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Arts

Harvard Installs “Triangle Constellation"

4.20.15

<i>Triangle Constellation</i>, by the Mexican-born artist Carlos Amorales, was installed in the Calderwood Courtyard of the Harvard Art Museums on April 15. Suspended by steel trusses that are part of the rafters under the glass roof, the sculpture’s lowest point hangs just 10 feet above the floor.

Triangle Constellation, by the Mexican-born artist Carlos Amorales, was installed in the Calderwood Courtyard of the Harvard Art Museums on April 15. Suspended by steel trusses that are part of the rafters under the glass roof, the sculpture’s lowest point hangs just 10 feet above the floor.

Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums

A chrome-plated triangle dangles from the end of each painted steel bar, their weight carefully distributed to achieve equilibrium. The joints of the sculpture allow it to rotate freely in the air.

A chrome-plated triangle dangles from the end of each painted steel bar, their weight carefully distributed to achieve equilibrium. The joints of the sculpture allow it to rotate freely in the air.

Photograph courtesy of the Harvard Art Museums

Before the Harvard Art Museums opened on the morning of April 15, the loudest sound came from the pulley and chains controlled by a worker standing atop a heavy red lift, hoisting pieces of steel to the rafters. On the cardboard-covered floor, members of the site crew conferred with each other to assemble the components of Triangle Constellation—a series of 16 triangles, hanging on 15 bars, weighing a combined 542 pounds—by Mexican-born artist Carlos Amorales. In two hours, the work was finished: the new mobile, a gift of Leslie Cheek Jr. ’31, was permanently suspended in the Calderwood Courtyard.

Mary Schneider Enriquez, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, oversaw the commission, and likens its installation to those of the Calder mobiles on display in nearby galleries. “It’s a balancing act, where the crew is adding one piece at a time. The process can be quite lovely,” she says. “I saw it on a much larger scale here.”

Amorales agrees: “It’s all about the equilibrium. It’s very logical, how you have to build it.”

When he and Schneider Enriquez began discussing the project two years ago, while the museums' renovation was under way, the artist first proposed a mobile where all the triangles would be of equal size, a design he describes as “more stable.” But once he visited the building-in-progress in December 2013, “I understood what it meant, the expansion of the building”—especially the courtyard’s ceiling, five stories up. He then chose to make the triangles in graduating sizes, to reflect this idea of “scaling-up,” and also to draw the eye up to the glass roof, which to his mind had a “high-tech” aesthetic. He also decided that the rods of the mobile needed to bend, “like trees, or branches, or vertebra.” (Amorales cites the calligraphic images by Alsatian artist Hans Arp as an influence, calling him “the father of organic abstraction.”) 

Recounting the process of deciding the work’s dimensions, he says: “It’s something about the feeling. It’s not like measuring, or finding the right Renaissance proportions. You cannot do that.” The courtyard, he adds, is “a very deep space—very high, and not so wide. It has a very contradictory feeling.”

That feeling may reflect the fact that the space physically unites three entities: the Fogg, Busch-Reisinger, and Sackler Museums. Schneider Enriquez explains that the museums did not want the sculpture to visually block the galleries from each other—and now, as it hangs, the sculpture rotates slowly in the open air, its shifting triangles constantly reframing visitors’ sightlines.

Amorales has made art across different media, including installation, film, and animation—and in an April 16 lecture that marked the completion of his Harvard project, he spoke to his prevailing interest in how a work’s meaning is altered by its audience when it travels. Early in his career, for example, he created a performance cycle inspired by lucha libre, Mexican wrestling, and toured it abroad to venues in São Paulo, Paris, and Zurich. In other instances, an image proliferated beyond his control. For the 2007 installation Black Cloud, he affixed more than 30,000 black paper moths to the interior walls of the Yvonn Lambert Gallery in Paris, and not long afterward, was startled to see the imagery pop up elsewhere—on high-fashion runways. Dior Homme decorated its models’ shoulders and collars with black butterflies for its fall/winter 2008 show, and commissioned a decoupage installation from an Italian artist for its Paris boutique. In subsequent seasons, other designers—Lanvin, Elie Saab, Valentino—followed suit, strewing the dark-winged insects on skirts and bodices, or using them to fill shop windows. The image spread further, to cheaper and more accessible brands, his name unattached. Amorales concluded: “That’s the beauty of it.”

Triangle Constellation relates most closely to his 2012 sculpture We’ll See How It All Reverberates (Ya veremos como todo reverbera), which consists of three connected mobiles of 35 cymbals, suspended at an accessible height so viewers may play it. “Some people are very subtle and nice, and some people are really rough,” he recalls. “It starts to become chaos. It begins to create beautiful moments—or annoying moments.” Amorales left no instructions for how the piece should be used. He found out that each host institution made up its own—and that usually, such rules were both decided and enforced by the nearby security detail. Guards would claim that only children could play the piece, or that it could only be played every 15 minutes, or that there was only a single mallet for all visitors to share.

The Harvard piece had to be different. “It’s a public commission in a large space…We can’t afford for people to climb on it, or for it to collapse,” he explains. “Public use becomes very, very narrow. Narrowing it down means that it has to have a ritual occasion.” Triangle Constellation could not promote chaos. In the finished work, the lowest triangle matches the maximum size of an orchestral instrument. It hangs 10 feet off the ground, at the end of a rod curved invitingly “like an arm, or an extension,” says Amorales—and even at that height, inspires the occasional visitor to leap to try to touch it. “Even at Harvard, where people are not supposed to…”

In the project’s planning phases, he and Schneider Enriquez had discussed how the mobile should be suspended, how museumgoers might behave—or misbehave—upon encountering it. “He said, ‘Harvard students would never do that,’’’ the curator recalls. “And I said, ‘Are you kidding? Of course they would!’”

Out of reach, safe, and silent, the triangles have to evoke “the idea of sound, and what sound can be,” says Amorales. He likes the idea that the work might be rung on special occasions, or in public meetings, ritualistically—“Like when someone hits a glass to call attention. The beginning of something.”

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(Click on arrow at right to see a gallery of images.) The stained-glass image of the juggler, commissioned for the exhibition, from Atelier Miller, at the entry to Dumbarton Oaks

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