with the development of the $490 million Millennium Park on the lake shore, which introduced a new sculptural icon for Chicago, Anish Kapoor’s $23 million, 110-ton Cloud Gate. Chicagoans have taken this work to heart, too, by once again devising their own title, The Bean.