Monumental Sculptures by Harry Bertoia
Working with the greatest architects of the 20th century, such as Eero Saarinen, Gordon Bunshaft, I.M. Pei, Minoru Yamasaki and Edward Durell Stone, Harry Bertoia created more than fifty large-scale sculptures in prominent public spaces located in cities throughout the United States and around the world (Norway, Venezuela). Like his private works, Bertoia’s commissioned sculptures are aesthetic objects that explore natural phenomena such as light, motion and sound. Much larger in scale, these works function within the broader constraints of architecture, transforming and interacting within the spaces in which they reside.
Much larger in scale, these works function within the broader constraints of architecture, transforming and interacting within the spaces in which they reside.
Bertoia’s first large-scale commission was completed in 1953 for the General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan designed by Eero Saarinen, a colleague and friend from his days at the Cranbook Academy of Art. For this project, Bertoia created a Multi-Plane screen to separate the restaurant from the entryway of the interior. The welded screen, of brass melt-coated panels connected by rods, features alternating patterns of solids and voids that create a constantly shifting and beautiful play of lights and shadows while providing privacy for those behind it. The following year Bertoia was commissioned by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for the Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company in New York to create a screen dividing the public and private sides of the bank’s main floor. This seminal Multi-Plane screen, nearly twice the size of the work he created for General Motors, located on 5th Avenue in New York, is widely admired and critically acclaimed; it has become the most recognizable work by Harry Bertoia. Also in 1954, Bertoia was invited to design a sculpture for the Chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts designed by Eero Saarinen. For the simple brick curved apse with a shell-dome ceiling, Bertoia suspended brass-melt coated panels and cut out shapes from twenty threads behind the altar. The individual elements, increasing in density as they near the floor, capture and reflect the light from the domed roof creating an ethereal experience.
These early masterpieces opened the door to many significant sculptural commissions, both from friends and colleagues as well as other noteworthy architects, and to invitations to participate in internationally acclaimed exhibitions such as the World Fairs of 1957 in Brussels and 1964 in New York. While many of Bertoia’s early large-scale forms were Multi-Plane screens, by the 1960s he was exploring other ideas for public sculpture which paralleled the techniques of his smaller scaled works. Significant projects such as his Dandelion fountain for the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha, Nebraska (Stone 1963), a molten bronze mural for the Dulles International Airport in Chantilly, Virginia (Saarinen 1963) and a Welded Form fountain for the Civic Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (Stone 1967) illustrate the depth and variety of Bertoia’s unique artistic vision.
Bertoia repeatedly rose to the challenge of creating works that aligned with the architectural vision for a given space by creating works to highlight and complement the unique characteristics of their environments. Over the course of his career he created more than 50 large scale public commissions across the globe.