Stainless steel 'Cloud Column' sculpture set up in Houston
Anish Kapoor's shiny, stainless steel Cloud Column sculpture looks like an object in a sci-fi film, descended from space.
The Houston Chronicle reports that no aliens emerged from the monumental artwork, but a small army of installers, construction crew, and museum staff hovered nearby Monday and Tuesday (March 26 and 27) as the 21,000-pound artwork starred in a heavyweight ballet of an installation on the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, campus.
Although meetings happened weeks earlier, the finale began late Sunday night, when crews spent four or five hours just assembling the 625-ton crane that would hoist the crated sculpture over a corner of the new Glassell School of Art building.
That crane arrived in eight trucks. Such equipment has to be put together on site because it's too massive to be "street- legal", explained Winston Hesch of McCarthy, the builder for the museum's ongoing campus expansion.
The job also called for a 6-ton crane, which lifted the sculpture on to a trailer at a storage site in south Houston and helped position it after it was delivered to the plaza. This was delicate business, not counting the priceless cargo; the cranes were big enough to engage in a "sword fight" with another huge crane at the museum's Kinder Building construction site, Hesch said. "And that would have been catastrophic."
Resting on 30-foot deep bell-bottomed piers that splay out to three feet at their base, Cloud Column was bolted and welded into place before being released from its protective cage Tuesday. It now occupies a prominent spot between a new public plaza at the school's entrance and the Cullen Sculpture Garden.
Cloud Column quickly sparked a culture war because it is a vertical relative of Kapoor's Cloud Gate, the much larger, horizontal stainless steel landmark of Chicago, fondly known as 'the Bean.'
Even before the installation was complete, the Chicago Tribune accused Houston of being unoriginal.
"If being surrounded by a cultureless abyss insufficiently communicates to confused tourists that they are in Houston, the Bean's verticality will therefore act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices," swiped reporter Kim Jannsen.
David Williams, the fabricator who has collaborated with Kapoor for 30 years, said that orientation isn't the only difference between the two sculptures. Houston's piece, while acquired only recently, was actually created first and assembled entirely by hand in London, with the artist on site, dictating where he wanted surfaces hammered and welded. It was five years in the making and polished for another three years.
"This was the first sculpture he made in this form, in 1999. No one really knew how to do it; it was trial and error," Williams said. "So this is a crafted sculpture. It wasn't made; it was birthed." Chicago's sculpture, he added, was fabricated in the US.
He especially appreciates the location of Houston's Kapoor. The sculpture is a defining feature of the museum's new Brown Foundation Plaza designed by Deborah Nevins and Associates and Nevins Benito Landscape Architecture. The plaza connects the Glassell to the Cullen Sculpture Garden and its outdoor masterpieces by August Rodin, Louise Bourgeois, Alexander Calder, Henri Matisse, David Smith, Frank Stella, Ellsworth Kelly, and others.
"It's one of the great sculpture parks in the world," Williams said.
So, uh, take that, Windy City.
Eduardo Chillida's stacked-granite 'Song of Strength,' which has been on display for years near the museum's original Main Street facade, will be added to the plaza in April. A grid of shade trees was installed last week at the new public space, which also will have a reflecting pool. The Glassell building also has an upper-deck public area; its slanted roofline serves as a wide-stepped amphitheatre, with seating at its base and a rooftop garden above that will provide views of the entire campus.
Set within just a few feet of the open walkway from the museum's Montrose garage through the construction site, Cloud Column had visitors stopping in their tracks Tuesday. The plaza and the Glassell open to the public on May 20.
- Information from Houston Chronicle, http://www.houstonchronicle.com