Picasso’s famous sculpture in the Daley Center plaza turned 40 this week. It’s a piece that I’ll always associate with the essay Mike Royko wrote upon its unveiling, “Picasso and the Cultural Rebirth of Chicago,” available in his posthumous collection One More Time. He regarded it as Chicago’s Guernica, but it seems to have ceased being divisive long ago.

“[A]nyone who didn’t have a closed mind–which means thinking that anything with the name Picasso connected must be wonderful–could see that it was nothing but a big, homely metal thing.

“That is all there is to it. Some soaring lines, yes. Interesting design, I’m sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect. It has eyes that are pitiless, cold, mean. 

“But why not? Everybody said it had the spirit of Chicago. And from thousands of miles away, accidentally or on purpose, Picasso captured it. 

“Up there in that ugly face is the spirit of Al Capone, the Summerdale scandal cops, the settlers who took the Indians but good.

“Its eyes are like the eyes of every slum owner who made a buck off the small and weak. And of every building inspector who took a wad from the slum owner to make it all possible.” . . .

“It is all there in that Picasso thing–the I Will spirit. The I will get you before you get me spirit.

“Picasso has never been here, they say. You’d think he’s been riding the L all his life.”