Talking about Bertoia at the Smithsonian

I just finished up a wonderful three months in residence as a Tyson Scholar at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR, but I will be returning to D.C. this week to attend and participate in the 2018 Fellows Lectures at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. I will present a paper entitled “The Limits of Integration: Harry Bertoia’s Dallas Public Library Commission,” during an afternoon session on Friday, May  4th.

Untitled
Harry Bertoia, Textured Screen, 1955, brass, copper, and nickel, commissioned for the (Old) Dallas Public Library (1955), Dallas, TX, designed by George Dahl

Over the course of his career, Bertoia created more than fifty large-scale architectural commissions, sculptures created for specific buildings, usually interior threshold spaces, done in close collaboration with architects, and supported by mostly private clients. Of these works, only one—an abstract sculptural screen created for George Dahl’s new downtown Dallas Public Library building during the summer of 1955—was subjected to immense public derision. My talk will examine the sculpture’s realization, removal, and eventual reinstallation, but aims to move beyond a binary of cultural elite vs. philistine public that often dominates debates around controversial modern art. Instead it focuses on the efficacy of the integration of Bertoia’s screen with its surrounding environment, arguing that the lack of synergy with its architecture made the work vulnerable to the controversy that ensued.

All three afternoons of lectures by Fellows from 2018 SAAM cohort will be webcast. More details can be found here: https://americanart.si.edu/research/fellowships/2018-lectures

 

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