Monday, May 8, 2017

Comparison to Giacometti and Verkade’s place in 20th Century Sculpture

When I was first introduced to Verkade’s Tightrope Walker it was hard to not immediately draw similarities to sculptures by Alberto Giacometti.  Like Giacometti’s Woman of Venice II from 1956 which stands in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Verkade’s Tightrope Walker is tall, skinny, and elongated, with layered, battered bronze skin.  Both Verkade and Giacometti use a mix of realism and abstraction to achieve their distorted figural depictions.

Kees Verkade fits into the story of 20th Century sculpture with his move towards abstraction, but also seems out of place as many other sculptors have already developed a totally abstract style.  By remaining figural, like Giacometti, Verkade remains connected to the history of sculpture while slowly moving towards abstraction. Even in the 21st century, as he plays with different themes from sports to acrobatics to dance, Verkade has remained loyal to his mix of realism and abstraction and continues to depict distorted figures.  His continuity in sculpture is noteworthy, and his commitment to his signature style is unique.

Kees Verkade, Tightrope Walker (from below), 1973-1979

Alberto Giacometti, Woman of Venice II, 1956

Relation to Surrounding Sculptures on Revson Plaza

Revson Plaza is a treasure trove of bronze sculptures in different styles and scales.  Directly across from the Tightrope Walker is Henry Moore’s Three-Way Piece: Points from 1967.  This work contrasts Verkade’s skinny elongated figures in its grounded abstraction.  The work is bulky and has both smooth and pitted surfaces.  If enough people gather together and push it, it spins on a rotating dial promoting the viewers’ interaction. 

On the opposite side of the Plaza, Jacques Lipchitz’s Bellerophon Taming Pegasus from 1966-1967 pierces through the law school entrance.  This giant sculpture is pressed against the building displaying a scene that symbolizes the taming nature of law.  Like Three-Way Piece: Points, Bellerophon Taming Pegasus is chunk in nature, quite opposite of the exaggeratedly skinny Tightrope Walker.

Finally, Life Force by David Bakalar from 1988 stands in the lawn like a microscope to look through to the edge of the bridge.  Its central location helps it to relate to the many works by which it is surrounded.  It is as abstract as the Moore, as skinny and contorted as the Verkade and a necessary intervention to break up the viewing of the Lipchitz.

Verkade’s Tightrope Walker, thus, relates perfectly to its location alongside the bridge’s edge, as it looks like it is walking in the air over the bridge.  Its location enhances its splendor and symbolization, and its relationship to the more abstract works places it in a unique moment in 20th century sculpture.

Henry Moore, Three-Way Piece: Points, 1967

Jacques Lipchitz, Bellerophon Taming Pegasus, 1966-67

David Bakalar, Life Force, 1988

Comparison to Other CU campus memorials

Unlike traditional memorials that focus on capturing the likeness of an individual, Verkade’s Tightrope Walker uses other gestural figures to symbolize the character of Donovan.  This work is interesting in comparison to the more classic style of memorial on campus.  William Ordway Partridge’s Van Amringe Memorial – a rotunda surrounding the marble bust of Dean Van Amringe – has a more traditional mimetic representation than Verkade’s more thematic memorial.  The bust, adorned in academic robes over a suit, has no arms and looks straight ahead.  It is supported by a bronze base on a black mottled column and has no inscriptions.  The rotunda is flanked by benches on its sides, each with carved quotations from Van Amringe’s speeches.  A committee of Columbia College alumni dedicated this memorial in 1917 (Columbia Alumni News, 1918).

Verkade was not a stranger to traditional memorials. In 1983, following Princess Grace of Monaco’s automobile accident, Verkade sculpted a traditional bronze bust for the National Portrait Gallery.  The bronze bust was commissioned and donated by Prince Ranier after sitting in his palace study with no publicity for a few years after the accident (Franklin, 1986).  This mimetic bust captured the dignified poise of Princess Grace, as she stared out into the distance.

His 1974 sculpture of Paul Gallico is the perfect balance between his Princess Grace of Monaco and Tightrope Walker.  In his Gallico bust, Verkade crops Gallico in bust form like that of Princess Grace but leaves the surface textured in the padded style of his Tightrope Walker.  These three works display Verkade’s ability to transition between styles and how his decision to create Tightrope Walker in such an unconventional style for a memorial was entirely intentional.  In sculpting two precarious tightrope walkers, Verkade captures the essence of Donovan’s character, which in this case might was even more important than his physical representation.
William Ordway Partridge, Van Amringe Memorial, 1918

William Ordway Partridge, Van Amringe Memorial, 1918

Kees Verkade, Princess Grace of Monaco, 1983

Kees Verkade, Paul Gallico, 1974

Work Cited:
Franklin, Ben A. “Capital Remembers Princess Grace.” The New York Times, New York, October 16, 1986.
Columbia Alumni News, “The Van Amringe Memorial,” Vol. 9, No. 35, 1145, Alumni Federation of Columbia University, New York, July 1918.

Conservation and Maintenance for Rededication Ceremony in 2007

To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Donovan’s Columbia Law School graduation, a rededication of the Tightrope Walker with a conference on national security took place on October 18th, 2007.

William J. vanden Heuvel, one of Donovan’s mentees, suggested refurbishing the Tightrope Walker and making a rededication ceremony and symposium in honor of the centennial of Donovan’s law school graduation (vanden Heuvel, 2006).  After speaking with Conservation Solutions, the public sculpture committee decided to create a seal between the base of the sculpture and the top of the pedestal, since water had entered and caused oozing calcium deposits.  The pedestal was reclad with granite in 2007, but no maintenance was performed on the sculpture itself (Weiner, 2007).

Daria Sidlauskas, the director of special events of Columbia Law School, worked with Columbia’s Associate Law School Dean, Bruno Santonocito, to prepare the timeline for the day’s events (Sidlauskas, 2007).  The tribute to Donovan began in the Jerome Greene Lecture Hall.  Following President Lee Bollinger’s keynote address, the guests went outside to Revson Plaza for the official re-dedication of the statue with its new base.  The rest of the evening consisted of a National Security conference on the various legal aspects of the field of intelligence.  Professor Harold Edgar of the Law School organized a schedule of talks on military, legal, diplomatic, academic, and intelligence organizations with which Donovan was associated (Smith, 2007).  The day ended with a reception in Jerome Greene Hall in memory of William J. Donovan.
Crack on Base before Conservation, 2006.

Work Cited:
Letter from William J. vanden Heuvel to Gerlad Beasley, March 15, 2006.
Letter from Sarah Elliston Weiner to Ralph N. Olsen, April 4, 2007.
Letter from Kyle Bradford Smith and Cyril Smith to President Lee Bollinger, May 4, 2007.
Letter from Daria P. Sidlauskas to Columbia University Office of the President, June 15, 2007.

The Grand Opening

The Tightrope Walker grand opening was held on May 24th, 1979 at Columbia University.  The invitations were sent to those connected to Donovan and Verkade, promising an evening of a reception and dedication ceremony.  A week prior the Law Development office reached out to University Safety and Security to enable 50 cars to park on College Walk (Law Development, 1979). 

John J. McCloy, an American lawyer and banker who served as Assistant Secretary of War during WWII, spoke at the dedication ceremony.  He described Donovan as “an extraordinarily brave man, an instinctive leader and an exciting lawyer” (McCloy, 1979).  He considered Wild Bill to be an exemplary leader, “whatever game he played, he gave it all he had, and always with the drive and inspiration which only an outstanding leader could impart” (McCloy, 1979).  

McCloy praised the sculpture as it masterfully commemorated the life of William Donovan, “the bold adventurer” (McCloy, 1979).  McCloy was not alone in his belief that the Tightrope Walker was a fitting memorial to the spirit of Colonel William J. Donovan.  Dean Arthur Kimball stated, “At the dedication, the feeling of those who had been acquainted with General Donovan was that Tightrope Walker captured a controlled daring that had been an essential part of his character and career” (Kimball, 1981).

Following the successful opening, the dean of Columbia Law School, Dean Kimball, sent Kees Verkade this congratulatory message – “it is fair to say that your trip was a triumph and we are all delighted to have your magnificent new sculpture here at Columbia” (Kimball, July 1979).   This note is the perfect token of Kimball and Verkades’ close connection.  Later on that year, Kimball checked in with Verkade to maintain their relationship, offering jokingly to be Verkade’s assistant in Monte Carlo to escape the awful New York weather; “If you can use one, I think I’ll apply.  I’m very good at schlepping,” joked Kimball (Kimball, Oct. 1979).  Ludmilla Verkade responded to Kimball on her husband’s behalf after reading the 1980 Columbia Law School Publication, “Kees is thrilled by the wonderful photographs of his Tightrope Walker and they have gone into his scrapbook” (Verkade, 1980).

Invitation to Tightrope Walker Opening

Work Cited:
McCloy, John. “Remarks at the William J. Donovan Dedication Ceremony at Columbia University on May 24, 1979.” New York, May 24, 1979.
Letter from Arthur O. Kimball to Dr. Andor Klay of Liberty Publishing, May 4, 1981.
Letter from Arthur O. Kimball to Kees Verkade, July 5, 1979.  
Letter from Arthur O. Kimball to Kees Verkade, October 12, 1979.
Letter from Ludmilla Verkade to Arthur Kimball, March 24, 1980.

Letter from Law Development to Columbia University Public Safety, May 17, 1979. 

Comparison to Giacometti and Verkade’s place in 20th Century Sculpture

When I was first introduced to Verkade’s Tightrope Walker it was hard to not immediately draw similarities to sculptures b...