Chicago: On Beans and Dumplings

Sighter: Chad Alligood
Sighted: Jun Kaneko, Dango sculptures
Location: Millennium Park, Chicago, IL
Date:  May 26, 2013

I spent the recent Memorial Day holiday in the Chicago area, seeing several awesome things for the first time: the Bean, Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House, and the Art Institute of Chicago among many others. As I traipsed through Millennium Park on my way to the AIC, frankly giddy at the prospect of viewing Grant Wood’s American Gothic, I stopped cold in my tracks, captivated by a series of large-scale ceramic sculptures that looked vaguely like giant ice-cream pops.

Thinking that perhaps these were the work of famed Cranbrook alum Toshiko Takaezu, I hopped the metal barrier to snap a couple of pictures (the open-air exhibition was closed that day for some reason; in the far distance of the image above, you can see the figure of the guard who yelled at me). The surfaces of the ceramic forms undulated with repeating pattern and variegated glazing. They were—in a word—scrumptious.

As I approached the sculpture—and before I was shooed away by the guard—I read on the exhibition placard that the work was not by Takaezu, but rather by another Cranbrook ceramic artist of note: Jun Kaneko, who served as Artist-in-Residence and Head of the Department of Ceramics from 1979 until 1986. Kaneko’s work often uses pattern, repetition, and surface painting to achieve effects that imply conceptual endlessness. The artist calls these outsized sculptural works Dango, meaning “dumpling” or “rounded form” in Japanese. Such an idiom positions Kaneko in a long line of ceramic artists at Cranbrook who pushed the medium to new heights of sculptural achievement, from Maija Grotell to Takaezu and continuing through to current Artist-in-Residence Anders Ruhwald, whose exhibition in Saarinen House is now on view. Kaneko’s alien-yet-familiar forms, echoing both the organic line of the Bean and the repetition of the Chicago architecture, reminded me once again that even far afield, Cranbrook’s always just around the corner.

Posted by Chad Alligood
2012-13 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow

Getting “T-Square” All Square

Sighter: Chad Alligood
Sighted: Tony Rosenthal, T-Square, 1975-76
Location: Detroit, MI
Date:  September 24, 2012

Monday morning, 9 a.m. On a typical Monday at this time, I’m settling in to my sweet Knoll-designed desk in our newly-renovated office space at the museum. “Settling in” for me means checking my calendar and email, guzzling Diet Coke, and chowing down on granola bars. But this is no typical Monday: I stepped out of the car with my three museum colleagues into a gritty, industrial corridor on Detroit’s East Side—worlds away from the meticulously manicured lawns and bubbling fountains of Cranbrook’s campus.

This is the setting for Venus Bronze Works, a local firm specializing in the conservation and restoration of outdoor sculpture. Giorgio Gikas, the founder and president of Venus, met us in his massive, hangar-like space to examine and discuss his ongoing conservation of T-Square (1975-1976), a large-scale outdoor steel sculpture by Tony Rosenthal (1914-2009) in the museum’s collection. Works of art that are situated outdoors present their own unique challenges of preservation, and T-Square is no exception: after decades of sitting directly on those aforementioned manicured lawns, the massive sculpture plainly begged for restoration and repair. Years of exposure to rain and snow had caused some elements to rust through, threatening the work’s long-term stability and preservation. Of course, Rosenthal anticipated that his outdoor steel sculptures would develop a layer of rust as they aged. In fact, these installation photographs from the object file show a lovely orange oxidation over the surface of the object in 1978—just two years after its completion!

But by the middle of the 2000s, the deterioration of the steel at the sculpture’s base had begun to compromise its structural viability. In 2004, Gregory Wittkopp, Director of Cranbrook Art Museum, contacted Rosenthal to discuss best practices for conservation and preservation of his outdoor sculpture. The artist recommended a number of steps to conserve the work, including repair of the steel tubes followed by sandblasting, priming, and painting with industrial epoxy coating to preserve the steel. Enter Giorgio, a highly skilled sculptural conservator with over 25 years of experience, and voila—we have the first step in a repaired T-Square.

So far, Giorgio has refabricated interior brackets that had rusted through and reinforced the interior sidewall and other portions of the steel tubing. The next step: sandblasting the weathered surface so that the sealant can adhere. When all is said and done, T-Square can triumphantly return from Giorgio’s workshop—30-odd miles away—back to its home at Cranbrook, where it will rest atop a newly-poured concrete pad to protect it from pooling moisture. One of the potential sites for the sculpture is just outside my window here at the museum…perhaps one Monday morning at 9 a.m. in the not-too-distant future, I can look out my window with a mouth full of granola and smile, knowing that T-Square is in better shape than ever.

Posted by Chad Alligood
2012-13 Jeanne and Ralph Graham Collections Fellow