Helmholtz: The Icon Returns

July 26, 2014 - October 12, 2014

Helmholtz, one of the most prized works of art in the Museum of Art collection, was a 1985 gift from Rea Magnet Wire, The Alcoa Foundation, and the artist Mark di Suvero. Originally commissioned to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Rea Magnet’s business in Fort Wayne, Helmholtz honors physicist Hermann von Helmholtz, who specialized in magnetic field research. After nearly 30 years in Fort Wayne’s Freimann Square, a drunk driver crashed into the sculpture on June 16, 2013, severely twisting the iconic orange steel I-beams, rendering the once majestic “bull” lifeless without major repairs made by Mark di Suvero himself.

After more than a year of repairs, the Fort Wayne public sculpture Helmholtz returned to its home in Freimann Square on September 12. This exhibition chronicles the sculpture’s inception, creation, tragic fall, and victorious return to glory in Fort Wayne.

Mark di Suvero: Living Legend

Mark di Suvero is one of the most highly regarded living sculptors in America. He was born in China to Italian expatriates who brought their family to San Francisco in 1941. As a philosophy major at the University of California, Berkeley in the mid-1950s, di Suvero was deeply engaged in studying and writing poetry. Once he began to pursue sculpture as an undergraduate, however, di Suvero found his calling as well as an outlet for his explorations in other fields that intrigued him, including architecture, mathematics, science, and, ultimately, structural engineering.

After graduating, di Suvero moved to Manhattan where he worked in construction for a time. He was energized by the spaces of the city, which were in constant flux, at least in his neighborhood, as old buildings were torn down for “urban renewal” and new ones took their place. From the scrap and rubble at construction sites, di Suvero scavenged materials and began pioneering a new form of sculpture in which wooden and steel beams replaced marble and bronze as his sculpting material. Upon seeing these early works in a 1960 exhibition at the Green Gallery, critic Sidney Geist responded, “From now on nothing (in sculpture) will be the same.”

In 1960 di Suvero was paralyzed in an elevator accident on a construction site, and his recovery is a testament to his determination and commitment to his art. During his year in a rehabilitation hospital he taught art to his fellow patients, and for di Suvero this sharing of art as a “springboard for the spirit,” as he says, would become a central goal for his artistic practice. While recovering, he also learned to use a crane which opened up a wholly new mode of working. The crane enabled him to “draw” in space with these gigantic steel beams.