Art in the Parks: Mark di Suvero on the Chicago Lakefront

 

On a warm and windy day last summer, artist Mark di Suvero looked on from the bucket of a cherry picker as his sculpture Destino was installed at 53rd Street on the lakefront path in Chicago.

After a long day of work the last piece of the sculpture was finally set in place. Just then, a strong wind blew in off of Lake Michigan and the 11,000 pound, v-shaped top of the 25-foot-tall steel sculpture began to spin gracefully around, floating on a simple ¾” steel arch attached to a di Suvero-made industrial bearing!


 di Suvero at the installation of Magma

di Suvero at the installation of Magma

Mark di Suvero is a world-renowned artist—his accolades include receiving a National Metal of Art from President Barack Obama in 2011. While his monumental works of art have been exhibited in cities from San Francisco to Paris, di Suvero was particularly excited when he found out he had the opportunity to install two sculptures in Chicago, where he once lived. The lakefront siting of his pieces Magma, located at Queen’s Landing, and Destino were carefully chosen by di Suvero’s team and the Chicago Park District as a nod to our city’s unique and beautiful geography. The placement of Destino near Hyde Park was especially meaningful as di Suvero has a fondness for the neighborhood and the piece is one of his favorites—it was part of his own personal collection for many years.

Like much of di Suvero’s work, Magma and Destino are both made from large pieces of steel that are manipulated such that these monumental, industrial forms become somehow light and playful. Part of this comes from the integration of kinetic and moving pieces like the turning top of DestinoMagma, too, has a moving piece. The steel curl that sits on the cross beam of the sculpture is designed to slide from side to side, with no fixed position. These lively elements are di Suvero’s way of offsetting the magnitude and scale of his work.

Despite their scale, di Suvero’s hand is in each of his sculptures. Even at 83, he uses a crane to bend and shape pieces of steel in his studio, never sending his work out to a fabricator. He carries his crane operator’s union card at all times and proudly showed it off on several occasions during the Chicago installation. Di Suvero spoke to the National Endowment for the Arts about his process in 2012: "I work on the principle of, you know, when you see an ant moving a giant twig, much bigger than they are, and they pull it in one corner, they pull it in another corner, and then eventually the twig has traveled halfway across the sidewalk." 

While di Suvero is heavily involved in the creation and installation of his sculptures, a whole team of installers and major equipment were needed to help place these massive artworks on the ground. After all, each of di Suvero’s pieces can weigh up to 40,000 pounds! Terry Karpowicz, a Chicago sculptor and long-time friend and mentee of di Suvero’s, led the install along with a team including another local sculptor, Ted Sitting Crow Garner, and two assistants from di Suvero’s studio in New York City.

 Magma before... 

Magma before... 

 ...and after!

...and after!

When Karpowicz was a young sculptor he met di Suvero, who had a profound impact on his life and work. "My first experience with the work of di Suvero was when I assisted in setting up an exhibit of his work in New York City in 1972," he says. "Over the years since that humbling experience in New York, I have had the good fortune to get to know him personally. Mark and his work have greatly influenced my own life. With the installation of Magma and Destino on Chicago's lakefront, I realized a kinship with the intuitive process Mark uses when building his sculptures. As the installer, I must think along with the artist, the process, and equipment he used when the sculpture was first put together. Mark's work never fails to teach me something!"

As a person and as an artist, Mark di Suvero continues to leave his mark on the world, and we are lucky to have two of his great works on view in Chicago. Please visit Magma and Destino and see for yourself!