But it’s not the Picasso. As Adam Gopnik, a staff writer for The New Yorker and an art historian, said in a lecture in conjunction with the art institute’s show, “all successful public art becomes its place,” whatever its original meaning. The Statue of Liberty says New York. Christ the Redeemer says Rio de Janeiro. And the Picasso says Chicago.


Now You Know: Artists whose work is displayed at public places on the Loop include Marc Chagall, Joan Miró, Alexander Calder and Jean Dubuffet.



Ask any Chicagoan.

“It’s just supposed to be Chicago,” says Nikki Klix, 30, a Chicago actress who was also snapping photos of the Picasso. “That’s what it means to me.”

“I see Chicago,” says Sean Gallagher, 36, another admirer. “I knew it was called the Picasso before I knew who Picasso was.”

The Picasso has been a make-do slide for two generations of Chicago children. It has been a silent witness to dozens of demonstrations and rallies. It has been the looming presence in the background, never tapping its foot, at thousands of outdoor concerts. It has worn Cubs and White Sox caps in the summer, a Bears helmet in the fall and a Blackhawks helmet in the spring. It has toughed out heat waves and snowstorms. And it has never complained — not once — about rude people who stand right in front of it and call it a monkey, a dog and a beady-eyed alderman.

When the Picasso turned 20 in 1987, the City of Chicago awarded it a medal of honor. Seriously. Somebody from the mayor’s office hung a 6-foot-wide medal on it and declared it “an all-around good statue.” Now the Bean has shoved aside the Picasso as the pre-eminent symbol of Chicago, and such is the natural order of things. But the Bean has years of work ahead before it can achieve the Picasso’s deep patina of civic affection.

No disrespect to the Bean intended, but if you put a Cubs cap or a Bears helmet on that thing, it would slide right off. 



TOM McNAMEE is the editorial-page editor of the ­Chicago Sun-Times and the author of several books with Chicago themes. Among his contributions to American Way was a June 15, 2013, cover story on flaming saganaki at Chicago’s Greektown restaurants.