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Reviled artwork is doing its duty

The more I read the very unkind letters concerning the recently damaged Marco di Suvero sculpture, Helmholtz, the more I like the piece.

Di Suvero is a major American sculptor whose works can be seen at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the Century Center in South Bend and many other places.

As a modern artist myself and one who has taught art history for 35 years, I wish to make a few comments.

As I think of the principles of visual art – unity, variety, balance, relevance, etc. – I ask myself, how do these apply to this work?

The medium: It is built with steel I-beams. If you stand in Freimann Square or almost anywhere in the modern world and look around, you see buildings in various shapes and sizes. How can they stand 10, 20, 40 stories high; in large cities, 80 stories high or more? The major structural element is steel I-beams welded and bolted together, the skeletons of modern architecture.

Di Suvero’s beams interact in a variety of angles, which, in their totality, comprise a unified and balanced work. It is the logical medium for a modern sculptor. Sculptures of marble, bronze, and so on abound, but, as beautiful they may be, reflect another age.

The kind of criticism we have been seeing is not new. His sculpture brings to my mind the famous Eiffel Tower in Paris built for the World’s Fair of 1889.

When it was first proposed and building began with iron girders bolted together, there was a storm of criticism that had rarely been directed at a work of art. Major figures in France, and even artists, shrieked: “It is ugly, it will ruin the skyline of our beloved Paris”, etc. Today, if anyone seriously proposed taking it down, there would be an outcry heard around the world!

Di Suvero’s sculpture is not Fort Wayne’s Eiffel Tower, but it is a good example of the work of an internationally recognized artist and a part of Fort Wayne’s cultural heritage.

Many have been upset about the money to be paid to restore the work, saying that it should go for some social program, to help people in need. I am all for helping the needy, but I think the money will surely come from the insurance companies for the purpose of the restoration of the sculpture and certainly just for that purpose. It is not just a check that is sitting there that could be used in some other way.

And it will not be money just thrown away. The restoration will require workers: metal workers, masons, machine operators, a painter or two, and so on, resulting in paychecks. Certainly, there are workers in Fort Wayne that can use them. As a corporate gift, the sculpture cost the people of Fort Wayne nothing, nor will the restoration. So why are people complaining?

I have to confess that, early on, even as an art history teacher, I thought the work was well done but I was not wildly enthusiastic about it. But, as I think of the sculpture, and photographs of it complete and undamaged as it was and will be again, my appreciation of the work has grown. And it has made me think. Art is supposed to do that. I hope it does so for others who have commented upon this work.

Norman Bradley is a local painter and retired professor of fine arts at IPFW. He wrote this for The Journal Gazette.