Plaza of Harold Washington Social Security Administration Building
600 West Madison Street
In 1965, Pop artist Claes Oldenburg (1929-2022) 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.”