On July 8, 1967, a month before Pablo Picasso’s unnamed sculpture was to be unveiled in the plaza of the newly-built Civic Center (now the Richard J. Daley Center), Hoellen threw an epic hissy fit in the chambers of the City Council. He started by introducing a resolution demanding his colleagues suspend council rules and replace immediately the “rusting heap of iron” with a statue honoring Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. When Daley and Ald. Thomas Keane (31st Ward), the administration’s floor leader, tried to proceed with other business, Hoellen whipped out a homemade helmet, “fashioned from a metal lampshade with a cardboard image of the Picasso on it” (Chicago Tribune; July 8, 1967), and paraded around the floor, screaming comments like “five stories of boilerplate” and “it doesn’t belong in our city.”
As the council clerk attempted to enter the next resolution into the city’s record, Hoellen marched up to the mayor and deposited the helmet on his rostrum. Without hesitating, Daley tossed it on the floor next to his feet, a move that drew laughs from the gallery. Two weeks later, in an interview with the Tribune (July 30, 1967), Hoellen clarified his artistic analysis: “The statue represents the power of City Hall, stark, ugly, overpowering, frightening,” he said. “If you want to get junk [in the Civic Center plaza], get two junk automobiles that have been involved in a head-on collision on the Kennedy expressway. They’ll attract attention, but, much more important than that, they’ll create a meaningful idea. They’ll tell a powerful story.”
Hoellen may have been the most vocal opponent of Chicago’s Picasso, presented to the public for the first time 45 years ago next month, but he wasn’t the only local frustrated with or confused by Daley’s new acquisition. Universally admired half a century later, it took time and a copyright dispute for Chicagoans to embrace fully the brooding, steel abstraction that sits in their city’s heart. Or as Hoellen later called it, "the heroic monument to some dead dodo.”
Without William Hartmann, principal at the architecture firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill (SOM), there would have been no piece of work for Hoellen to mock. When the Public Building Commission of Chicago hired SOM (among a few other firms) to design a 31-story civic center in the city’s central business district, it was Hartmann who concluded that an attention-grabbing statue would be a suitable anchor for the spacious plaza—345 feet by 220 feet—adjoining the giant courthouse. And instead of showcasing another sober historical monument, likely with some old war hero on a horse, Hartmann dreamed big. Carrying with him the imprimatur of the culturally conservative mayor—"If you gentlemen think he's the greatest, that's what we want for Chicago, and you go ahead”—Hartmann traveled to the home of 82-year-old Pablo Picasso in the French Riviera, bearing an album of Chicago photographs and a model of their site.
Over the next three years, whenever he was in Europe, Hartmann dropped in on the famous artist to rehash his elevator pitch and deliver an assortment of Chicago-themed gifts: a Sioux war bonnet, a White Sox blazer, a Bears helmet, a Chicago Fire Department hat, photos of Ernest Hemingway and Carl Sandburg.  Though Picasso had never visited the Windy City, Hartmann was charming, and the idea of creating a dramatic monumental sculpture for a major American metropolis appealed to him. Finally, in 1965, the master completed a 42-inch model based on a series of drawings he had started 35 years prior. He turned down a $100,000 from the Building Commission (a pittance for what his services would have commanded on the open market), preferring to give the design as a "gift to the people of Chicago."
Hartmann rushed it back home, where city officials authorized SOM to investigate its practicality. The firm estimated that for $300,000, welders at U.S. Steel in nearby Gary could translate the model into a finished sculpture, clocking in at 50 feet and 162 tons. Three local foundations jumped at the opportunity to underwrite the construction. It wasn’t easy to build; a 12-man crew of iron workers pounded away for three months, “[rolling] steel to sizes which never have been rolled” (WTTW). But on August 15, the alloy sculpture was assembled at the corner of Washington and Clark, and 50,000 Chicagoans descended on the plaza to watch Mayor Daley commemorate his giant attraction.
At the time, the AP speculated that it was the “largest crowd ever gathered to watch the introduction of a piece of sculpture.” The city, hoping to capitalize on the attention, ramped up the pageantry. There was a performance from the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, invocations from a minister and rabbi, and speeches from dignitaries like Hartmann. Daley read a telegram sent by President Lyndon Johnson  and Gwendolyn Brooks read a poem she wrote specifically for the occasion.  Then came the moment the curious crush had waited for: the mayor stepped back up to the mic, announced his administration was “[dedicating] this celebrated work … with the belief that what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow," and yanked off a turquoise cloth that was draping the statue. The cover snagged on its steel noise—nearly sending Daley’s press secretary into cardiac arrest—before tumbling past the marble base and onto the ground.
There it stood, 150 feet of it, for the city and world to see. And all the crowd did, at least initially, was gasp. “The weakest pinch hitter on the Cubs receives more cheers,” Mike Royko joked in his Chicago Daily News column the next day.
Most just didn’t know what to make of it. They’d never seen a piece of art so big, so centrally located, and so mysterious. It didn’t really look like the head of a woman, as they’d been told it would. Surveyed by reporters that day, crowd members delivered their own amateur interpretations: an Afghan hound, a rib cage and appendix, a sea horse, a character from “Kukla, Fran, and Ollie,” a baboon, a Barbary ape, an aardvark. My favorite? “Nothing, absolutely nothing” (Tribune, August 15, 1967).
A few high-profile residents joined Hoellen’s anti-Picasso brigade. Even before the statue was unveiled, Col. Jack Reilly—the mayor's director of special events—made headlines for urging its removal. Royko, the most widely read newsman in the region, wrote a withering (and frankly philistine) column in which he described the piece as “some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect.”  Less preoccupied with its literal meaning, experts fell in love with Picasso’s design. “Like a fine bridge,” an art critic for the New York Times wrote (August 15, 1967), “it combines absolute firmness with an effect of lightness.” Time declared the acquisition “one of the most magnificent windfalls in [Chicago’s] history.” “There will come a time,” surmised James Brown IV, longtime director of the Chicago Community Trust, “when we can’t imagine anything else being in the plaza except the Chicago Picasso because it is so appropriate to the site and backdrop.”
Brown’s intuition was right, but Chicagoans took a few years to grow accustomed to their new female. Were it not for a 1970 court decision, in which a judge determined that the statue’s copyright belonged to the public and not to the Public Building Commission, it might not have happened at all. The year before, Letter Edged in Black Press, an art publisher, filed suit against the city, arguing that it had no right to prevent merchants and artists from reproducing Picasso’s design. For those that enjoy legalese, the details of the decision are here. Essentially, the court ruled that the city—as part of its publicity blitz—had authorized the press to photograph Picasso’s model and publish those shots in newspapers and magazines without first affixing a copyright notice to the design. Because of that technicality, the Copyright Act of 1909 did not apply, and the work was tossed into the public domain. According to the Tribune’s 25th anniversary retrospective (August 14, 1992), “the sculpture's big eye and flowing mane soon found its way onto postcards and keychains.” That explosion in swag “bred familiarity, the first step toward love.”
Indeed, it’s tough to find any Chicagoan these days who doesn’t appreciate Ald. Hoellen's “rusting heap of iron,” the city’s first piece of public art for art's sake. The steel behemoth has stood for 45 years, staring us in the face, and we keep staring back at her.
 Walter Netsch, another partner at SOM, later told the Tribune (March 7, 2003) that Hartmann would consistently ask, “How are we going to amuse him?"
 "You have demonstrated once again that Chicago is a city second to none."
 “Does man love Art? Man visits Art, but squirms/Art hurts.”
 Royko did conclude that the statute’s “pitiless, cold, mean” eyes effectively captured the city’s “I will get you before you will get me spirit.” So in some ways, he was a fan.