Public Delivery

19 Dec. 2022
David Černý - Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, photo: Metalmorphosis, CC BY 2.0 by nan palmero

Introduction

David Černý is one of the most celebrated artists and sculptors in the Czech Republic. A rebel sculptor inspired by many things, including his own anger, Černý’s works always inspire controversy. The artist has built a name for himself in the global art world thanks to his shocking and provocative public works.

Among his most provocative works is a pink tank sculpture which he created in 1991. Other incendiary works of his include sculptures of gigantic babies scaling towers, as well a sculpture of saint Wenceslas, riding a dead, upside-down horse.

Metalmorphosis, which is located in North Carolina, USA, is one of his most recognizable works to date. The giant, mirrored head was created to rotate and designed to deconstruct and reconstruct itself right in front of its audience. As it spins, the statue shoots out water and creates an eerie feeling in the observers and passers-by.

2 min 7 sec

Construction & design

Erected in 2007, Metalmorphosis is part of a public fountain situated at an office park in Charlotte. It is Černý’s first permanent public installation in the US. Riprand Count Arco, founder and chairman of American Asset Corporation, approached him to create this sculpture for the Whitehall Corporate Center.

The 7-meter glistening steel sculpture is made of stainless steel plates designed to look like a massive head. The parallel panes used to create the gigantic head were created to move horizontally, making this one of the most futuristic sculptures under the artist’s belt.

David Černý - Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, photo: Metalmorphosis, CC BY 2.0 by nan palmero

According to Černý, Metalmorphosis was created as a self-portrait of the artist’s psyche. The sculpture was made out of 14 tonnes of stainless steel and consistes of electronic components and motors to help the panes move seamlessly. Metalmorphosis contains seven separate layers that rotate sporadically. A specific computer program handles each motor to create choreographed sequences.

Each motor has a feedback system so that the program understands the location of each part at any given moment and yet makes the motions appear random. One of the challenges that the artist faced when creating the sculpture was finding engineers and subcontractors that would allow him to achieve his vision.

David Černý - Rendering of Metamorphosis
David Černý – Rendering of Metamorphosis

The meaning

The artist would end up using 42 moving panes that allow the panes to rotate 360 degrees. Černý controls the horizontal moving levels remotely over the internet. Every so often, all the horizontal panes line up to form what appears to be a sculpture of Franz Kafka’s head.

Why Kafka? Kafka was one of the most recognized avant-garde publishers of his day and is still highly regarded in Czech for his realist and fantastical works.

David Černý - Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, Photo, MichaelKuhn_pics, BY-NC-SA

Speaking about his passion for creating artworks in public space, Černý said1 in an interview:

I’m still enjoying it, it can really be better for some. Someone might enjoy going to places specifically ‘devoted’ to art more, but others prefer it outside, to be ‘attacked’ by art. I’m really the second type.

David Černý - Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, photo: Metalmorphosis, CC BY 2.0 by nan palmero

Location

Hours: 24/7

Address: 3701 Arco Corporate Dr, Charlotte, NC 28273, USA

Tel: +1 704 295 4033

David Černý - Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, photo: meunierd/Depositphotos.com

Live camera feed

About David Černý

Černý is a trained artist, having mastered his trade at the Academy of Applied Arts between 1988 and 1996. He also spent several years in Switzerland, where he furthered his education in Boswil and then in New York City at the MoMA PS1 Artists Residence.

He later participated in a study program at the Whitney Museum. Aside from producing thought-provoking masterpieces, Černý also regularly makes strange statements to spark debates regarding nationalism, communism, as well as Czech culture and society in general.

David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, photo: Metalmorphosis (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) superwattage

As one of the most celebrated artists of his generation, Černý is a recipient of some of the most prestigious awards in the Czech. For instance, in 2000, he received the most promising visual artist award for an artist aged 35 or younger during that year’s Jindřich Chalupecký Award. He also received the Pollack Krasner Foundation grant from the US and has taken part in numerous global exhibitions and prestigious shows in Brussels, Berlin, London, and more.

David Černý - Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA
David Černý – Metalmorphosis, 2007, 40 layers of polished stainless steel, motors, electronics, 7 meters tall, 13 tonnes, installation view, Whitehall Corporate Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, photo: Metalmorphosis, CC BY 2.0 by nan palmero

 

More by David Černý

9 Dec. 2022
Gimli Viking Statue, 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada
Gimli Viking Statue, 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, photo: Krazytea, Renovated Gimli Viking statue, CC BY-SA 4.0

Introduction

This year, Íslendingadagurinn will be held for its 133rd edition and will be held in person for the first time since the pandemic broke out. Also commonly referred to as the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba, Íslendingadagurinn is usually held in Gimli, Manitoba (Canada) with plenty of indoor and outdoor events on offer for those attending.

Gimli Viking Statue, 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada
Gimli Viking Statue (detail), 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, photo: My, What a Big Viking You Have (CC BY 2.0) cogdogblog

During the festival, individuals from all corners of the world travel to experience Icelandic culture and heritage in Gimli. Indeed, the Icelandic Festival of Manitoba is one of the longest-running Icelandic festivals in the world. The festival organizes various events thanks to volunteers and sponsors that assist with planning and operations.

Gimli Icelandic Festival
Gimli Icelandic Festival, photo: Travel Manitoba, Gimli Icelandic Festival (48241258997), CC BY 2.0

Some of the events include watching Vikings re-enactors and interacting with others in traditional Icelandic costumes. There are also lots of games such as Fris-Nok and lots of food and entertainment.

About the Viking statue

While the festival takes place only once a year during a weekend in August, there is one thing that people can visit all year round that’s reminiscent of the event: The Viking statue. Gimli is home to a massive Viking statue that is proudly displayed in Viking Park.

The statue was created to commemorate the country’s 100th birthday and to pay homage to the ancestors of the Icelandic people who colonized the Gimli area (known as New Iceland back then) in 1875.

Constructed from fiberglass, the figure is 15 feet (4.65 meters) tall and was conceptualized by Gissur Eliasson. Although Eliasson, who was with the University of Manitoba at the time, designed the sculpture, it was consequently constructed by a local Manitoban artist known as George Barone.

Gimli Viking Statue, 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada
Gimli Viking Statue (detail), 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, photo: Did Bryan Alexander Lose His Axe? (CC BY 2.0) cogdogblog

Gissur Eliasson was not only a member of the school’s teaching staff but also a respected painting instructor and a member of the local art community. Eliasson would retire from teaching in 1978 and passed away two years later in Winnipeg. Barone, on the other hand, was born in Italy, but his family moved to Winnipeg in 1951. He started off creating plaques and figurines for businesses before he became a sculptor full time.

Gimli Viking plaque
Gimli Viking plaque, photo: Krazytea, Gimli vikings plaque, CC BY-SA 4.0

He is charged with creating most of the monuments in Manitoba. Barone was a highly sought sculpture owing to his special technique of utilizing fiberglass cloth, steel rods, and air-filled foam as his materials of choice. He was also known for using color-impregnated resin, which is known to withstand the extreme Canadian weather better than most other construction materials.

Artist pressed to add horns

Curiously, the Viking statue is nearly entirely realistic, besides one apparent detail: The horns. Gissur Eliasson submitted a sketch that showed the Viking with a helmet and no horns. This was a historically correct depiction, as Vikings didn’t sport horned helmets during armed conflicts. Yet the Gimli Chamber of Commerce intervened. They had already ordered a considerable amount of plastic helmets with horns and urged the artist to add horns to the sculpture.

Gimli Viking Statue, 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada
Gimli Viking Statue (detail), 1967, fiberglass cloth, steel doors, air-filled foam, 4.65 meters (15 feet), installation view, Gimli, Manitoba, Canada, photo: Hark! a Viking! (CC BY 2.0) cogdogblog

Renovation

Decades after the inauguration, the statue started showing signs of wear and tear. 48 years after construction, a two-week refurbishing process started, which cost $60,000. After an Alberta company completed renovation, another reveal featuring dignitaries from all over Canada took place.

2 min 33 sec

Unveiling

It cost the duo approximately $15,000 to create the statue. When it was finally completed, it was unveiled by the then President of Iceland, Asgeir Asgeirsson. Years after the presentation of the sculpture, the park has continued to add several more elements in the pursuit of preserving the beloved Icelandic heritage. For instance, the park has since added indigenous flowers.

31 sec

Location

The Viking statue is roughly a one-hour drive away from Winnipeg and is located along the shores of Lake Winnipeg. It can be visited 24/7. Glenn Eliasson, the designer’s son, commented on the location1 as follows:

He wanted the Viking to be standing looking over the water, he wanted the Viking to have very powerful hands. Everything he did, he wanted symbolism and representation.

Tel: +1 204-642-6650

Address: 104 2 Ave, Gimli, MB R0C 1B0, Canada

The park is also segmented into three major areas that draw from Norse legend- the Elf Garden, the Breakwater Garden, and the Troll storm garden. Around the pathways, one will also observe commemorative slabs bearing relief designs of popular Icelanders in history and local families. The Icelandic Park welcomed its first visitors in 2018. In that year, Íslendingadagurinn was held for the 128th time.

12 Oct. 2022
Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Turning the Place Over by Richard Wilson (CC BY 2.0) Nanimo

Introduction

Turning the Place Over was a temporary artwork that was created for the European Capital of Culture. Liverpool got its turn to host the European Capital of Cultural in 2007, a few years after the city received its UNESCO World Heritage Site designation. The European Capital of Culture saw several events and art exhibitions organized with the aim of shining a light on Liverpool’s culture, locations, and people.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Turning The Place Over by Richard Wilson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot
Turning the Place Over is still regarded today as one of the most daring pieces of public art to be commissioned in the country. It is also one of Wilson’s most radical intrusions into architecture to date. In this piece, Richard Wilson turned a building in Liverpool inside out.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Richard Wilson: ‘Turning the Place Ove (CC BY 2.0) Julian Stallabrass

Turning the Place Over

Turning the Place Over consisted of an 8-meter diameter ovoid that had been cut from the facade of the abandoned Cross Keys House located in Liverpool’s shopping center. The ovoid cut was designed to oscillate in 3D. Wilson placed the revolving exterior on a specially designed giant rotator, like the kind that is commonly used in the shipping and nuclear sectors.

48 sec

The revolving façade is what acted as a massive opening and closing window that would often offer viewers and passers-by repeated sights of the building’s interior. Not only would the rotating disc move round and round, but it was also designed to move inside out on its axis in a two-minute cycle.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Model of Richard Wilson’s Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, The Grey Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, photo: Turning The Place Over (Maquette) by Ric (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot

This surreal spatial stunt with the building is also what inspired a naïve awe. Turning the Place Over may have been commissioned for the town in 2007. However, the project remained active from June 20, 2007, until it was taken down on January 8, 2011, having been in operation for more than three and a half years. Wilson conceptualized the idea earlier in 2004 before sharing his thoughts with the director of the Liverpool Biennial.

Mechanical model of Richard Wilsons Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, The Grey Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
Mechanical model of Richard Wilson’s Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, The Grey Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, photo: Turning The Place Over (Mechano Maquette (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot
Mechanical model of Richard Wilsons Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, The Grey Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland
Mechanical model of Richard Wilson’s Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, The Grey Gallery, Edinburgh, Scotland, photo: Turning The Place Over (Mechano Maquette (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot

Turning the Place Over rotated non-stop during daylight hours except for periodic maintenance breaks and has been seen by an estimated three and a half million people. Various YouTube videos generated hundreds of thousands of views online.

2 min 14 sec

Location & funding

It took a while before Wilson and his team found a building. They settled on the abandoned Cross Keys House, located right across Moorfields Station, because it was under the local council’s control. Once it was complete, the installation became a permanent fixture of the Capital of Culture public art program.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Turning The Place Over by Richard Wilson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot

The entire project is was funded by the Liverpool Culture Company and costs approximately £450,000 to pull off successfully. This powerful concept allowed the artist to turn an old forgotten building that no one was paying attention to and turned it into a masterpiece.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Richard Wilson: ‘Turning the Place Ove (CC BY 2.0) Julian Stallabrass

The meaning

Wilson describes himself as an artist who uses architecture as source material for his sculptures to disrupt our regular association with things to find new aesthetic potential, challenging and tweaking the viewer’s preconceptions.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Richard Wilson: ‘Turning the Place Ove (CC BY 2.0) Julian Stallabrass

With Turning the Place Over, he did not just manage to create an eerie, space portal-looking sculpture that attracted millions of eyeballs but also demonstrated the transformative power of art in human society. Speaking about his artistic practice, Wilson said in a 2015 interview1:

(…) I undo or de-construct. And by the deconstructive act of revealing you break the skin of an object and show that there’s much more than what you would assume going on under the surface.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Richard Wilson: ‘Turning the Place Ove (CC BY 2.0) Julian Stallabrass

The work clearly reminds art lovers of Gordon Matta-Clark’s intervention Conical Intersect2 from 1975, yet Wilson decided not to get rid of the cut-out wall and instead use it as a rotating element.

1 min 52 sec

About Richard Wilson

Wilson has built a name for himself in art circles for staging ‘impossible’ scenes and exhibitions. Wilson first shot into distinction in the late 1980s when he filled London’s Saatchi Gallery with recycled engine oil, attracting visitors one by one into an inky gloomy void.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Turning The Place Over by Richard Wilson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot

In another fun installation3 inspired by the movie Italian Job, Wilson suspended a life-sized replica of a bus on the roof of the De La Warr Pavilion, located in Bexhill on Sea as well on Hong Kong’s Peninsula Hotel. Wilson’s works work on many different levels. However, one of the most interesting things about his artworks is that they always invoke a sense of wonder and childlike curiosity in his audiences.

Richard Wilson - Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Richard Wilson – Turning the Place Over, 2007, installation view, Liverpool Biennial, Liverpool, United Kingdom, photo: Turning The Place Over by Richard Wilson (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) Mot

 

More by Richard Wilson

2 Aug. 2022
Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, photo: Ernst Jank, courtesy: The Artist, gb agency, Paris, Martin Janda, Vienna and Johnen, Berlin

Introduction

Conceptual artists, particularly in Europe, have a rather exceptional and extremely rich history that spans decades. Nowadays, conceptual art is still one of the most prominent art movements. In the early days, conceptual art did not play a prominent scene and would often thrive as an underground movement.

Although artists have been experimenting with the art form as early as the 1960s, this movement appears to be livelier and fresher than ever and more conceptual artists have started receiving recognition for their work. Artists such as Roman Ondák have helped to carry the tradition and elevated the movement to even higher levels.

Time-lapse video: Measuring the Universe

1 min

Measuring the Universe

Measuring the Universe by Ondák was initially installed in Munich at the Pinakothek der Moderne in 2007, which holds one of the biggest collections of modern and contemporary art worldwide. Ondák conceptualized the performance piece as a hybrid of public participation and a site-specific installation.

Visitors in Roman Ondak's Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009
Visitors in Roman Ondák’s Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009, photo: MoMA exhibit – Roman Ondak, Measuring Th (CC BY-NC 2.0) dan_a

This exhibition featured a massive blank white that invited the Pinakothek der Moderne museum guards to note the heights of visitors. Once marked, the guards would also add the visitor’s name to the wall, as well as their date of visit. As a minimalist installation, the only thing required to bring this artwork to life was a blank white wall and several black markers, which would be used for the signing process.

One of the museum guards of the Pinakothek der Moderne taking measurements for Roman Ondak’s Measuring the Universe in 2007
One of the museum guards of the Pinakothek der Moderne taking measurements for Roman Ondak’s Measuring the Universe in 2007, photo: Tagman (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Rakeman

At the opening of the installation, all that was present was a blank wall. However, as visitors began streaming in, the clean white wall would slowly start getting filled with letters and lines of all the visitors who passed through the gallery. Each tiny black mark etched on the wall represented a real human being and, in the end, the wall was filled with numerous names. Every visitor who walked into the empty room was graciously invited to participate and many of the visitors agreed.

Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2010
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2010, photo: Roman Ondak. Measuring the Universe. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) marianbijlenga

Active participation required

Without the active participation of the public, Measuring the Universe by Ondák would not exist. Measuring the Universe usually unfolds over three months and manages to accumulate thousands of signatures from visitors. Once the names started to fill up the walls, they create a thick, black band that encircle one wall and the next in the square gallery space.

Visitors leaving their name and date of visit in Roman Ondak's Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009
Visitors leaving their name and date of visit in Roman Ondák’s Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009, photo: Measuring the Universe (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) arch2452

As you can expect, often the artist himself is the first to etch his name and height on the wall. Most of the measurements are taken from adults. However, several children and some shorter participants also have their names written, which helps to provide an interesting pattern and perspective.

Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009
Roman Roman Ondák, Measuring the Universe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) profzucker – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2009, photo: Roman Ondák, Measuring the Universe (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) profzucker

Inspiration behind the artwork

This work was inspired by Ondák’s interest in blurring the lines between art and day-to-day life. The act of writing the visitor’s measurements on the wall is very similar to what parents do when measuring their children’s height at home. Ondák got the idea to create Measuring the Universe after frequently taking measurements of his sons’ heights. He, therefore, thought it would be interesting if that very simple act could be transformed into art, which is how the concept for the exhibition came about.

Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe (detail), 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 2007
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe (detail), 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, 2007, photo: I’m average (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) Rakeman

According to Ondák, asking the audience to take part in the piece helped to foster the public’s connection to the work. Because each person’s name, height, and date of visit are different, the artist embraced the uniqueness of human existence. Since the installation asked the public to take part, each person also likely had their own interpretation of the piece, which helped to add depth to the artwork.

Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, courtesy: Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

Exhibitions

Measuring the Universe has been incredibly popular amongst audiences worldwide. Its exhibition at the MoMa in New York attracted 5,000 people on a sunny day and over 20,000 on a rainy day. The installation at Tate St Ives had over 90,000 visitors.

Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Tate St Ives, Munich, 2011
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe (detail), 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Tate St Ives, 2011, photo: Measuring the Universe (CC BY-NC 2.0) Today is a good day

In a rather unusual development, the performance returned to its origin, 15 years after the premiere at the very same museum, the Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich. It was on display from June to September 2022. Since 2007, Measuring the Universe was presented in several spaces:

  • Pinakothek der Moderne in Munich in 2007
  • MoMA in New York in 2009
  • Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam between 2010 and 2011
  • Tate St Ives in the summer of 2011
  • Parramatta Town Hall, Sydney Festival in Sydney in 2014
  • Fondation Louis Vuitton, Being Modern: MoMA in Paris in Paris in 2017
  • Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich from June to September, 2022
Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2010
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2010, photo: Roman Ondak. Measuring the Universe. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) marianbijlenga

The meaning of the artwork

In an interview with Klaus Biesenbach1, Ondák compares his creation to a clock that shows hours and minutes. According to him:

Any moment matters. So the performance has the same status with one mark on the wall as with thousands of them. […] It’s something like if I’d be sitting for the whole day in a café on the corner of a busy street, watching the crowd passing by, and I’d try to identify and remember everyone.

Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2010
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, 2010, photo: Roman Ondak. Measuring the Universe. (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) marianbijlenga

He further explains his motivation to visualize what this large amount of people symbolizes and mentions that in the exhibition space is an invisible potential to transform the presence of people into a physical object. This way, each individual can get a sense of how much space he takes up and develop an understanding of the vastness of the universe.

The installation also creates a network of names, conveying a connectedness between all participants. Some have pointed out that the appearance of Measuring the Universe resembles a galaxy with a reversed color scheme, with each black mark portraying a tiny star. The curator of the Munich exhibition called the artwork a picture of our life in this world – a picture of the importance, but also insignificance of the individual human being in mass and time.

Video: Roman Ondák discusses Measuring the Universe

2 min 52 sec

Because the piece is based on set instructions, rather than the creation of an artwork from scratch, this growing and living piece is continuous and can be installed in any part of the world. Aside from that, Measuring the Universe can also be viewed as an extended performance, capable of being pulled off in any location, whether that’s a public space or a private one.

2 min 57 sec

Artists, the likes of Roman Ondák, have been playing a vital role in spreading awareness about conceptual art. Simple yet powerful pieces such as Measuring the Universe explain why there has been a growing interest in the movement over the last few decades.

Roman Ondak – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Tate St Ives, 2011
Roman Ondák – Measuring the Universe, 2007, performance, felt-tip pen, museum guards, museum audience, installation view, Tate St Ives, 2011, photo: measuring the universe (Roman Ondak) (CC BY-SA 2.0) Alexandre Dulaunoy
29 Jul. 2022
Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Four Seasons, Chicago, Illinois (CC BY-SA 2.0) Ken Lund

Introduction

Chicago is a bustling city with numerous buildings. In the midst of all the bustle is one magnificent landmark: Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons mosaic.

Located in front of the Chase Tower Plaza, the mosaic spans over a 70-feet (21-meter) length and wraps around a rectangular support. In its dazzling display, themes of nature emerge from the imagery of animals and figures amid the lush colors.

Plan & construction

What makes Four Seasons even more dramatic as a public art treasure is the dedication with which Marc Chagall showed in crafting this intricate masterpiece. It is composed of thousands of inlaid chips. These chips feature over 250 vibrant colors, making the masterpiece one of the most colorful public art displays. During construction, Chagall brought over to Chicago stones from all over the world through his studio in France.

The eastern side of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 160 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy
The eastern side of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 161 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

Marbles were gathered from places such as Belgium and Italy. Chagall also sourced granites from Norway and Brittany, brick stones from Chicago, green stones from the mines of Solomon and finally, from Paris and Venice, he got exquisite stained glass. Based on a model of the rectangular box in Chicago, he used all these materials to make about 128 panels in his studio, which were then transported via sea and air to Chicago.

The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The eastern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall mosaic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) jsutcℓiffe

The installation process was lengthy, taking Chagall’s craftsmen Michel Tharin and Alain Devy months to join and install the panels outside Chase Tower Plaza. Chagall came in to oversee the finalization of the mosaic and commission it, finally dedicating it to the people of Chicago on the 27th of September, 1974.

The Northern side of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The northern side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagall – Four Seasons Mural – Firs (CC BY 2.0) jay galvin

Why ‘Four Seasons’?

Aside from the stones and glass that make up Four Seasons, the installation displays Chicago motifs. The mosaic is in six scenes around a rectangular four sides, measuring 21 meter long by 3 meter wide and rising to a height of 4.3 meter. Chagall didn’t forget to sign his artwork. If you look closely, you can discover his signature six times in the entire piece.

Signature of Marc Chagall in Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Signature of Marc Chagall in Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 167 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

The Chicago scenes displayed on the rectangular mosaic show the state in every season. For instance, the winter scene is a depiction of a mother lovingly cradling her toddler on her lap, while the spring season shows a young lady dancing joyously. On the other hand, summer in Chicago is portrayed as Chicagoans having a beautiful picnic underneath sunshine. Finally, autumn is a depiction of a harvest.

Mother with toddler on her lap in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Mother with toddler on her lap in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 171 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy
Musicians and dancing lady in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Musicians and dancing lady in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall: musicians and dancer (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) yooperann
Summer scene in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Summer scene in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Detail from Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons (CC BY-NC 2.0) UGArdener

Besides the ‘Chicago in every season’ scenes, there are also numerous other motifs associated with the state, such as a Ferris wheel depicting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition’s spinning centerpiece and a cow in a stockyard.

Ferris wheel depicting the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition and Chicago's skyline in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Ferris wheel depicting the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition and Chicago’s skyline in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chicago 164 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

He depicted all these using his ‘floating’ figures technique as a way of adding a surreal feel to the scenes. Other imagery in the mosaic piece includes birds, flowers, sun, fish, lovers and the sky, which seek to reference simple village life as well as city skylines.

Lovers, the Sun & the American Dream in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Lovers, the Sun & the American Dream in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagall, The Four Seasons, Chicago (CC BY 2.0) Sharon Mollerus
The Arrival of Spring in Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The Arrival of Spring in Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall, Four Seasons, Chicago (CC BY 2.0) Sharon Mollerus

Speaking about the artwork in the 1974 documentary The Gift: Four Seasons Mosaic of Marc Chagall1 (see below), the artist said:

I chose the theme of the four seasons because I believe there will be many people going through this plaza in the heart of the city of Chicago. In my mind, the four seasons represent human life, both physical and spiritual, at its different stages. I hope that the people of Chicago will feel the same emotion that I felt when doing this work.

Needless to say that this unique work is not only art for art’s sake but also a symbolic and literal depiction of the state of Chicago, which gives locals a sense of belonging while displaying some aspects of Chicago to visitors who are curious about it.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons (detail), 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall, Four Seasons, Chicago (CC BY 2.0) Sharon Mollerus

Vandalism & protection

Initially, the installation was not sheltered from weather elements. However, in 1994, the city of Chicago installed a protective glass canopy after the mosaic panels were restored over a period of two years.

Detail of Marc Chagall's Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Detail of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Chagall mosaic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) jsutcℓiffe

To maintain this intricate public art installation, a maintenance schedule was created. Today, the mosaic is inspected four times a day for graffiti, cleaned annually and undergoes major restoration every five years. Ken Bartman, building and grounds manager of Chase Tower, admitted2 that the artwork “periodically” gets vandalized. However, according to him, it is “not as common as you might think”, thanks to a surveillance system.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons (detail), 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons (detail), 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Detail from Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons (CC BY-NC 2.0) UGArdener

Not only is the mosaic great to look at but also, it forms a great environment for people to sit down and enjoy the view. With granite benches surrounding it, visitors can have a rest and snack as they admire the mosaic, making it a colorful picnic site.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
The western side of Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagall’s Four Seasons Mosaic in Ch (CC BY-NC 2.0) UGArdener

Location

Address: 10 S Dearborn St, Chicago, IL 60603, USA

Hours: 24/7

More iconic sculptures in Chicago

Chicago is home to more impressive sculptures, the major ones all conveniently within walking distance, located in The Loop, Chicago’s CBD. In 1967, the Chicago Picasso3 was installed two hundred meters away from Four Seasons at Daley Plaza. One month after Chagall, Alexander Calder’s 35-ton steel sculpture Flamingo got unveiled in the Federal Plaza.

Alexander Calder - Flamingo, 1974, installation view, Federal Plaza, Chicago
Alexander Calder – Flamingo, 1974, installation view, Federal Plaza, Chicago, photo: Alexander Calder: Flamingo (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) jpellgen (@1179_jp)

Joan Miró’s Chicago was installed in 1981 in Brunswick Plaza, again in close proximity. Jean Dubuffet’s monumental Monument with Standing Beast was installed in 1984. Just a few blocks away, you can find Anish Kapoor’s most iconic work, Cloud Gate (2006), also commonly known as The Bean and Jaume Plensa’s Crown Fountain4.

Jaume Plensa - Crown Fountain, 2004, installation view, Millennium Park, Chicago
Jaume Plensa – Crown Fountain, 2004, installation view, Millennium Park, Chicago, photo: Chicago 077 (CC BY 2.0) Roller Coaster Philosophy

About Marc Chagall

Born in 1887, Chagall had an impressive career. However, he had a difficult childhood as he was born in near poverty in Russian Empire’s Belarus. At 24 years, Chagall fled Belarus to enter Paris. Later, he lived in the United States during World War II and here, he became an influential Modernist artist. Chagall drew inspiration from Picasso’s Cubism and the Fauvism movement by Matisse to create his art.

He also infused his art with Jewish elements, clearly coming out in the rectangular box mosaic. Besides being a renowned painter, Chagall was also a creator of ceramics and stained glass. One of his best-known works dealing with ceramics, stones and stained glass is, of course, Four Seasons.

Marc Chagall - The Four Seasons, 1974, lithograph printed in colors, 90 x 60,6 cm
Marc Chagall – The Four Seasons, 1974, lithograph printed in colors, 90 x 60,6 cm, image: Courtesy of Sotheby’s

While Chagall has created several large-scale mosaics, including for the Knesset in Jerusalem, his museum in Nice and the University of Nice, Four Seasons is not only one of his last but also one of his most beautiful and impressive mosaics.

Marc Chagall - Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago
Marc Chagall – Four Seasons, 1972, dedicated Sept. 27, 1974, hand-chipped stone and glass fragments, 128 panels, installation view, Chase Tower Plaza, Chicago, photo: Marc Chagal: The Four Seasons (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) unbearable lightness

More by Marc Chagall

27 Jul. 2022
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

Introduction

For years, cosmologists and astronomers have hypothesized about the presence of another planet that is claimed to boast a bigger mass than Earth; as big as ten times. This planet is said to be situated in the outermost regions of the solar system and could even potentially be inhabited by unknown celestial beings.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

Starting in 2013, celebrated Japanese artist Kohei Nawa has been creating cloud-like sceneries consisting of soapy bubbles for art exhibition in Asia, Europe and South America. Building on studies such as these that have been conducted for decades by experienced professionals, artists such as Kohei Nawa have been depicting ethereal worlds in their works, which has helped to expand humanity’s understanding of space.

1 min 16 sec

The creation process

The artist used a combination of detergent, glycerin and water to produce the effervescent forms of his installation, which he aptly titled Foam. Once the mixture was created, Nawa would then pump it from the floor, resulting in large cloud-like forms. The artist pumped up the blend in eight different spots in the gallery, which ultimately helped to create a scene that was continually in motion inside a massive dark room.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

Before pulling this off successfully, Kohei Nawa experimented with various quantities of the three ingredients before a working formula was discovered. In the end, the mixture of detergent, glycerin and water proved stiff enough to maintain the cloud-like shape without necessarily being negatively impacted by gravity.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

Nawa is known for meticulously mapping out all of his artworks. Speaking about his artistic method, he noted in an exhibition catalog that there is no arbitrariness to this method1. He has been carefully planning his foam installations as well. This is actually a necessity, as foam reacts differently to temperature and humidity. Adding to these challenges are the delicate and light characteristics of foam.

Design concept diagrams of Kohei Nawa's Foam, 2013
Design concept diagrams of Kohei Nawa’s Foam, 2013

Still, he emphasizes that the work should feel playful and lighthearted. Exhibition visitors shouldn’t notice the extensive labor that was invested into creating the foam cloud, which could rise up to four meters in height. Instead, he says2:

They should just feel like they’re walking through clouds.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

The entire installation also included the installation of a PVC waterproof coating, a gigantic pool including a waterproof tarpaulin, non-slip rubber coating, ballasting weights, an air propulsion device (pumps, pressure regulators, connections, pipes, etc.), the foam system and more. Foam also required maintenance throughout the duration of each exhibition.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

Building a new environment

The public experiencing the installation was asked to walk around and explore the space. Although the audience was walking on the ground, they would feel the fluidity and fragility of the cloud, which ultimately impacted how people interacted with the clouds.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: Nobutada Omote/Sandwich

The clever lighting plays a crucial role in Foam. It creates the cloud-like shapes and darker forms which Nawa describes as being “like the landscape of a primordial planet3“. The rising foam connects until it reaches saturation and eventually spreads over the floor.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan,
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: 2013-09-21 18.51.02 (CC BY 2.0) Yuya Tamai

The clouds helped to build a new environment that disregarded the structural components such as the ceilings, walls, and floors. This created a new type of space with a brand-new spatial character that did not exist in the otherwise dull and blank room. Since the installation welcomed the participation of the audience, each individual experienced the clouds differently, thus giving rise to different perspectives, attitudes and feelings.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2013, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Aichi Triennale, Aichi, Japan, photo: 2013-09-21 18.50.33 (CC BY 2.0) Yuya Tamai

Analysis

According to Nawa, one of the main events that inspired Foamearthquake that occurred on March 11, 2011 and is commonly known as the Great East Japan Earthquake. Causing 19,747 deaths and damage of USD 360 billion, it significantly impacted Japan’s society and economy. Just like the many lives that got lost during the tragedy, the fragile foam clouds can be easily smashed. Foam therefore eludes to the fragile nature of life.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2017, detergent, glycerin, water, installation view, Espuma, Japan House São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2017, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Espuma, Japan House São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, photo: Rogério Cassimiro

On his website, Nawa speaks about the cycle of birth and destruction4 that each bubble can’t evade and compares this to how cells in human bodies work when they metabolize, circulate and eventually die. Foam as an imaginary landscape can also be considered an internal landscape.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2017, detergent, glycerin, water, installation view, Espuma, Japan House São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2017, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Espuma, Japan House São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, photo: Rogério Cassimiro

Another dimension to the artwork is its ephemeral character. Large enough to fill an entire room, it still feels as if it nearly does not exist and fades away with time and external pressure. The artwork was constantly evolving as visitors were allowed to play with the foam until the entire installation disappeared. Perhaps this can be as another symbol of the fragile character of our existence.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2017, detergent, glycerin, water, installation view, Espuma, Japan House São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2017, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, Espuma, Japan House São Paulo, São Paulo, Brazil, photo: Rogério Cassimiro

With only three ingredients, Nawa manages to create a powerful installation, using only two elements: bubbles and light. Foam manages to occupy and transform an entire room and turn it into a new world that leaves audiences worldwide baffled. Artists such as Fujiko Nakaya5 and Berndnaut Smilde6 have managed to create clouds but never before in this particular way.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2019, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2019, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, courtesy: 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa

Exhibitions

Foam was first presented in 2013 as part of the Aichi Triennale. This exhibition was launched in 2010 and is held in the Aichi prefecture every three years. Indeed, the Aichi Triennale is one of Japan’s biggest and most anticipated art festivals. As such, this event helped to greatly propel Kohei Nawa into the limelight.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France, photo: Omote Nobutada/Sandwich

Following the 2013 show, Foam was exhibited in various art spaces ever since. In 2017, it was shown at Japan House São Paulo in São Paulo, Brazil and in 2018 at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild in Paris, France. In 2019, the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa in Japan, dedicated a solo exhibition to the installation.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France, photo: Omote Nobutada/Sandwich

About the artist

Kohei Nawa is one of the most established artists in Japan. For years, Nawa has been creating masterpieces that explore the digital culture and its link with modern spirituality. Nawa was born in Osaka in 1975. He studied at the Kyoto City University of Art, graduating with a BFA and Ph.D. in fine arts.

Nawa belongs to a young generation of Japanese artists that broke free from utilizing Japanese stereotypes such as manga in their artworks and that abandoned the idea of representing Japan in their art altogether. Instead, extensive research and use of technology are vital elements of his artistic practice.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France, photo: Omote Nobutada/Sandwich

Best known for his work on the PixCell series, Nawa has also made a name for himself for producing artworks using everyday materials. For instance, for the PixCell series, Nawa used glass beads, glue, plaster, and spray to create the surfaces of his taxidermied creations. In this piece discussed above, the artist also utilized commonplace items like water and detergent to make the foams.

Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France
Kohei Nawa – Foam, 2018, detergent, glycerin, water, dimensions variable, installation view, FUKAMI, Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild, Paris, France, photo: Omote Nobutada/Sandwich
25 Jul. 2022
Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²

Introduction

The roof park of Marmara Forum is perhaps one of the most photographed in Istanbul, Turkey. It is situated in the Bakirköy district and a marvel of architecture located in a residential area in the city. Bakirköy is a crucial shopping and commercial center and is one of the most visited in the country.

Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²

On the Forum’s rooftop, an open-air playground can be seen from miles away. Often referred to as the Cloud Playground, the rooftop is a blend of architectural and engineering inventiveness that gave rise to a whimsical site.

Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²
Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²

This spherical play area was designed to stimulate a fun and exciting atmosphere capable of inspiring and capturing the imagination of all those that visit, whether young or old. The kaleidoscopic colors and maze-like interior have been perfectly designed to inspire fun, which is exactly what the designers conceptualized.

Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

Who made it?

This ultra-fun and futuristic playground was conceptualized by Carve, an architectural design firm based in Amsterdam. The project was commissioned as part of the Marmara Forum’s desire to revive and revitalize itself as the top choice for shopping and entertainment in the region.

Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

Carve was tasked with the job of renovating the terrace and the food court in the hope of re-establishing the shopping center as the number one choice for the residents as well as neighboring cities. With these newly renovated spaces, a new playground also needed to be created to match the allure of a world-class commercial hub.

Detail of Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²
Detail of Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²

Design elements

The result was a high-end rooftop playground situated on the terrace of the shopping center. The architects opted to place the shopping mall 24 meters above street level, which helped the construction to stand out further.

Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m².
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²

The playground itself was designed to cater to diverse groups, from very young children to older teens. To cater to the needs of each of these groups, the architects designed different play areas, including a space for toddlers and older children.

Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m².
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020, constructed using 275 double curved stainless steel panels, area of ca. 400 m²

Some of the features of the playground include a climbing dome, a tower that is as high as 8 meters and a massive internal slide. The architects covered the interior of the various circular clouds with components that could aid the children’s play, including handles that help them climb safely, slides to enhance their experience and a forest of hammocks for lounging and resting in between play sessions.

Functions of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground
Functions of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground

The circular openings of the clouds were also fitted with nets so that children could climb and play safely while also enjoying views from the surroundings. To ensure that the clouds were as safe as possible, every component was carefully pondered to give parents the peace of mind needed to allow their kids to play freely.

Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
View over Bakirköy from inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Opening inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Opening inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

Colors & material

The design team also picked materials that could survive continuous exposure to the elements when creating the design. The designers opted to go for white as the exterior color, which they cleverly juxtaposed with numerous colorful windows of different shapes and sizes. The use of candy-colored hues helped to add a sense of magical realism to the playground.

Windows of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Windows of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Windows of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Windows of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

The architects relied on local craftsmen who assembled and installed the curved stainless-steel panels with unbelievable accuracy.

Construction of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground
Construction of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground
Construction of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground
Construction of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground

Challenges & solutions

One of the biggest challenges that the design team faced when coming up with the concept was coming up with a design that could accommodate a large number of children safely. The architects also encountered a little difficulty in deciding which materials would work best while withstanding the heavy foot traffic that would be experienced during the weekends and holidays.

Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

Ultimately, the designers would settle on using hexagonal and pentagonal panels that would then be assembled into spheres of play clouds. In total, the design utilized a combined total of 275 panels, which created the self-supporting structure that children use and enjoy today.

Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

During hot weather, the children can play in the cloud’s shade and when raining, they can also seek shelter within the spaces. Although this project appears complex, it only took six months for Carve to complete, which is a testament to the firm’s experience and skill.

Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Inside of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

Location

  • Rooftop of Marmara Forum
  • Address: Osmaniye Mahallesi Çobançeşme Koşuyolu Bulvarı No:3 Bakırköy, İstanbul
  • Bus: 72T, 89M, 89S, 93M, 93T, Beylikdüzü – Zincirlikuyu
  • Train : Marmaray (Ataköy – Pendik), Marmaray (Halkali – Gebze)
  • Metro: M1A: Zeytinburnu Station or Incirli Station
  • Tel: 0 212 466 64 53

Plan & technical drawings

Plan of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Plan of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Technical drawing of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Technical drawing of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Technical drawing of Carve's Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Technical drawing of Carve’s Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

Final thoughts

Looking up from the street level, the structures and panels do look like clouds or something pulled out of a futuristic sci-fi movie. During the day, the sun shines on the clouds. At night, the white light that radiates from the openings and frames serves as a beacon for the surrounding builds of the Forum. Day or night, the Cloud Playground is an architectural marvel that draws thousands of visitors to the city each year.

Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Carve - Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020
Carve – Marmara Forum Cloud Playground, 2020

All images by Asli Dayioglu for carve unless otherwise noted.

More art playground

22 Jul. 2022
Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Nigel Young/Foster + Partners

Introduction

The Vieux Port has always been the center of cultural life in Marseille. Since the 16th century, the Le Vieux port of Marseille has been a center of trade and activity. Indeed, the port is regarded by many as the beating heart of the city and is considered one of the most vital parts of this ancient city.

Vieux Port Marseille
Vieux Port Marseille, photo: public domain

The Old Port may have started as a fishing port. However, from the 1840s onwards, new docks were added to accommodate larger ships. As the port grew, its waterfront had started to become inaccessible to pedestrians, thus cutting the area off from the city. As such, the authorities were forced to come up with a master plan for its regeneration.

Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Nigel Young/Foster + Partners

The mission was to recover the docksides and transform them into a public space. The architects charged with the regeneration process were also required to remove traffic to create a safe, pedestrian-friendly area where people could safely gather for events and performances. This is how the idea of the Vieux Port pavilion was birthed.

Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Nigel Young/Foster + Partners

The pavilion

The pavilion at Vieux Port was added to revitalize the port area, thus transforming it into a hub for the locals to meet and gather. The pavilion was a simple, inconspicuous canopy that was constructed from very reflective stainless steel. The 46 by 22-meter pavilion is supported by thin pillars, providing a roofed space for people to assemble at the easter edge of the port.

Construction of Foster + Partners' Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Construction of Foster + Partners’ Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Ombrière en construction. février 2013 (CC BY 2.0) Jeanne Menjoulet

The mirrored surface of the pavilion not only reflects the people standing underneath the reflected roof but also the surrounding environs, buildings, boat activity, and the shimmering water a few paces away. The pavilion was constructed as one of the many projects that were completed for the European Capital of Culture 2013, which was initiated by the architectural firm Foster + Partners.

Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière) (detail), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Ombrière, Vieux Port, Marseille (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) G@ttoGiallo

Speaking about the project, Lord Foster said1:

I know the harbour at Marseille well and it is a truly grand space. This project is a great opportunity to enhance it using very simple means, to improve it with a large pavilion for events, for markets, for special occasions. Our approach has been to work with the climate, to create shade, but at the same time to respect the space of the harbour – just making it better.

Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: L’ombrière (CC BY-NC 2.0) francoisaix

Open on all sides, the pavilion resolved all the structural and aesthetic problems that had plagued the area for so long. To make sure that the pavilion was strong and capable of withstanding harsh weather, the architects added a stiff central frame and a slight curve in the outline that tapers towards the sides as a way of minimizing the visual effect.

Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Nigel Young/Foster + Partners

In addition to installing the pavilion, the developers also replaced the boathouses on the quaysides with new platforms. The landscape was re-designed by Michel Desvigne, who added brand new granite paving, which resonated with the original color of the existing limestone cobbles. Cast iron bollards were also added to maximize the flexibility of the area.

1 min 29 sec

Location

Address: Quai de Rive Neuve, 13001 Marseille, France

Hours: 24h

Closest metro station: Vieux Port

After & Before of Foster + Partners' Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013
After & Before of Foster + Partners’ Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013

Today, the port is still as active and relevant as it was in the 19th century. These days, cruise ships and large tankers still use the port to offload tourists, as well as incoming freight.

The Vieux Port is also today’s marina and where tourists go to book boats and yachts for their tourist excavations. The port has also since become a meeting spot for locals. People gather at the port for food and drink as it is where most of the city’s restaurants are situated.

Plan & section view

Section view of Foster + Partners' Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013
Section view of Foster + Partners’ Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013
Plan view of Foster + Partners' Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013
Plan view of Foster + Partners’ Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013

Final words

This work cleverly blends architecture and art and is deemed one of Norman Foster’s most distinct and outstanding creations. Those interacting with the giant mirror roof reported feeling light-headed and as if being magnetized. By having a thinner profile toward the edges, the building minimizes its visible weight.

Foster + Partners - Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter
Foster + Partners – Marseille Vieux Port (L’Ombrière), 2013, stainless steel, pillars, 46 x 22 meter, photo: Mirror in the sky (CC BY-NC 2.0) marcbi91
20 Jul. 2022
Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: Mark Niedermann for Fondation Beyeler

Introduction

In 2018, the atrium of Zurich’s main station basked in the glory of a giant, colorful installation by the Brazilian contemporary artist Ernesto Neto. The huge Amazon tree-like sculpture stretched from the ceiling to the floor of the Swiss central station, helping set the mood and brighten the travelers’ spirit.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: Mark Niedermann for Fondation Beyeler

It is the star artist’s most stand-out accomplishment of this kind and was packed with stimulating spirituality. Meet the 20-meter high Gaia Mother Tree, which welcomed you into an oasis of meditation in its walk-in interior, with a high-flying contraption of spices towering above the station’s concourse.

Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, photo: Public Delivery

Gaia Mother Tree

Gaia Mother Tree was a one-of-a-kind art installation and collaborative work of the Brazilian artist Ernesto Neto and Swiss-based Fondation Beyeler. As well as this public installation, the Fondation Beyeler exhibited some of the artist’s previous artworks in its main exhibition hall in Zurich.

Gaia Mother Tree was a monumental sculpture comprising colorful, hand-woven cotton strips. The installation soared a dizzying 20 meters to the ceiling of the elevated station concourse, which made it look like a massive tree from the Amazon forest.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: DSCN9570 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) keepps

This monumental marvel was a walk-through sculpture that served as a spot for meditation, interaction, and meeting. The installation also hosted a schedule of diverse events for children and adults, including lectures, workshops, meditations, music, and guided commentary of Neto’s works.

1 min

Design & materials: 420 kg of spices

Right off the bat, the most impressive thing about Gaia Mother Tree is that it’s entirely hand-made. Colorful cotton strips were hand-knotted together using finger crotchet technology, creating a massive sheer sculpture. The top part of the structure, resembling a treetop, covered the station hall’s ceiling.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: DSCN9550 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) keepps

The lower part of the sculpture, in the form of a tree base, had a spacious room with a circular seating array for travelers to sit, relax, and meet. Drop-esque counterweights packed with seeds and aromatic spices from across the globe dangled from the “tree branches”.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: Mark Niedermann for Fondation Beyeler

In fact, the drop-like elements were filled with well over 420 kilograms (926 pounds) of ground, aromatic spices. They served numerous purposes: the spices filled the ambient station atmosphere with fragrance, gave a whole meaning to the installation, and ensured the large, mesh-like sculpture stayed in place.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: DSCN9560 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) keepps

In total, Neto and his team used 70 kilograms (around 154 pounds) of each black pepper and cumin and 140 kilograms (about 308 pounds) of each clove and turmeric. They all hovered above the walk-in room in the colossal trunk of the tree, inviting locals and visitors alike to linger. Pots filled with sweet-smelling herbs and meditation cushions organized in a circle planted this sanctuary smack dab in the center of the vibrant station hall.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Seating inside of Ernesto Neto’s GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: DSCN9568 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) keepps

Um Sagrado Lugar (A sacred place) shown at the 2017 Venice Biennale provided a preview of this masterpiece, which was one of the biggest creations yet constructed by Neto utilizing this knotting technique. Neto created a spiritual gathering space in the Arsenale with a similar but much smaller net-like installation that was crafted in collaboration with members of the Brazilian indigenous Huni Kuin tribes.

Ernesto Neto - Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place), 2017, installation view, La Biennale di Venezia 2017
Ernesto Neto – Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place), 2017, installation view, La Biennale di Venezia 2017, photo: Viva Arte Viva – La Biennale di Venezia (CC BY 2.0) corno.fulgur75

Concept & interpretation

Since 2013, Ernesto Neto’s work has included Huni Kuin’s technical aesthetics and techniques. Beyond all else, Neto’s art has been influenced by the indigenous people’s innate spirituality ever since.

This also applies to his 2018 huge throw, whose title carries the moniker of the primeval mother earth because we are all tied to Gaia by an unseen umbilical cord. Perhaps this should occur to us in light of Neto’s enchantingly floating knotted piece at Zurich’s central station.

4 min 27 sec

But Gaia Mother Tree can’t be effectively described from the outside – you must have experienced and immersed yourself inside — after, we are all also going to live in this tree. It’s as if people were crawling through a bamboo birth canal and colorful fabric ribbons into the womb of the Gaia tree, which seems like it was transplanted here from the Brazilian rainforest.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: Mark Niedermann for Fondation Beyeler

And you could sit in there, comfortably safe and yet connected to the environment through the see-through-ness of the knitted cover, which remained present around us acoustically and visually.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Visitors mediating inside of Ernesto Neto’s GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: DSCN9576 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) keepps

Meditation became contact with the all-encompassing urban buzz that can only be experienced in an ever-busy railway station concourse under the mother tree. The delicate wafts of aroma from the spice counterweights hanging down like lianas assured you were there and yet a bit isolated from the frenetic everyday life at the station.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree (detail), 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: DSCN9578 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) keepps

This paradoxical simultaneity of elsewhere yet here made us feel more connected, which is what the artist’s installation perhaps also symbolizes in the grand scheme of things. But maybe it is simply the fragrant spice blend that makes you hallucinate a little. Either way, Neto’s Gaia Mother Tree is right on the money.

Sketch for Ernesto Neto's GaiaMotherTree, 2018
Sketch for Ernesto Neto’s GaiaMotherTree, 2018

Gaia Mother Tree examined how the collaborative efforts reflected in the project are at the core of the dialogue about our planet’s future in a context where cultural ideas, projections, and misconceptions are ever-migrating.

7 min 10 sec

About the Artist: Ernesto Neto

Born in 1964 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Ernesto Neto is one of Brazil’s most acclaimed contemporary artists and, indeed, the rest of Latin America. He broke into the limelight in the 1990s with highly-attractive biomorphic hanging stockings filled with aromatic spices.

Ernesto Neto portrait
Ernesto Neto portrait, photo: Niels Fabaek/Kunsten Museum of Modern Art, Aalborg

His work has been recognized across the globe, with numerous exhibitions in the world’s best museums, including multiple presentations at Venice Biennale. Neto’s significant artworks are part of permanent collections of many art galleries and museums, including the Hara Museum, Tokyo; the Centre Pompidou, Paris; the Tate Modern, London; the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Museum of Modern Art, New York, among others.

Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, photo: Public Delivery

His concepts were mainly inspired by the 1960s Brazilian Neo-Concrete movement, not to mention Arte Povera, Conceptual art, and Minimalism. Ecology, humanism and spirituality are some of his main topics, often communicated through techniques and materials never seen before in art.

Ernesto Neto - GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018
Ernesto Neto – GaiaMotherTree, 2018, woven cotton fabric, 420kg of spices (turmeric, cloves, cumin, black pepper), plant seeds, height 20 m., area 40 x 38 m., installation view, Zürich main station, Zürich, Switzerland, 2018, photo: Mark Niedermann for Fondation Beyeler
18 Jul. 2022
Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi, 1968 (CC BY 2.0) wwward0

Introduction

Red Cube is a gigantic monumental sculpture by the American landscape architect and artist Isamu Noguchi, located out in Lower Manhattan. The minimalist masterpiece combines architecture and art, creating a fascinating monochromatic cube that balances nimbly on one of its corners.

Notwithstanding its title, Red Cube isn’t an actual cube but rather looks as though it’s been overextended along the vertical axis. Let’s find out more about Isamu Noguchi’s landmark sculpture. Noguchi installed the enormous public art installation in April of 1968.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Kid in a Cube (CC BY 2.0) wwward0

About the Red Cube

Nestled at 140 Broadway in one of the most sought-after addresses in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District, Red Cube surely pops out against the background of the high-flying skyscrapers that house the HSBC Bank, Brown Brothers Harriman, and the Bank of America.

Aside from these high-rise buildings that flank the piece, the area is frequented by Halal carts and camera-toting tourists looking to snap Instagram-approved photos.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Cube (CC BY-NC 2.0) Maciek Lulko

Wearing a vivid shade of red and standing on one of its vertices, Red Cube is classified as a minimalist, site-specific public installation art. The scripture stretches axially, in a seemingly incomparable competition with the high-rise building flanking it.

The sculpture is made up exclusively of red-painted steel but it’s not just the stunning bright red color that distinguishes the sculpture from its surrounding architecture and design elements.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: 140 Broadway (CC BY-NC 2.0) Maciek Lulko

Design & positioning

Everything about this sculpture is unique and refreshing, but nothing beats its ability to contrast yet marry into the surrounding. Aside from its eye-catching hue, Red Cube stands out from the surrounding architecture because all of its lines are diagonals.

They stand in stark contrast to the vertical and horizontal lines of the neighboring façade of the Gordon Bunshaft-designed HSBC Building (previously known as the Marine Midland Bank) and the adjacent buildings.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube Manhattan (CC BY-ND 2.0) Mal B

Furthermore, the artwork is perched somewhat dangerously on one corner, seemingly balancing precariously – meanwhile, the neighboring buildings are solidly erected, creating a distinctive contrast.

The brilliant red painted steel of Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube stands out starkly against the blacks, browns, and whites of the surrounding buildings and streets. It is bordered on three sides by skyscrapers, the height of which draws the viewer’s eye upwards.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Red Cube, 1968 (CC BY-NC 2.0) ArtJoy4Ever

The sculpture itself contributes to this upward pull by balancing on one corner, with the opposing corner reaching towards the sky. Despite its namesake, the sculpture is not a cube but rather appears to have been extended along its vertical axis, forming a distorted cubic-esque structure.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube Manhattan (CC BY-ND 2.0) Mal B

Noguchi’s intention

A cylindrical hole cuts through the middle of the sculpture, revealing a grey internal surface with uniformly-spaced lines running from one hole opening to the other. If you look through the Cube’s hole, you are being provided with an immersive view, gazing directly at the sky towards the HSBC Building. This design helps tie the architecture of the surroundings and the sculpture together.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube (detail), 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube (detail), 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: 110620-0085 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) gaetanku

To create this artwork, Isamu Noguchi married architecture with art, purposely paying homage to the setting. In line with the artist’s earlier works, the structure playfully mingles with the urban fabric and presence of the surrounding architecture. After all, the site upon which the sculpture sits can be as vital as the artwork itself.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube (detail), 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Red Cube (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) josullivan.59

Emphasizing the importance of this relationship between the surroundings and the installation, Noguchi stayed true to his creed as an artist. Noguchi believed that an artist is not only a creator and decorator of structures but also a credible collaborator with the architects in creating significant shapes and space.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube (detail), 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube (detail), 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: 110620-0084 (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) gaetanku

The setting

To better understand the importance of this artwork, you need to understand the location, which some call one of the great public spaces of New York. They even dare to compare this small part of the city with the visual impact and elegance of any renowned Renaissance plaza or Baroque setting and call it one of the most magnificent examples of 20th-century urbanism anywhere in the world.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Red Cube by Isamu Noguchi (CC BY-NC 2.0) Zach K

Pulitzer Prize winner Ada Louise Huxtable, one of America’s most architectural critics, wrote in her 1968 review1:

The scale of the buildings, the use of open space, the views revealed or suggested, the contrasts of architectural style and material, of sculptured stone against satin-smooth metal and glass, the visible change and continuity of New York’s remarkable skyscraper history; the brilliant accent of the poised Noguchi cube–color, size, style, mass, space, light, dark, solids, voids, highs and lows–are all just right.

Location

Noguchi’s Red Cube is located on one side of a tiny plaza in front of the HSBC (formerly the Marine Midland Bank) building on Broadway. It is tucked between Cedar Street and Liberty Street at 140 Broadway, New York, NY, 10005.

Address: 140 Broadway, New York, NY 10006, USA

Hours: 24h

Closest subway stations: Take Lexington Avenue Express 4 or 5 Train to Wall Street Station or J/Z train to Fulton Street

Trivia

Appearance in The April Fools, 1969

Due to its bold and unusual appearance, Red Cube quickly rose to fame. In 1969, one year after its installation, it prominently appeared in the movie The April Fools, starring widely popular actor Jack Lemon and French actress Catherine Deneuve in her first Hollywood movie.

Video still of The April Fools, 1969
Video still of The April Fools, 1969

Survived 9/11

During 9/11, a significant amount of art in and around the Twin Towers got destroyed. The estimated value of the art by the likes of Alexander Calder, Joan Miró and Roy Lichtenstein is a mind-blowing $100 million of art from private collections and $10 million of public art. Noguchi’s sculpture managed to survive these attacks and, well over 50 years later, looks the same as in 1968.

Occupy Wall Street, 2011

In 2011, Red Cube witnessed yet another tumultuous event, the Occupy Wall Street protests, which took place across the street in Zuccotti Park. The non-violent occupation left the artwork undamaged.

The second day of Occupy Wall Street Day, September 18, 2011, in Zuccotti Park with Noguchi's Red Cube in the background
The second day of Occupy Wall Street Day, September 18, 2011, in Zuccotti Park with Noguchi’s Red Cube and Mark di Suvero’s Joie de Vivre in the background, photo: Occupy Wall Street September 18 2011 Sha (CC BY 2.0) david_shankbone

Controversial redesign plan, 2018

In 2018, a building owner proposed a controversial plan2 to redesign the plaza, adding seating, walls and trees, and consequentially getting rid of the food vendors but also obstructing the exceptional views.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Food truck in front of Isamu Noguchi’s Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: Noguchi’s ”Cube” (CC BY 2.0) wwward0

These plans have encountered enormous backlash both from public and private institutions as well as individuals and remodeling requests have been thwarted. The plaza and building, declared a landmark in 2013, can still be enjoyed without much interference.

140 Broadway-Helmlsey seating
Rendering of the proposed 140 Broadway plaza view with benches, planters and trees. Image by Jackson Wandres/NV5 via Tribeca Trib

Who created the Red Cube?

Isamu Noguchi is the artist behind the public art installation. Born in 1904 in Los Angeles, Noguchi was a well-known landscape architect, industrial designer and artist. He’s celebrated as one of the most influential American sculptors of the 20th century.

From the 1920s until he died in 1988, Isamu Noguchi had a productive career. Noguchi was raised in Japan by his American mother (he’s the son of Japanese playwright Yone Noguchi) and was initially discouraged from becoming an artist until he began attending sculpting workshops in New York.

Isamu Noguchi - Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York
Isamu Noguchi – Red Cube, 1968, steel, aluminum, 24 feet tall, installation view, 140 Broadway, New York, photo: The Cube, Marine Midland Building, Broad (CC BY-SA 2.0) Ken Lund

Noguchi subsequently proceeded to Paris and began his creative career as one of Brancusi’s assistants. He mastered stone sculpting and later expanded his abilities to include landscape, furniture, architecture, and stage design.

Throughout his career, he created gardens, furniture and theater designs, among other works that can be found in major cities across the world. You’ve probably seen his artworks in New York City: The Sunken Garden (1961-1964) is in the open plaza in front of Chase Manhattan Bank Plaza, and News (1940) is on the main entrance to 50 Rockefeller Plaza.

Isamu Noguchi - News, 1940, installation view, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York
Isamu Noguchi – News, 1940, installation view, 50 Rockefeller Plaza, New York, photo: NYC – Rockefeller Center: Associated Pre (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) wallyg

Furthermore, the Noguchi Museum (formerly known as the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum) in Long Island City has an outdoor sculpture garden and multiple galleries displaying his work.

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