publication of the International Sculpture Center
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& Sculptors: The Rewards, The Frustrations
by Victor M. Cassidy
Terry Karpowicz, Symbiotic Parallax, 1994. Steel
21 x 12 x 12 ft.
Installed at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
was laid, the crane was there, everything showed up on time. The piece
was lifted up, and it sat exactly the way it was supposed to
It came in sections, we assembled it, and there it was. I saw it for the
very first time. It was a great feeling. King of the World for a day
This is how Terry
Karpowicz describes an installation that went just perfectlyplacing
his Symbiotic Parallax in front of the Molecular Biology Building
at the University of Illinois in Chicago. Karpowicz is one of four Chicago
sculptorswith more than 150 commissions between themwho talked
about the day-to-day rewards and frustrations that come with creating
large-scale pieces for public and private buildings. The other artists
are: John Adduci, who has made sculptures for the State of Illinois, the
City of Chicago, and many others; Richard Hunt, who has created more than
100 steel, stainless steel, and bronze sculptures for indoor sites, urban
plazas, and large outdoor locations all over North America; and Christine
Rojek, who uses aluminum to make brightly colored kinetic and interactive
sculptures for a variety of clients.
In the most gratifying
sculpture/architecture projects, strong leadership moves things along.
Frustration builds when the client (usually an ill-assorted committee)
postpones decisions repeatedly because everyone fears being blamed for
Richard Hunt is currently
developing a 35-foot-tall outdoor sculpture for the Heritage Millennium
Building, a high-rise thats going up on a prime site in downtown
Chicago. The artist, who is working directly with the development team
that hired the architect, calls this project as good as it gets
for a sculptor. Hunt, the architect, and the landscape architect
all have roughly equal status under the direction of the developer, who
holds the purse strings.
Adduci, Antipodes, 2000.
Bronze and stainless steel
22 x 20 x 10 ft.
Installed at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
A project can
go on forever, Hunt adds, if a sculptor works with commissions made
up of architects, politicians, and community representatives. Whatever
social skills, patience, and professional abilities you bring to the situationyou
often have to use them to the full, he says. Most often, Im
given a site and told to make the best of itnot in just those words,
but thats the import. Hes been able to develop
this as part of a way of responding creatively to an already existing,
already designated site. Occasionally, Hunt sells a big piece from
his studio inventory and works to give it a sense of belonging
when he installs it at the buyers site.
By the time John
Adduci arrives on the scene, the architect has the building pretty
well conceived, he says, so he deals mostly with the site manager
and generals underneath the architect, including structural
engineers. If hes making an outdoor sculpture, he marries it to
the building and the site. He may attach an indoor piece to the building
structure, which means consulting with the site staff.
Karpowicz has had
good experiences and bad. Sometimes community people and the architect
(much more revered than the artist for some reason) simply
tell him what to do. A community panel in Highland Park, Illinois, showed
him a site and asked him where he wanted to place his sculpture. He prefers
this approach. Rojek, who installs most of her work indoors, says that
architects dont always recognize how much impact a sculpture can
have on a space. Sculptors must be sensitive to what the architect
is trying to say, she states.
Some artists tell horror stories about community representatives who make
annoying remarks about their work in meetings and demand frivolous changes.
Karpowicz simply tells committees that his work is abstract and declares
that abstraction by itself is about subjective approach, where you
bring your own history to it. He does not take criticism personally
and listens carefully to committee members to learn how his work is perceived.
Adduci calls community
criticism part of the territory and says that he hears all
sorts of things from passersby as hes installing a piece. Most remarks
come from people who ask whether tax dollars paid for the sculpture. Rojek
wows committees in presentations by being very specific about what she
wants. I spell out very clearly what theyre going to get,
she says. Because I fall in love with the piece while Im designing
it, I become a cheerleader for my work. Shes never had people
demand changes except for public safety, which is completely justified
in her opinion.
All the artists say
that building owners may not recognize that sculptures need maintenance.
Theres a sort of funny feeling about art being sacred in a
way, says Rojek, like it cant break down because its
art. According to Hunt, theres an obligation, in taking
on a sculpture project, to ensure that the piece is safe and without maintenance
problems. But even his stainless steel sculptures must be power
washed now and then because birds do like to perch on sculptures.
Adduci feels professionally responsible to make safe art that stands up
to people climbing on it, weather conditions, stuff like that.
This goes beyond the basics of aesthetics, he says. It
goes to the basics of logic. Many clients think that once
a sculpture is in place, they can forget about it, says Karpowicz.
My early work was in wood. I would put some wood pieces outside,
maybe varnishedI took real good care of them. Later I go back and
it starts to get gray, and I tell the client you have to take care of
this like you would a boat.
the same experience with her indoor kinetic works which are installed
with elevators all around, escalators that break down, and people
working on them constantly, but if your piece needs some maintenance,
its like What? A maintenance contract for a sculpture?
Rojek repaints the indoor pieces and has repaired mechanisms on kinetic
works. She designs large outdoor works so she can dismantle them easily
and take sections back to the shop for maintenance.
When asked whether
they prefer to site their work indoors or outdoors, the artists had different
answers. Its easier to envelop people with the art if its
indoors, says Rojek. Outdoors youre really struggling
to make an impact, especially if youre in an open field. The things
that look so huge in the studio look like little earrings out there.
Indoors she can be playful and use more color because she does not have
to worry about the elements. Adduci has no preference. Outdoors
is nice, he states, because a sculpture can make a dramatic difference
to a site and people can walk all the way around it. But youve
got indoor environments that can be just as beautiful.
Karpowicz wants his
work to go outside, specifically because you have the openness around
it. People come to it because they want to, not because theyre
forced into passing it as they go from one store to another. The
artist recalls the Druids who made Stonehenge early on and the smaller
rings in England before that. Those were meeting places, he says,
which were created with what we now consider sculpturevery
simple, elegant. Karpowicz strives to convey this feeling in his
Richard Hunt, Tower of Aspiration, 2002.
Welded stainless steel, 45 x 16 x 16 ft.
Installed in Springfield Village Park, Augusta, Georgia.
Hunt points out major
differences between indoor and outdoor work. He considers wind, cold,
and ice as he develops outdoor sculptures. Weather is not a factor with
an indoor work, but a lobby site requires him to think about traffic flows.
When hes working indoors, Hunt sometimes must determine how to get
his piece into the loading dock or front door. When all else fails, he
makes the work in pieces and assembles it on site. He carefully reviews
every site and may develop a piece differently, according to whether it
goes indoors or out. There are outdoor places that are somewhat
constricted, say on a city street, he says, where the way
someone approaches the piece doesnt differ that much from indoors.
Outdoors can mean an urban space or a natural space: The relationship
of the sculpture to a landscape or sky or forest is different from a plaza
in the middle of a town.
Hunt thinks about
how his sculpture may be glimpsed at longer distancesas an
axial point, perhaps, or something informal such as
seeing it from a path in a park. Perspectival views influence the
scale, the general attitude of a sculptureand theres
much more variation outdoors than in lobbies and conference rooms. If
Hunt places a work where people can look down on it from a balcony or
see it as they open a door into a space, this too affects its development.
Sculptors deal with day-to-day financial realitiesheating and electric
bills, taxes, mortgage, and the likebut still have a passion for
their art and may work in the red. If I get a commission for $20,000,
says Adduci, I have to figure out what kind of piece is going to
fit within those parameterswhat materials I can use, the scale I
can use. But doing a piece for something like Pier Walk, then its
a labor of love because its coming right out of your behind,
he states. Youre doing it because its a forum. There
arent that many forums for us, and its a great opportunity.
There are times when youre doing a commission, Adduci
continues, and you have to prethink yourself and say: Im
going to buy 2,000 pounds of aluminum and I only need 1,500 pounds.
The extra 500 pounds goes on Adducis rack for use in a labor
of love piece. Youre robbing Peter to pay Paul,
he says, but its your Peter and Paul.
Rojek has a hard
time with that thing about business. She feels so flattered
to have won a commission and she wants to do such a good job
that she may go over budget and lose money. Tempted to build a $100,000
piece when the commission is only $20,000, she wonders what
the client will expect next time.
Rojek, Celestial Chart of Texas, 2001.
Aluminum, 30 ft. diameter. Work i
Installed at the Stonebriar Center, Fresco, Texas.
Not only that,
says Karpowicz, but where does the other $80,000 come from? What
keeps the doors of the studio open? If you can sell the drawings of the
piece, you can make it up, but for the most part $20,000 is $20,000. Theyre
not going to say: This piece is so good that were going to
kick in an extra $10,000. Doesnt happen.
True, but the artists
say that they must remain active regardless. You have no way of
working on your aesthetics if youre not working, says Adduci.
You must keep that going. But sculptors still should use
business sense because the products we make are expensive, the materials
we use are expensive, and the process is expensive.
When a sculptor goes
over budget, clients rarely help. Sometimes if youre lucky,
says Hunt, you can go back to the client if you have an open-ended
contract with some contingencies. But Ive certainly gone over budget.
You live with it. A good cost estimate improves the odds for the
artistand everyone has a system. One of the hardest things
for me to figure out is the time it takes to make a piece, says
Hunt. The material is easy enough. You take the scale and work out
that youll need so many feet of metal and a variety of [welding]
consumables. But Hunt cant predict whether hell spend
100 or 200 hours on a task and how many assistants he may need. No matter
how cautiously he hedges his bets, it always seems to come out more
Karpowicz knows his
monthly studio costs and can estimate materials. Those are the criteria
on which I base what I do, he says. I dont think about
time. A piece takes as long as its going to take. If it takes a
year, it takes a year. You just want to make sure you can keep the doors
open. Adduci reviews a project, compares it to others hes
done, and estimates the blocks of time hell need. He
adds a contingency, then estimates his materials. Studio costs, he says,
dont fluctuate that much. Its harder for Rojek
because she may create unique mechanisms for a kinetic piece, which she
never uses again. She admits theres a lot of guesswork in her estimates,
but says that shes getting better at it.
According to Hunt,
estimating techniques are pretty consistent among sculptors
because they talk to each other. On big projects, artists operate at a
disadvantage, because theyre not licensed like architects and dont
have an organization such as the American Institute of Architects to create
standard contracts for them. Arts administration groups have made
some of the art commission contracts fairly uniform from one state to
another, Hunt continues. This makes commissioning and payment more
predictable, but artists still work by contracts that were written by
arts administrators, lawyers, and insurors. Hunt would like a contract
that enables artists to bill monthly for materials, expenses (photocopies,
postage), and studio hours.
Sculptors have developed
a strong community because they must share so much to ensure their survival.
A sculptor just out of school often works for an established artist to
learn technique and gain access to welding equipment and a studio. When
sculptors encounter technical problems, they often get good advice from
colleagues. And it makes sense for the community to share something such
as a trailer that each artist may need just once or twice a year. Were
all pushing a rock uphill, says Adduci. You learn something
new all the time, Karpowicz adds. Rojek likes the fact that she
can relate to different types of people: I can put on my suit, present
my spiel, and then go into the shop with my dirty clothes.
Karpowicz, who co-directed
the annual Pier Walk exhibition for several years in Chicago, thinks that
the best thing that came from it was the camaraderie. It extended
what was at one time a local community and made it a national and indeed
an international community. Theres probably not a city in the country
that you would go to that you wouldnt know somebody in that show.
Im very happy to be a sculptorthere is a sense of community,
people to sit down with after a hard days work and drink a beer
I just like
to make stuff, says Rojek. I love to work with my hands.
Victor M. Cassidy
is a writer living in Chicago.
in Architecture: A Chat with The General Services Administration
with Caroline Anne Fachay, Regional Fine Arts Administrator, and
Michael Finn, Fine Arts Specialist, for the General Services Administration
about public sculpture issues. They explained that artists are
selected by an Art in Architecture panel, which typically includes
a local arts professional, a community representative, a national
art peer, a representative from the client agency, and AIA staff.
The first panel meeting familiarizes everyone with the AIA program
and the project. At the second meeting, the panel reviews upward
of 100 artist portfolios and makes a short list. The final decision,
which involves considerable GSA staff input, is confirmed at the
flag issues with the panel include aesthetics, liability, and
maintenance, says Fachay. The GSA has a national artist
database and considers whether an artists aesthetic is appropriate
to the project and whether the artist has a good track record.
The sculpture must be safe, and the GSA now wants a conservator
on selection panels to help screen out proposals that could bring
selection is made, the GSA would like to get artists on
board during the buildings design phase and have a real
dialogue between the architect and the artist, says Finn.
If the artist plans to put a mosaic in the floor, that floor
will cost less to build and the money can be reassigned elsewhere.
Same goes for window treatments.
a huge difference, says Fachay, between siting a sculpture
outdoors and indoors. Wear and tear can be serious in
a plaza with numerous public events such as political demonstrations
and farmers markets. People tape things to the sculpture.
Delivery people chain their bicycles to it. Kids climb on it and
slide down. An indoor site is more like a museum: people leave the