Sunday, July 23, 2006

The Picasso Explained

When I was growing up in Chicago during the '70s and early '80s, there was one object whose image represented the city on most publicities. It was not the skyline or the gangster history, but the untitled Picasso statue in Richard J. Daley Plaza. Recognizable even by the Blues Brothers.

Picasso never gave an explanation as to what the sculpture is to represent. So speculation has been going on ever since. Take a look at the image to the right. What do YOU see? A baboon? A horse? A bird? Or just a totally abstract shape?

Well a few years ago someone clued me into what it is an abstraction of. Look at it from the view on the left. Do you see anything? This is most likely the angle that Picasso wanted the viewer to observe the sculpture. You can see some elements start to pop out that tell you what it is. But since the sculpture is made of the same Corten steel as the building behind it, it can get muddled.

If we continue around the sculpture, the figure-ground relationship with the shadows should make it clearer.

Look at the photo on the right. Now the shadow gives a clear outline of what this is an abstraction of. The left side of the shadow is a clearly the outline of a face complete with lips, nose, and eye sockets. This is supposed to be a woman due to the long flowing hair that follows from the face over to the back of the head.

Now if you return to the second image, you can see that he included both an eye(s) and nostrils to the image. It is still more difficult to read as clearly as from the backside, but then again it is an abstraction.

Ever since learning this, I have come to appreciate the sculpture much more. Not that I no longer see it as a baboon, but because I really enjoy the abstaction in 3d. It's really a great piece of art in one of the most active plazas downtown.


Anonymous said...

Around the corner in the city I lived, Rotterdam in the Netherlands, was also a sculpture by Picasso. Hundred meter further on was a sculpture (a relief in a brick wall actually) by Henry Moore. I passed these two artworks for many years before I found out they were made by famous artists. And since they weren't signed, were full of moss I wasn't the only one who didn't know they were probably quite valuable. A few years ago they cleaned them, and put up some lighting. Also then I found out who had made them when I read about it in the local newspaper.

Zeke's, the Montreal Art Gallery said...


Apologies in advance because I'm going to be extremely agressive.

But could I respectfully ask that both of you come up with original thoughs, please? I know you can do it.

Anonymous said...

I prefer the abstraction that Gina capture on her italian ice sign....

Zeke's, the Montreal Art Gallery said...


To clarify, slightly. I much prefer when people use their own head to come up with the what's and the how's about visual art.

The line "someone clued me into what it is" hit all my buttons - why is it always someone else who can give authoritative statements about art.

Would you even contemplate writing that "someone clued me into what the song Some Girls was about?" Or "someone clued me into what the film The Godfather was about?"

You can interpret it as well (sometimes even better) than anybody out there. I rage against the mind numbing comfort of niching the visual arts into somehting "too complex for me to understand."

-Rant Off

Unknown said...

Zeke, I understand what you are saying. Maybe 'clued me in' was not the best choice of words. Would 'suggest what it could be' be better?

One reason for saying it like that was because after looking at it like that it seemed so obvious. Like it was something hidden. After many many years of appreciating it simply as a sculpture, it added a new dimension.

In my defense, this sculpture is something I grew up with. As with other things I have grown up with, there has been a slow process of taking a more critical look at things taken for granted, be it art, buildings, or public figures. La Jette or impressionist paintings are so much more fascinating now that I have had an education in art. I am constantly seeing details in buildings now that I look at them more closely and with a more critical eye. And public figures from my childhood(and people in general) are not black and white as they were as a child.

I understand your arguement since all too often people don't dig into these types of things. Modern architecture runs up against the same obstacles. Although we can't know everything about everything, no effort on any front is shameful.

Unknown said...

Funny, jason. Sorry we couldn't meet up when we were in Chitown. Hopefully we'll have more time next time.

Gina's is right next to Buena Beef on far west Roosevelt (in your neck of the woods, forest, whatever).

Zeke's, the Montreal Art Gallery said...


Probably what would have helped most would have been a less stressful Monday :-)

I hope that the vacation is even more enjoyable than it sounds.