england on the up

This is the summer Great Britain stakes its place on top of the world. Buoyed by the 2012 Olympic Games, homegrown architects and designers – already recognized for thinking big – have taken the sky as their limit with vertigo-inducing  success. In celebration of all things great and not-so-small, here’s a look at a handful of the country’s newest gold medal views.

Emirates Air Line, London (164+ feet tall), Opened June 28. London Mayor Boris Johnson fulfilled his pledge to build the UK’s first urban cable car with the opening of Emirates Air Line – get it?. The three-quarter mile long river crossing, stretches between Greenwich and the Royal Docks in East London and has the capacity to carry up to 2,500 people per hour in each direction – the equivalent of almost 30 buses. For a “360 degree tour,” there’s an option to make it a non-stop journey.

The Shard, London, (1,016 feet tall), Opening February 2013. The View from the Shard is already one of the capital’s most sought after visitor attractions – and it doesn’t even open until next year! Expect high-speed lifts to transport the public to a dizzying viewing platform, where views promise to extend for an amazing 40 miles across the city. At 1,016 feet high, it’s not only one of the most ambitious architectural endeavors in the UK, but also the tallest building in Europe. Luxury hotel group Shangri-La will launch a new hotel inside The Shard, also in 2013. Personally, I can’t wait to hear about the spa.

ArcelorMittal Orbit, Olympic Park, London (377 feet tall), Opened July 28. The ArcelorMittal Orbit rises over the Olympic park giving a funky new perspective to London from its freshly redeveloped home in the East End. The UK’s tallest sculpture to date, the swirling structure took 18 months to construct and required 1837 feet of tubular red steel to form the lattice superstructure. The result is a bold statement of public art that is both permanent and sustainable. Designed by Turner Prize-winning artist Anish Kapoor and Cecil Balmond and sitting between the Stadium and the Aquatics Centre, the ArcelorMittal Orbit has become quite literally a beacon of the Olympic Park during the Games, with 250 coloured spot lights individually controlled to produce a digital combination of static and animated effects – including a 15-minute moving light show each evening after the Games.

Up at the O2, London (174 feet tall), Opened June 21. This summer, Londoners are being given the opportunity to climb an icon with this ambitious new attraction combining an exhilarating active outdoor challenge with a completely different perspective on the capital. The 90-minute experience takes visitors on an uplifting guided expedition across the roof of The O2 via a tensile fabric walkway suspended 174 feet above ground level. An observation platform at the summit will enable climbers to take in outstanding 360 degree views of the city and its many landmarks, including the Olympic Park, Thames Barrier, The Shard, Historic Royal Greenwich and Canary Wharf, before descending back to base.

Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower, Dorset (174 feet tall), Opened June 22. Situated along one of England’s most scenic stretches of coastland, Weymouth Bay is also home to some of the country’s best sailing waters and will host the Olympic and Paralympic sailing competitions this summer. Soaring high above England’s first natural World Heritage Site the Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower rotates a full 360 degrees for spectacular view of the Jurassic coastline, Chesil Beach and the island of Portland.


triumph of the will

Known as The Lady on the Lagan, the sculpture on Belfast’s arterial waterway was officially christened The Ring of Thanksgiving by Scottish artist Andy Scott. As boring as that sounds there is a logic to the overly earnest title: the 50-foot symbol is the anchor of Thanksgiving Square – the brainchild of Belfast woman Myrtle Smyth, who was inspired following a visit to the non-denominational Thanks-Giving Square in Dallas, Texas – a project with the express aim of creating a public space for the local community to come together and give thanks no matter their religion, color, or faith. For a city rent by years of civil strife this was no idle wish when the square was inaugurated in 2005. A static piece of steel, the artwork nevertheless radiates a powerful energy and sense of urgency; thrusting upwards, as if striving for something larger than itself. Coincidentally The Ring is a visual reminder of how the Olympics take flight tonight in London; moreover, the Games’ motto could just as easily be a watch cry for Belfast these days: Faster, Higher, Stronger.


the sum of the facts does not constitute the work or determine its esthetics

The Lightning Field measures one mile by one kilometer and six meters.
There are 400 highly polished stainless steel poles with solid, pointed tips in the work.
The poles are arranged in a rectangular grid array (16 to the width, 25 to the length) and are space 220 feet apart.
A simple walk around the perimeter of the poles take approximately two hours.
The primary experience takes place within The Lightning Field.
Each mile-long row contains 25 poles and runs east-west.
Each kilometer-long row contains 16 poles and runs north-south.
Because the sky-ground relationship is central to the work, viewing The Lightning Field from the air is of no value.
Part of the essential content of the work is the ratio of people to the space: a small number of people to a large amount of space.

Some facts, notes, data, information, statistics, and statements:

The Lightning Field is a permanent work.
The land is not the setting for the work but a part of the work.
The states of California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona and Texas were searched by truck over a five-year period before the location in New Mexico was selected.
The region is located 7,200 feet above sea level.
The Lightning Field is 11 ½ miles east of the Continental Divide.
The sculpture was completed in its physical form on November 1, 1977.
An aerial survey, combined with computer analysis, determined the positioning of the rectangular grid and the elevation of the terrain.
The poles’ concrete foundations, set one foot below the surface of the land, are three feet deep and one foot in diameter.
Engineering studies indicated that these foundations will hold poles to a vertical position in winds of up to 110 miles per hour.
The shortest pole is 15 feet.
The tallest pole height is 26 feet 9 inches.
The total weight of the steel used is approximately 38,000 pounds.
Diagonal distance between any two contiguous poles is 311 feet.
If laid end to end the pole would stretch over one and one-half miles (8,240 feet).
The plane of the tips would evenly support an imaginary sheet of glass.
During the mid-portion of the day 70 to 90 percent of the poles become virtually invisible due to the high angle of the sun.
Only after a lightning strike has advanced to an area of about 200 feet above The Lightning Field can it sense the poles.
On very rare occasions when there is a strong electrical current in the air, a glow known at St. Elmo’s Fire may be emitted from the tops of the poles.
No photograph, group of photographs or other recorded images can completely represent The Lightning Field.
Isolation is the essence of Land Art.


video: very, very early


live blog: intrigue outside the hirshhorn


stones in his pockets

Designed by the artist himself, the Noguchi Museum opened in 1985 as the first and only museum in the country to be founded by an artist during his or her lifetime and dedicated to their work. The collection occupies a renovated photogravure building in an industrial part of Long Island City, Queens, that dates to the 1920’s and focuses on Isamu Noguchi’s extensive production, articulating the cultural times in which he worked, the many major cultural figures with whom he engaged, and his influence on the art and design of today. One of the most important artists of the 20th century, American-born Noguchi (1904 – 1988) began his apprenticeship with Brancusi in Paris before moving on to expand traditional notions of sculpture. Creating gardens, playgrounds, fountains, stage settings, lighting and together with Charles Nelson and George Eames, a line of influential modern furniture under the aegis of Herman Miller, Noguchi bridged the gap between East and West, creating landmarks in the process of integrating seemingly disparate disciplines. What is so difficult to comprehend in two-dimensional photographs  – and so fascinating to ponder in situ – is the ethereal sense of lightness Noguchi brought to bear in major compositions of marble and basalt. On the ride back to Manhattan, a quality I had never before ascribed to stone kept popping into my head:  pliant.


twombly from above

The Menil Collection encompasses multiple buildings spread across a campus of carpeted lawns.  In addition to the main collection and Rothko Chapel buildings, there are three site specific light works by Dan Flavin at nearby Richmond Hall, a Byzantine Fresco Chapel designed by M. Menil himself to house two thirteenth-century frescoes in a consecrated setting for the Church of Cyprus, and in collaboration with the Dia Art Foundation, the Cy Twombly Gallery, housing more than thirty works by the abstract painter and sculptor.  I must confess that I don’t have any particular connection or attraction to Twombly’s work but the structure itself, designed by Renzo Piano, is hushed, cool and reverent – a perfect setting to contemplate Twombly’s abstractions.


in weiwei we trust

Circle of Animals/Zodiac Heads, the first major public sculpture installation in the United States by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, formally opened the other day at the Pulitzer Fountain outside the Plaza Hotel despite the absence of the artist.  The sculptures copy 18th century heads found in the gardens of the Old Summer Palace near Beijing, which was ransacked by British and French troops during the Second Opium War of 1860. An outspoken and increasingly vocal critic of Communism, Ai was arrested last month in China on what many consider fabricated charges designed to keep him silent. His whereabouts are currently unknown. A curator from the Guggenheim, which has launched an online petition calling for Ai’s release, was on hand for the opening to read the artist’s words: “Without freedom of speech there is no modern world, just a barbaric one.”




storm king art center

Widely known as one of the world’s outstanding sculpture parks, Storm King Art Center in New York’s Hudson Valley is about an hour north of New York City. The Center’s permanent collection of sculpture, dating from 1945 to the present, includes works by many of the twentieth century’s most influential artists – Nevelson, Bourgeois, Noguchi, Moore, Liberman, Calder, and Serra are but a few – integrated into a pristine, 500-acre landscape of rolling hills, fields, and woodlands.  It’s also one of the coolest places to unpack a picnic and take in the colorful Autumn foliage.


live blog: to die for

P1010451Rome’s Capitoline Museum is a classicist’s nirvana.  Spread across three buildings in a piazza designed by Michelangelo atop the Capitoline Hill , it abuts the Imperial forum of ancient Rome and in one fell swoop binds the Renaissance to its forbears in antiquity.  Recent excavations under the hill have revealed the foundations of the precursor to what stands there now and the preserved balcony provides a view over the forum that’s worthy of an emporer.

The museum houses a bucket list of classical sculpture – along with a few mediocre paintings that are best avoided – and as a self-confessed Latin geek, it was easy for me to spend the better part of an afternoon here thoroughly enrapt.  Three pieces in particular have haunted me for many years for many different reasons:  The Dying Gaul, Cupid & Psyche, and an unknown warrior falling in battle.  Click the images for greater detail.

the dying gaulthe dying gaul - rear

cupid n psyche

torqued warrior


live blog: bernini or bust

Bernini ChristIt’s well nigh impossible to visit Rome and not come into contact with the work of Bernini, the Renaissance sculptor and architect who was one of the leading artists of his time and a successor to the mantle of Michelangelo.

Gian Lorenzo Bernini was a genius – let’s just get that out of the way.  Moving beyond the creation of mere objets destined for adoration, he took into account the setting in which each piece would be situated, synthesizing sculpture, painting and architecture into a coherent conceptual and visual whole.  He used light in a revolutionary way, much like Carravagio did a generation before:  hidden, the light source was able to intensify a moment of religious adoration or enhance the narrative of a dramatic moment.  In marble, don’t forget; the man was able to bring this bear while working in marble.

Enjoying the patronage of the Popes, Bernini’s output was vast:  he designed the piazza and colonnade outside St. Peter’s, the Ponte Sainte’Angelo across the Tiber, a handful of massive fountain complexes that to this day remain a focal point of daily Roman life, and hundreds genre-bending sculptures admired for their dynamic movement.  The man also revolutionized the art of marble portraiture, eschewing the stony silent bust in favor of presenting his subjects in mid-conversation or leaning out of the frame.  To put Bernini’s life into a global context, understand that in his later years he was invited to present designs at the court of the Sun King, Louis Quattorze.

Above, the bust of Christ is his last known work.  Completed shortly before his death at the age of 82, it was discovered only recently discovered along the ancient Appian Way, inside the Church of St. Sebastian.  For a little contrast, below is a detail from the gargantuan Fountain of the Four Rivers that dominates the Piazza Navona and the Ecstasy of St. Theresa, which depicts Theresa of Avila anticipating the angle’s arrow and the piercing of God’s love.



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