Playing with Picasso

I caught my breath as my foot slipped on the slick slope. “Oh God,” I prayed. “Please do not make me have to explain that I broke my ankle climbing up the Picasso.” It was slipperier than I thought it would be. I made it to the top and sat down, running my hand over the cool, rough metal.

I had discovered that the sculpture that I’d walked by a dozen times was a Picasso on my first visit to the Art Institute. I learned all about how Picasso created it –making sketches and then building it, first in cardboard, and then in steel, before finalizing the design to send a bridge builder in Indiana for fabrication and installation. I’d read about how he had donated it to the people of Chicago. Suddenly, the sculpture I had been referring to as the “wolf-angel” (because nobody knows what it is) had new significance. It was a Picasso.

This Saturday was a beautiful late summer day and the city was alive. The sun was dropping behind the buildings as I took a left onto Washington, heading to the Walgreens to return the movie I’d rented from Redbox. Daley Plaza was more crowded than usual. People sat in twos and threes on the benches watching the children run in packs. I stopped to take it all in, enjoying the way the cheerful chatter of the place mingled with the rattle of the jackhammer two blocks over. Then I noticed the sculpture.

It had its usual crowd of admirers, their cameras pointed up to capture the face of the 50 foot tall statue. But something was happening at the base that I had never seen before. Kids were climbing up the 8-foot slope and then sliding down to land on the marble pedestal. I watched, slightly horrified, as three of them climbed up and then came down head-first on their stomachs, stretched out like Superman. What were they doing? Where were their parents? Didn’t they know this was a Picasso? I stood there and watched as they came down again, hooting as they spun on the descent, from head-first to feet-first. I watched parents slide with their kids tucked between their knees and couples come down, their hands clasped together. And all I thought was…but this is a Picasso!

Somewhere between dropping off that movie and driving back into the city this afternoon after visiting a friend, I started to consider what Picasso would have thought if he’d been standing with me. I realized that I didn’t think he would have been offended. I think he would have been delighted. As an artist, I think he would have relished people enjoying his creation. I think he would have been enchanted with their play. I think he would have loved seeing them engage his art, maybe in ways he’d never thought of.

So that’s how I found myself perched at the top of the makeshift slide at the bottom of the Picasso. I tucked my purse under my arm, glanced around to make sure that nobody was looking, and pushed off. I came to a stop on the flat marble and jumped off the pedestal. I hurried back across the plaza, pushing some escaped hairs back into my ponytail. I stopped at the corner to look back at the sculpture, and smiled. And I think Picasso would have smiled too.

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