My father spoke of being a law clerk, traveling from the law firm on south LaSalle St in the heart of downtown Chicago to the various court houses in order to file pleadings, pay fees, and check the status of files. Every morning he would go to the infamous "court call". There he would meet judge Englestein, a large and somewhat daunting character, to see which cases were ready to go to court.
Amongst the buzz and bustle of everyday life as a law clerk my father found refuge between the hours of 11:30 and noon. In those thirty minutes he would scour the confines of downtown acquainting himself with the likes of Pablo Picasso Alexander Calder, Marc Chagall, Joan Miro, and Yaacov Agam. These influencers would tweak and twist his mind allowing him to broaden the reaches of his mind beyond the blocks of a midwestern city that seemingly had it all.
He was fond of a statue by Picasso found at 50 West Washington St, it was under the shadow of the Richard J. Daley Center in the heart of the windy city. The untitled sculpture weighed in at 162 short tons and was a staggering 50 feet tall. The flat black steel behemoth was fabricated by the American Bridge Company division of the United States Steel Corporation in Gary Indiana. Although the sculpture was notorious for its social controversy my father frequented the sculpture, wondering why Picasso created such a monstrous "baboon".
Day in and day out he would frequent the steel monster exploring its every angle, crack, and crevasse. Although he didn't know it at the time, between the hours of 11:30 and 12:00 the young law clerk who would be my father was challenging every value, every ideal, every idea, and every insight he had until that point in his life.
It wasn't until decades later that the ambitious law clerks story came full circle. My father and I walked up and down the streets of what once was a playground for the young man that was my wise and now pepper haired father. We explored the vast downtown pointing out the difference in architecture, noticing when and where the times changed, and Listening over and over to him say, "see that, that's art-deco, beautiful". We ran into several old souls that once knew the witty young man, expressing their interest in what he had done with his life. He only replied with humble mutterings of the many things he had accomplished. After thoroughly exploring the depths of downtown the hour of 12:00pm made us wonder what the city could offer us in terms of food rather than architecture. We naturally grabbed a chicago style hot dog, pickle spear and all. We rounded the corner for what my dad said would be the highlight of our adventure. There in the shadow of the Daley Center stood the large baboon staring down at me with its one eye. It seemed to see all of my imperfections, my ever flaw, its presence belittled and bewildered me. As my father began his story of the beautiful black baboon, explaining its history, its controversy, and its immensity I realized that this would be a lesson I was sure to remember. We slowly circled the sculpture and my father asked me to make sense of the seemingly senseless sculpture. I peered, I wondered, I thought, and I re-thought why on earth would such a sculpture have such a profound effect on my father. In my confusion my father slowly ushered me over to a corner that had the perspective of any other corner, at least at first glance. As my father sat me down the astonishment of a young law clerk engulfed my very being. My father carefully outlined the profile of a beautiful woman only viewable from a distinct corner of the plaza. The lesson was so very clear to me, so clear in fact that my father needn't mutter a word. The presence of such a beautiful profile that is so undoubtably hard to find illustrated the point that what is seen on the outside is but a fraction of the beauty within.
This simple but profound lesson is what so many Americans struggled with at a time when Civil Rights was at its peak, and wars were ravaging the world. This same lesson is probably why the statue was met with such hostility. Although all of these lessons are true, at the core of this humble story is an idea that follows me where ever I go and that is that the,
"Power in art is not like that in a nation or in big business. A picture never changed the price of eggs. But a picture can change our dreams; and pictures may in time clarify our values. The power of artists is precisely the influence they wield over the fantasies of their public. The measure of this power lies not only in the magnitude of this influence but in its quality as well". -Allan Kaprow