Mark di Suvero, 1975.
Painted steel. 27' h.
Photo credit: Paul Brower
Gift from the Virginia Wright Fund, 1974; installation cost from Performing Arts Center construction funds.
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Di Suvero's knowledge of music and sensitivity to the relationship of art and architecture led him to create a soaring sculpture dedicated to the composer George Frederic Handel. Di Suvero's work rises not only from the roof of the rehearsal hall below but also projects beyond this roof/plaza and against a magnificent view of water, mountains and sky. Sometimes di Suvero is considered an "action sculptor" in the way he draws directly with the steel I- beams. In running his own truck cranes, in using his welding torch and in directing the blocks and cables, he attempts to build multi- dimensional structures which seem to overcome physical laws.
Di Suvero works with both the I-beams of modern buildings and the discarded materials of modern life. When he came to campus di Suvero found that a work he had been carrying around in his mind would fit the space of the newly reconstructed Music building and plaza. He has often stated that his sculptural ideas evolve in ''dreamtime ... pure music of the mind." He likes music, whether classical or jazz, because it is an example of disciplined emotion. He also can relate to the rigorous labor and challenges involved in the construction trade and engineering. Di Suvero's For Handel (1975) originally combined a hanging wooden platform or swinging bed with the steel girders of modern technology. The fact that the bed was removed soon after the sculpture was erected does not diminish the sculpture's impact or meaning.
As di Suvero said to students at the time, ''most people come to college to expand their horizons, not to see and do the usual things.'' While he himself was in college, he majored in philosophy and appreciated Bertrand Russell's idea of the logical construct: to Russell, unity was an assemblage of various empirical observations. Di Suvero was also interested in Einstein, whose theories made him think about the relationship of space and time. His desire to break down the barrier between his art and the viewer parallels a political mood during this era of more expansive participation. For Handel has the scale of Henry Klein's architecture of the College of Fine and Performing Arts, but one of the ways that di Suvero allows the spectator to feel his own size is to actually provide horizontal girders on the ground.Two beams expand outward and contain at their juncture an inclined beam that invites the spectator to make his first move to step upward. One detail that some older observers like to point out is that they see a ''peace sign'' cut into the steel plate, half circles framing the inclined beam, which together make an entrance. But they are the ones who miss the point for their peace symbol of the U.S.-Vietnam conflict is no longer a cut-out. It now joins other sculptural parts to become a functional gateway that redirects the thrust of the heavy I-beams toward the sky.
The fingers that make this type of sign are only one part of the body's language. From the late fifties through the early sixties, di Suvero made a series of small sculptures involving the hand that was a way of objectifying expressive gesture. Di Suvero was interested in getting beyond potentially false interior emotions and in engaging directly with others. The fact that all of his hand sculptures on pedestals either point, hold, or extend to something else (for example, Hand and Foot) shows that he was adding to the sense of touch an image of juncture. The hand joins the individual and the world. Under the brick plaza where the sculpture For Handel stands, music students work in their practice rooms using the strength of their arms and the finesse of their fingers.
Di Suvero extends out to the world through his method of assemblage of old I-beams and wooden parts. Even in his large-scale sculpture, he leaves a sense of his hand or his immediate touch in the rough welds. But his primary mode of contact with the world is his construction of movement through space. Along with the cutting torch and welding tools, di Suvero uses a crane. Perhaps, without its swinging element, Western's sculpture might seem static. But the artist knows that those constant DNA forms that fix our framework or determine our being ''can electrify our lives." Aware of great changes in technology and economics and their mutual effects on society, the artist reaffirms his belief in the power of creative energy. Like Serra, di Suvero did not want to arrange predetermined structures or to erase references to production and labor as the minimalist Judd. Yet, whereas Serra's sculpture reflects the state of technological culture as a place of deliberate construction, intentional use, and depersonalized work and play, di Suvero's art includes a more personalized and hopeful control over technology. While there is a general grounding to his sculpture, there is also a great striding forth. In fact, the stance of di Suvero's sculpture, For Handel, along with its brilliant burst of orange against the blue sky and distant water, gives great rise to a feeling of elation.
© Sarah Clark-Langager