Audio Transcript for For Handel by Mark Di Suvero

Mark di Suvero is a key figure in the development of postwar American sculpture and 2010 National Medal of Arts recipient. His sculptures are generally classified as Abstract Expressionist because of his gestural style. His monumental works are usually constructed from industrial I-beams that are welded or bolted together. As he states, his work for Western, For Handel, was made at the time of the construction of the Performing Arts Center, designed by Henry Klein. It belongs to a period of the early to mid-1970s when di Suvero was making his first public sculptures.

Di Suvero said:

“For Handel has to do with a relationship with architecture and the function of that architecture. The architecture is the music building, and they asked me to put a piece there. It was donated by Virginia Wright, and she most graciously was able to accept the idea of a different piece arriving than the one she originally chose, because there was a dealer that beat me out of the original piece and being paid for it. That happened while I was away in Europe in a self-imposed political exile because I couldn't stand what the United States was doing in Vietnam. When I came back they asked me to come up and build the piece during the school year; then, when I arrived they told me I was too close to the library to be actually working there, so I had to build it near the Physical Plant. It took me a couple of months during the rainy season; and when it came down to the moment of meeting with the students, it turned out that there was only one student who asked me a question that did not seem important about the art. That is how the piece ended up getting there.”

When asked about the title of his work, For Handel, di Suvero replied that the context of the building was important.

Di Suvero replied:

“The title is the relationship that deals with the music and that is the function of the architecture. Also, I had discovered that Beethoven in the last two weeks of his life read Handel. I listened to Handel and I think that he is a magnificent conductor. I tried to give something to that space which is not just a plaza but also a roof for the rehearsal hall downstairs, and it has a magnificent view. I tried to give the sculpture a little bit of that inspirational moment/movement that Handel's music has – the sensation of rapture, a spatial concept that gives a sense of being able to make it blaze. I was trying to do something that was similar under pretty difficult circumstances. As you know, the right time to work up there is the summer which is what I wanted to do, but they wanted me to meet with students and so it ended up in the fall when you get a lot of rain.”

In running his own truck crane, using his own welding torch and directing the blocks and cables, di Suvero attempts to build multi-directional sculptures which seem to overcome physical laws. He says he thinks about those “invisible points that are called centers of gravity.” Decisions are made about what beam to bend or to cut off, or what should be completely taken out of one work and, perhaps, used later in another piece. When asked about a swing that originally hung down from the center of Western’s work:

Di Suvero said:

“I think the swinging element is part of the sculpture’s history just like I had to first build it and then move it a few hundred yards which is not very easy to do onto a roof. I saw about nine students standing on it vertically and swinging sideways on [the platform]. They were very enthusiastic about it, but I preferred in the end to leave it off.”