Plaza of Harold Washington Social Security Administration Building
600 West Madison Street
In 1965, Pop artist Claes Oldenburg (born 1929) began making drawings for colossal monuments consisting of everyday objects enlarged to gargantuan proportions. Some of his proposals included a giant electric fan to replace the Statue of Liberty, a pair of giant scissors to replace the Washington Monument, a Good Humor ice cream bar for Park Avenue, New York, and a railroad station in the form of a wristwatch for Florence, Italy. Many, of course, remain unrealized but Chicago is home to one structure that made it off of the paper: Batcolumn.
Commissioned by the U. S. General Services Administration’s Art-in-Architecture program, the metal latticework piece generated a great deal of disapproval in the press, with one citizen complaining that the artist “ripped off the taxpayers for a $100,000 baseball bat.” For the project, Oldenburg sought an appropriate symbol for the city and one that would make formal references to the surrounding environment. When a nearby chimney reminded him of a baseball bat, he took the outline and soon decided to open the surface in order to relieve the solid mass and echo the cross-bracing of Chicago’s many steel bridges.
The realized structure is nearly 100 feet tall, formed from a network of 24 vertical and 1608 connecting struts of Cor-Ten steel and aluminum painted with gray enamel. Placed atop a four-foot high, ten-foot diameter pedestal, Oldenburg’s monument may be read as a paean to baseball, a tribute to the steel industry, or simply an irreverent poke at our expectation that a monument necessarily be “heroic.”