Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Tale of Two Statues (Part One)

Exit Lake Shore Drive (There ain’t no road just like it, anywhere I’ve found) at Fullerton and head west a block.  Look to your right, and you may see a vertical mass of stainless steel set back from Cannon Drive.   That would be Ellsworth Kelly’s Curve XXII, a shining announcement that there must be at least another XXI curves out there somewhere.

It sits its site well, surrounded by daffodils in a few more weeks, lolling about in the shade during the summer months, providing a bit of sparkle during the dullness of winter.

Curve XXII (JWB, 2010)
Curve XXII was installed in 1981, and it was artist Ellworth Kelly’s first major commission for an outdoor sculpture.  Kelly is another one of those fascinating artists and architects who was born between World Wars I and II.

Raised in the small New Jersey town of Oradell, he developed an eye for color before he was ten-years-old as a result of his grandfather’s introducing him to bird watching around the Oradell reservoir.  Upon graduation from high school, he attended the Pratt Institute in New York City, a private school focusing on art and design, a place with names like Robert Mapplethorpe, Peter Max, and Robert Redford included in its alumni.

His studies were interrupted by his Induction into the Army in 1943 interrupted Kelly’s studies, and he served in the Ghost Army from 1943 until the end of the war. [Wikipedia] This branch of the service specialized in the manufacture of inflatable tanks, trucks and other pieces of fabricated equipment designed to mislead the Axis powers on the strength of Allied forces, a act of subterfuge that was particularly important as the preparations for the invasion of Normandy were being made.  

After the war he returned to the United States and studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston before returning to Paris, where he studied at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts.  It was in Paris that Kelly began his career as an artist, beginning first with a series of paintings inspired by the play of light and shadow over the 20th century architecture of that city.

In 1954 Kelly again returned to the United States, settling in a loft in Manhattan.  By the late 1950’s he had an international reputation, primarily as a result of his paintings which “juxtaposed blocks of single, flat colours with silhouetted shapes, abstracted from organic forms.”  []

Ellsworth Kelly at installation of
sculpture at U. S. Embassy in
Berlin, Germany (Google images)
Kelly turned to sculpture in 1970, taking inspiration from his residence in upstate New York.  In these totemic pieces “he was not concerned with colour, except for that of the material itself in order to stress shape and give the pieces consistency and easier maintenance.” [moma]

It was in 1976 that a sculpture across Fullerton to the south, the likeness of Carl von Linné that was created for the 1893 celebration in Chicago, was moved to the University of Chicago campus to celebrate the visit of the King of Sweden during that summer . . . probably easier to impress a king at the university than next to the zoo.

Cindy Mitchell, who was a founding member of the Friends of the Parks and who served as its president for ten years, was determined to replace the Linné statue in a park that had not seen a new piece of statuary in over a quarter-century.

A grant came from the National Endowment for the Arts, an additional $100,000 was raised, much of it a dollar at a time, and a jury which included architect Walter Netsch selected Ellsworth Kelly to create the new artwork.

Kelly did not accept a fee for his design, and Paschen Cosntruction donated its services to build the foundation and install the sculpture, a work that is more commonly known as I Will, the unofficial motto of the city.  [Chicago Park District]

Another large Ellsworth Kelly sculpture can be found in the Pritzker Garden of the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.  Entitled White Curve, its was commissioned by Director Jim Cuno for his predecessor, James Wood, who began the planning for the Modern Wing during his tenure from 1980 to 2004. Click on the YouTube clip below and see Ellsworth Kelly watching the installation of White Curve.

My next blog will concern the original statue of Carl Linné, a piece that has a fascinating history of its own.

1 comment:

Jill said...

This is one of my favorite sculptures. I think it looks sleek and great near the lake, it makes me think of a surf board. So glad that the Park Board have commissioned works for the wonderful parks of Chicago. Thank you for giving us this history on the sculpture.