In 1976, after the Chicago Park District moved the Carl von Linné Monument from the corner of Fullerton Avenue and Stockton Drive to the Midway Plaisance, Cindy Mitchell, a founding member of the Friends of the Parks was determined to install a new sculpture in Lincoln Park. At that time, few new sculptures or monuments had been erected in any of Chicago’s parks for almost twenty-five years. The Friends of the Parks received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts for the project. A jury which included art patron Lewis Manilow, artist and collector Muriel Newman, and architect Walter Netsch selected Ellsworth Kelly, an American painter and sculptor known for minimalism and the expression of pure forms, to create the new Lincoln Park artwork.
Ellsworth Kelly (b. 1923) studied art at the Pratt Institute and developed metalworking techniques as an army engineer in World War II. After the war, the G.I. Bill allowed him to study at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris. While in France, he began producing his earliest abstract paintings. Kelly returned to America in the mid-1950s and soon began making his earliest freestanding sculptures. By the early1970s, he was exploring curves in his paintings and in totemic aluminum and steel sculptures that had subtly curving forms. Composed of stainless steel, Chicago’s Curve XXII was Kelly's first major commission for an outdoor sculpture. Because of its sleek verticality, the artwork is nicknamed "I Will," a longtime Chicago motto.
In addition to the National Endowment for the Arts grant, the committee that sponsored the sculpture had to raise funds exceeding $100,000 for the project. They launched a major fund raising campaign which included one dollar donations solicited at art fairs and other special events. Ellsworth Kelly did not accept a fee for his design and Paschen Construction donated its services to build the foundation and install the monument.
The official title for Kelly’s subtly curving forty-foot-tall stainless steel monolith is Curve XXII, however, in Chicago it is better known as I Will, the city’s unofficial motto. For decades, Kelly has explored curving forms through his sculptures, paintings, and lithographs. The Art Institute of Chicago recently installed Ellsworth Kelly’s White Curve in the new Pritzker Garden.