Chicago has at least two great public horse sculptures but only one of them is famous. Picasso’s 50-foot-high steel horse at Daley Plaza is magnificent, but to me Deborah Butterfield’s Ben, a bronze beauty in Seneca Park, has more emotional resonance. Roughly life-size and cast from found wood—every time I visit I have to touch it to be sure it’s not actually made of sticks—it stands in the shade of trees lining a walkway through the park, near where real horses trot by pulling carriages. The thick, intertwined pieces of the horse’s haunches suggest flexing equine muscles, and the turn of its head suggests the leisurely motion of grazing. Though it lacks facial features, the horse seems strong and gentle—even melancholy—and when I trace the line of the long piece that outlines the horse’s belly, I can’t help but think of Hirschfeld’s drawings, in which just a few clean strokes express a person’s form and personality.
The Zolla/Lieberman Gallery (325 W. Huron) will be exhibiting ten of Butterfield’s horse sculptures October 19 through November 28. Seneca Park, 228 E. Chicago, 312-742-7891. —Ryan Hubbard
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