9591 iris has favorite places, and this is one of the most favorite: Federal Plaza in Chicago. This picture was taken from an office on the second floor of the Marquette Building. To the left is the Everett Dirksen Courthouse; straight ahead you see the John C. Kluczynski Federal Building; to the right is the Loop Station Post Office. All three of these buildings – the flat, austere courthouse and offices, the low, sleek post office – were designed by Mies van der Rohe. All three! This is part of our mental neighborhood. We are here almost every day, because we get our mail at the post office – more convenient than getting it at home, and we get to be in this cool little building nearly every day. And in the middle of it all, graceful, massive, scarlet, seeming the most solid and free part of this shimmering wet place, is Calder’s 1974 Flamingo, one of the greatest public artworks in a city full of them.
I am here to tell you that Flamingo was commissioned by the Government Services Administration – thanks, US government! – and its unveiling was the culmination of a State Street parade hailing Calder himself, featuring clowns, unicyclists, marching bands, and Calder, too, riding on a Schlitz beer wagon drawn by 40 horses. Name me another city that celebrates a major commission by a great living artist by throwing a big fat parade and hauling the artist around on a beer wagon. All of that is so Chicago to me.