Meadmore’s Curl…Conservation Begins Today

DSC_0257Conservation day has arrived! The Curl by Clement Meadmore, the large sculpture installed outside Uris Hall, is about to undergo a major conservation project. Those following the Public Outdoor Sculpture at Columbia blog may recall our previous posts about this work, including a video about its history and deteriorating condition over decades of exposure to NYC environmental conditions. In both of those posts we noted that a task force was exploring conservation options for this sculpture, and those plans are now in place.

On Tuesday and Wednesday, September 8 and 9, Conservation Solutions and their riggers will dismantle the sculpture, and on Thursday, September 10, the sculpture will be moved off-site so conservation work may begin. The sculpture will be reinstalled later in the fall semester, looking as good as it did when it arrived on campus nearly fifty years ago.

Among the more significant works of public outdoor sculpture on the Morningside Campus, the Curl by Clement Meadmore (1929-2005) was commissioned by Percy Uris (1899-1971), businessman and benefactor of the Columbia Business School. Meadmore received his training as a sculptor in Australia, and in the 1960s emigrated to the United States where he was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and the improvisational sounds of jazz. Curl was the artist’s first commission for a large-scale public monument and in 1968 it was installed on the lawn of the new Business School building, which Uris had endowed. This sculpture made Meadmore’s international reputation, and he went on to receive numerous other commissions for public outdoor sculptures from universities, corporations, and cities around the world.

Meadmore began experimenting with Cor-Ten steel, at that time a new product, and he developed his signature fluid-like geometric sculptures that belie the industrial materiality of the metal from which they are made. The inherent nature of Cor-Ten steel is that it rusts, and in the oeuvre of artists such as Richard Serra this rust effect is seen as part of the sculpture’s aesthetic. Meadmore’s interest in painting his steel structures, however, gave them a more pure and streamlined appearance. Unfortunately, over time, the degradation of the paint in combination with the oxidating steel resulted in a number of structural issues. When the Curl conservation project is completed, the revitalized sculpture’s fissures and gaps will be repaired, the rust will have been removed, and a fresh uniform coat of paint will restore the beauty of this work similar to its origins as Meadmore intended.

Acknowledgments are due to everyone who has worked on bringing this project forward, including the Office of the Provost, the Meadmore conservation task force, the Columbia Business School, Columbia Facilities, and the Columbia University Libraries.

William Ordway Partridge and the Van Amringe Memorial

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe face of John Howard Van Amringe (1835-1915), with his fashionable low-hanging whiskers, is one of the most recognizable in Columbia’s visual history. Van Amringe graduated from Columbia College in 1860 and began teaching courses in mathematics that same year. Fifty years later in 1910, he retired as the much-esteemed Dean of Columbia College and Chair of the Mathematics Dept. He was soon commemorated with a series of portrait busts by alumnus sculptor William Ordway Partridge (1861-1930). Two replicas of this bust were commissioned in bronze in 1912 and 1913 and were installed respectively in Hamilton Hall and the Columbia Club. A third, cast in 1922, was destined for the eponymous tempietto-styled pavilion that still exists outside Hartley and Wallach (formerly Livingston) Halls.

The Columbia Spectator reported on September 27, 1917, that work on the Van Amringe Memorial was underway and expected to be completed the following month. They described its design as “a circular structure containing a bust of Dean Van Amringe . . . . The quadrangle bounded by the double row of linden trees will be planted with shrubbery and evergreens to set off the monument to the best advantage.” The approved plan for the structure was described as “a stone building of classic design, consisting of a raised platform which will be a base for ten columns surmounted by a dome. It will be twenty-three feet in diameter and twenty-five feet in height.” (p. 4)

Subsequent articles reported on the need for further funding to complete the project, and the memorial was completed over the next few years. Finally, in June 1922 on Commencement Day, the third bronze bust by Partridge was installed on a marble pedestal designed by the architects McKim, Mead, and White. Inscribed on the ground around the pedestal was the following: “JOHN HOWARD VAN AMRINGE, 1835–1915 / OF THE CLASS OF 1860 / DEAN OF COLUMBIA MANY A DAY. / THE LIGHT HE LEAVES BEHIND HIM / LIES UPON THE PATHS OF MEN.”

On June 8, 1962, vandals reportedly toppled the bust off the pedestal and caused extensive damage. The bust was either repaired or replaced, and reinstalled in December of that year. In Fall 1987 the memorial underwent conservation efforts to refurbish the pavilion structure. Built to commemorate one of Columbia’s most important administrators, the Van Amringe Memorial and Quadrangle remains today one of the most popular areas for outdoor study and socializing on the grounds of the Morningside campus.

To read the Columbia Spectator in digital format, consult the Columbia University Libraries’ Digital Collections, or go to http://spectatorarchive.library.columbia.edu/.

Image: William Ordway Partridge, John Howard Van Amringe as installed in the Van Amringe Memorial, designed 1912, cast and installed in 1922, bronze on a marble pedestal, H. bust: 33 in. (83.8 cm), University Commission (C00.1254). Photograph: Michael J. Munro, Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University.

Kees Verkade and Tightrope Walker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACrossing the sky bridge over Amsterdam Ave. and walking toward Columbia University’s Law School, visitors quickly see a towering bronze sculpture depicting two tightrope walkers, one balancing atop the other’s shoulders. Created as a tribute to General William J. (“Wild Bill”) Donovan, a graduate of Columbia College and Columbia Law School, Tightrope Walker was created by the Dutch artist Kees Verkade and installed on Revson Plaza in 1979.

Born in 1883, Gen. Donovan came to prominence as the commander of New York’s “Fighting 69th” regiment in the First World War. He became the only soldier who fought in that war to receive the four highest awards: the Medal of Honor, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Service Medal, and the National Security Medal. During World War II, Gen. Donovan served as the wartime head of the Office of Strategic Services, a precursor to the Central Intelligence Agency. He died in 1959 and, ten years later, a group of the General’s associates and friends began fundraising to create a memorial to commemorate him, to be located on Columbia University’s Morningside campus.

The sculptor Verkade was born in Haarlem, The Netherlands, in 1941. He trained as a sculptor from the age of sixteen, when he enrolled at the Royal Academy in The Hague. During his five years of training, Verkade was introduced to the details of bronze casting, a medium that would define his future work. By 1970, his art had gained international attention when an article about him appeared in Time magazine. Soon afterward, in 1973, he was commissioned to design the sculpture honoring Gen. Donovan. In preparation for the memorial, Verkade watched archival films of the General and interviewed people who had known him in order to become more familiar with the man. In choosing to depict two tightrope walkers, one balancing upon the shoulders of the other, Verkade wanted to display the courage and controlled daring of Gen. Donovan.

The bronze sculpture, installed on Columbia University’s Revson Plaza, weighs 842 pounds and stands 14 ft. 3 in. tall, not including its plinth, which makes the monumental sculpture reach a height of 21 ft.

Verkade is also famous for his bust of Princess Grace of Monaco, an example of which is in the collection of the National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. To learn more about Verkade, go to http://www.keesverkade.com/en.

— Michael J. Munro (GSAPP, Historic Preservation), Art Properties student assistant

Image: Kees Verkade, Tightrope Walker, commissioned in 1973, installed in 1979, bronze on marble plinth, H. 21 ft. (6.4 m), Gift of the Friends of General William J. Donovan (1979.5.5). Photograph: Michael J. Munro, Art Properties, Avery Library, Columbia University

Public Sculpture, November 2014

Here are a few new photos of the some of the public outdoor sculptures on the Morningside campus, taken by Art Properties student assistant Michael J. Munro (GSAPP, Historic Preservation). If you want to send us your photos and possibly see them on the blog, email us at artproperties@library.columbia.edu.

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Kees Verdake, “Tight Rope Walker,” 1973-79, Revson Plaza

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David Bakalar, “Life Force,” 1988-92, Revson Plaza

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Auguste Rodin, “The Thinker,” 1880-82, cast 1930, outside Philosophy Hall

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William Ordway Partridge, “John Howard Van Amringe,” 1920, Van Amringe Plaza

 

Curl: The Video

Clement Meadmore’s abstract sculpture The Curl was commissioned from the artist by Percy Uris, and in 1968 the work was installed at Columbia outside the newly-constructed Uris Hall. The Office of Marketing and Communications at the Business School recently produced this fascinating video about the history of the sculpture and its arrival on campus. Credit goes to Brett Essler, Senior Digital Content Manager, and his team for spearheading this video project. As noted in a previous post, a task force is hard at work exploring conservation options for this important sculpture.

Conserving Jefferson, Hamilton, and the Thinker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you are strolling around the Morningside campus this week and next week, you will notice people working in the hot sun treating three bronze sculptures: William Ordway Partridge’s two statues of Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton, and Auguste Rodin’s The Thinker. Conservation Solutions has been contracted to clean, treat, patinate, and rewax these statues and their pedestals, to freshen them up and stabilize the condition of each sculpture.

Since the statue of Jefferson outside the School of Journalism is celebrating his 100th birthday this year, this seemed like a great opportunity to give him a “facelift.” Similarly, Jefferson’s partner Hamilton, installed in 1908 outside Hamilton Hall, needed cleaning and treatment. Unfortunately, the Rodin sculpture recently had been vandalized, someone having brushed and sprayed gold paint onto parts of the statue, so it too needed treatment to remove the paint and restore the statue’s protective wax finish.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe two pictures you see here show the conservators using blow torches for the application of hot wax. As noted on this blog, the care and protection of public outdoor sculpture is costly, but critical to the long life of these beautiful works of art. Stay tuned for more news about conservation and the public outdoor sculpture at Columbia, and say thank you to the staff from Conservation Solutions!

Unveiling Alma Mater

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Thanks to the ongoing release of digital images from University Archives, we are able to visually relive great moments from Columbia’s past. For instance, the image you see here shows the unveiling of the sculpture Alma Mater, which was designed by Daniel Chester French and cast in bronze by John Williams. From the time of its installation, this sculpture has been a symbol of academic pride for Columbia University.

The Trustees approved French’s design for the statue in Spring 1901, and it was scheduled to be unveiled at Commencement in June 1903. However, a strike at the Williams foundry delayed completion of the statue. It was therefore officially unveiled in the late afternoon hours on September 23, 1903, following the opening exercises for the 150th academic year, which took place that same day at 3:00 PM. At the unveiling, an introductory prayer was offered by Henry Codman Potter, University Trustee and Bishop of New York. The statue was then formally presented to President Nicholas Murray Butler by John Howard Van Amringe, Dean of Columbia College, on behalf of the donors.

Alma Mater was a gift in honor of Robert Goelet of the Class of 1860 from his wife and his son, Robert Walton Goelet. What may not be immediately obvious in the image seen here is that the bronze sculpture was initially gilded and thus glowed like a gold beacon in the sunlight. As taste in sculpture changed, French returned at a later date and removed the gilding, giving the statue the brown lustre it has to this day.

For more information about the unveiling of Alma Mater, see the front page of the Columbia Daily Spectator for September 23, 1903, available online through the Columbia Spectator Archive project.

Auguste Rodin and The Thinker

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAmong all the public outdoor sculptures on campus, the one probably most familiar to people is The Thinker (Le Penseur) by the French sculptor Auguste Rodin (1840-1917). Situated on the lawn outside Philosophy Hall, The Thinker is six feet tall without his base, which adds nearly another six feet to its overall height.

Rodin began his career in the mid-1870s, following the end of the Franco-Prussian War, a period in which numerous monumental sculptures began to appear throughout Paris as a form of patriotism to the newly-established Third Republic government. His Parisian artist contemporaries included the Impressionist painters Claude Monet and Edgar Degas. Although Rodin’s sculptures are figurative in nature and arguably an adaptation of classical forms, art historians see them as the beginning of a modernist sensibility toward abstraction in sculpture because of their stark hyper-realism and fragmentation of the body. The Thinker was originally designed in 1880-82 as the central figure at the top of his monumental set of doors, The Gates of Hell. The seated male nude was meant to represent Dante contemplating his journey into Hell as recounted in his epic poem The Inferno. The commission for the doors never came to fruition, and so Rodin began marketing individual sculptures from the portal as art objects unto themselves. He cast the first life-sized versions of The Thinker in 1903.

After Rodin’s death, his studio continued to produce bronze casts in his name using the sculptor’s original models. Columbia’s replica of The Thinker was commissioned in 1930 by then-President Nicholas Murray Butler from the Musée Rodin, and it was cast in bronze by Alexis Rudier, Rodin’s preferred foundry. The sculpture as it sits on the lawn outside Philosophy Hall has come to symbolize wisdom and knowledge, the importance of the thought process needed to excel in one’s academic studies.

Abuse and Preservation of Public Outdoor Sculpture

Uris-skateboarding-on-public-artThe image you see here was published a few months ago on the BWOG, Columbia’s student-run campus news site. Although the caption suggests that their editorial group appreciated the skateboarder’s midnight riding skills (“color us impressed”), in fact this kind of activity on a public outdoor sculpture is one of the worst things that can happen to the work of art itself. Sculptures in stone and metal naturally suffer from the elements of nature, from acid rain to guano, but they also suffer a great deal from the acts of humans. This ranges from the unconscious touching of sculptures, leaving oil residue that erodes the surface, or outright vandalism and abuse of the works of art themselves. Skateboarding on Clement Meadmore’s Curl clearly is an example of this latter abuse. This sculpture has been interpreted as many things, but the one thing that can be confirmed is that it is NOT a skateboard ramp!

This abstract sculpture was the first commission for a public outdoor monumental sculpture that Clement Meadmore (1929-2005) received. Born in Australia, where he received his artistic training, Meadmore emigrated to the United States where he was influenced by Abstract Expressionism, Minimalism, and the improvisational sounds of jazz music. He began experimenting with Cor-Ten steel, and developed his signature fluid geometric sculptures that belie the industrial materiality of the metal with which they are made. Meadmore received this commission from businessman and philanthropist Percy Uris in 1967. The sculpture was installed at the Morningside Campus a year later as a gift from Uris to decorate the lawn of the new Business School building, which he had endowed. This sculpture made Meadmore’s international reputation, and he went on to receive numerous other commissions for public outdoor sculptures from universities, businesses, and cities around the world.

The natural degradation of the paint on the Cor-Ten steel has, unfortunately, made the Curl look less desirable today as it once did. However, a Task Force has been formed to address the concerns of this sculpture and to make recommendations for ways in which Meadmore’s first major work of art can be properly preserved and restored to its original glory. Stay tuned for more information about this.

And, as a reminder, please don’t ride skateboards on the sculpture!

Jefferson in the Past

1521784_712912068732593_1388834172_nUniversity Archives, in RBML, recently released this archival photograph showing the back of Thomas Jefferson by William Ordway Partridge (1861-1930). This statue of the third President of the United States, shown as a young man, was modeled in plaster by Partridge in 1901 and cast in bronze in 1914 by Roman Bronze Works, Inc., a New York-based foundry. The sculpture was a gift from the estate of Joseph Pulitzer and supplemented by public subscription. It was installed outside the Graduate School of Journalism and unveiled on June 4, 1914, making it a companion work to Partridge’s statue of Alexander Hamilton, located outside Hamilton Hall. Jefferson stands on a granite pedestal and measures 14 feet in height. The original plaster model, at 20 5/8 inches in height, is in the permanent collection of The New-York Historical Society.