Oakland Museum, Oakland, California
Returned to artist for exchange. Artist altered; kept title.
ConStruct, Chicago, Illinois, 1978
Purchased by Akron Art Museum, November 6, 1980
1981 - 2004: Myers Sculpture Courtyard, Akron Art Museum
1980: "Sixth Annual Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition" 6/29/80 - 8/31/80, Shidoni Foundry and Galleries, Tesuque, New Mexico
wheel diameter: 68" wheel rim width: 9 1/2"
hemisphere diameter: 57" hemisphere height: 24"
cable: 43" long
Mark di Suvero
Eagle Wheel, 1976–79
Collection of the Akron Art Museum
Since the early 1970s, Mark di Suvero's mammoth constructions of cut and welded steel, recycled timbers, and industrial castoffs have become familiar fixtures on the urban landscape. Unlike much large-scale public sculpture, however, di Suvero’s works are not lofty memorials or emblems of civic pride. Instead, using materials and production techniques familiar to tradesmen, mechanics, and factory workers, di Suvero strives to make "the kind of art that joins technology to people's knowledge."1
The construction of these immense, kinetic works relies as much on di Suvero’s skills as an engineer, metallurgist, and weatherman as on his artistic talents. Most of his sculpture, including Eagle Wheel, could not have been realized without the use of cranes, forklift trucks, and welding torches—tools indigenous to the building trades but less common among the fine arts. Likewise, the "studios" where di Suvero and his teams of assistants create these formidable works are actually outdoor sites that more closely resemble industrial scrap heaps than artists’ ateliers. He has three such properties: one along the East River in Long Island City, near Manhattan's shipyards; one in Chalon-sur-Saône, France, where he lived from 1971 to 1975 in protest to United States involvement in Vietnam; and one in Petaluma, California, near Berkeley, where he grew up.2
Di Suvero is noted for his improvisational approach to sculpture. Using a crane, which he refers to as his “paintbrush,”3 he frequently revises a composition even after it is initially completed. Eagle Wheel is an extreme example of this practice. Originally created in 1976, Eagle Wheel was acquired by the Oakland Museum in California in 1977. When that museum opened a new building in 1978, they decided to acquire a larger di Suvero sculpture and Eagle Wheel was “traded-in” toward the purchase of another work. It was next exhibited in 1980 (shortly before the Akron Art Museum acquired it), but in the interim di Suvero had altered it significantly, adding four long sections of I-beams, which now connect the two separate bases.4
More modestly scaled than much of di Suvero’s sculpture, Eagle Wheel is nonetheless an archetypal example. It is painted in the artist’s signature color, industrial orange. The intense color, commonly associated with caution or safety, unifies the disparate elements and transforms the whole to art. At once oddly balanced and elegantly off-kilter, Eagle Wheel joins together a panoply of opposing forms—sharp angles and graceful curves; flat, platelike segments; and protuberant spheres. Most of the parts are vaguely familiar: a bisected flotation buoy (often thought to be a wrecking ball) coupled with a giant chain; an immense, suspended flywheel resurrected from an old sawmill in northern California; and sleek I-beams that might have been used to build a skyscraper.
Di Suvero’s resolutely abstract sculptures are carefully designed compositions that balance an unruly jumble of dissonant parts, often incorporating potentially precarious mobile elements. For instance, in Eagle Wheel the flywheel swings freely and rotates on a turnbuckle. Although this appeals to di Suvero’s egalitarian ambitions—he intends his work to be played upon, crawled over and under, or even swung upon—unfortunately, it is at odds with the museum’s mandates to preserve works of art and to safeguard visitors from accidental injury. Di Suvero once claimed that “everything has a center of gravity. . . . I have to find it, find the balance.”5 Exhibited within the confines of the Myers Sculpture Courtyard, Eagle Wheel nonetheless escapes its boundaries to engage in a visual dialogue with Akron’s industrial landscape on the horizon.
- Jeffrey Grove, 2001
1. Howard Junker, "Epics in Beams," Quest (April 1981): 79.
2. In a conversation with the author (March 26, 1998), Richard Bellamy, Director of Oil and Steel Gallery and di Suvero’s dealer from 1960 until 1998, said it was in Petaluma in 1976 that di Suvero constructed the original version of Eagle Wheel and two other sculptures, his entire output for that year.
3. Barbara Rose, “A Return to the Heroic Dimension in Sculpture: Mark di Suvero,” Vogue (September 1980): 162.
4. See William Peterson, “CONSTRUCT at Shidoni’s Sixth Annual Outdoor Sculpture Show,” Artspace (September 1980): 54–58, illus. on cover. Unfortunately, there are no published photographs of the sculpture in its earlier state.
5. Celia McGee, “New Soundings from a Poet of Industrial Debris,” New York Times, May 14, 1995, 36.
Fournet, Claude. Mark di Suvero: Retrospective, 1959–1991. Nice: Musée d’Art Moderne et d’Art Contemporain, 1991.
Monte, James K. Mark di Suvero. New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1975.
Sandler, Irving, and Maureen Megerian. Mark di Suvero at Storm King Art Center. New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1995.