This one-month event March 7 to April 7, 2019 presents the work of 35 artists from around the US. 7 will be awarded, following the exhibition. Awarded artists will continue to exhibit for 2 more months and add one or 2 more works. This is the highest award for visual artists in the US. Keep your fingers crossed as I believe Singer’s work soooo deserves this award.
I was assisted in this 1-week installation by my son William. The artwork is granite, copper foiled pine wood, cast aluminum, field stone, and copper leaf. Horizontals are level and verticals are plumb giving an otherworldly and floating sense to the sculpture.
The gallery space is located at the Academy’s Manhattan headquarters. It is the most beautiful exhibition space I have ever seen with antique tile floor and a ceiling made entirely of a glass skylight!
New Project for the Environmental Artist Michel Singer
My team and I, joined by our newest member, my son William, just embarked on a challenging project.
Michael Singer commissioned my company Arts Management Services to remove several of his sculptures that are currently installed in his private gallery, and replace them with new ones. This is in preparation for a special visit next month by representatives of the Met (Metropolitan Museum of Art). They are visiting his studio to possibly include his work in an upcoming exhibition of western and middle eastern art. They may also purchase something.
The work began at the end of April, 2016 and is expected to take 5 weeks.
The first sculpture pictured above is nearly a hundred pieces and many are very easy to break! Adding to the challenge, every time the next piece is placed, the ash pieces bend under the additional weight, causing the entire piece to change, meaning that everything previously placed needs to be adjusted all over again! The key to this and every Singer sculpture is that horizontal and vertical pieces are level and plumb.
Not as fun a project as one might think but – hey – could be worse! After a couple weeks now my son and I have it all up. We are letting it ‘settle’ so that whatever bending the ash will do under the weight of it all, takes it’s course so that we can finish leveling it. Now we are leveling all the vertical and horizontal pieces for a final time which makes the entire work feel like it’s floating! We’re just happy it all hasn’t fallen down!
Now we’re on to the next piece. Lots of heavy and fragile marble as you can see in the picture below. The grey walls are a stunningly beautiful 2″ thick pine, sand basted and then painted white and finally dirt is rubbed into the nearly dried paint. The effect is a textured antique-looking surface with white and patinaed copper leaf sparkling thru.
This is a very different piece – no settling here. But as with the previous piece, horizontal levels are critical to the overall effect of quiet and other-worldliness this piece evokes.
The final days of the project are spent carefully inspecting both pieces and the entire gallery with last minute details like sanding the marble surface to clean it of all dirt and foot prints, repairing wood surfaces that are slightly damaged in storage, and cleaning the gallery space.
The project has been completed on time with a few days to spare. We always put a lot of long days in at the beginning in case of emergencies and to avoid crises at the end. When projects like this are completed without any surprises, it’s so enjoyable.
In 2007 I was the Project Manager for this challenging sculpture installation. My ten-person team (5 from the US and 5 from Greece) installed “Garden Sculpture” by the artist Michael Singer at the US Embassy in Athens, Greece.
The project was completed on-time and within budget.
What Is FAPE?
This sculpture was commissioned by The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE). This is a non-profit organization dedicated to placing American art in U.S. embassies around the world. For over 25 years, FAPE has contributed to the U.S. Department of State’s mission of cultural diplomacy by partnering with American artists. These artists are specially chosen for artworks that encourage cross-cultural understanding.
FAPE asked Michael Singer to design a sculpture alongside a new building constructed on the embassy grounds. This building was design by Kalman, McKinnell and Wood Architects. Michael McKinnell and Michael Singer have a long history of collaboration which first began with their award-winning Becton Dickinson project. This new building and outdoor sculpture are adjacent to the existing embassy that was designed by the renown modern architect Walter Gropius.
The sculpture can be viewed from several angles: from inside the new building, from its terrace, from the grounds, and from an entry bridge.
About the Sculpture
It is 70′ long and made of marble, concrete, aluminum and inlaid tile. Its 49 tons were fabricated at Michael’s studio in southern Vermont. Then it was packed and shipped. I tracked the ship on my computer as it crossed the ocean and at one point sharply diverted from its course to avoid a storm. No pieces broke in transit though several replacement pieces were included just in case. These extra pieces were used to increase the concrete walkway surrounding the piece. Notice in the photos the white concrete squares embedded in the ground surrounding the piece.
Dozens of custom-made wood crates arrived in a single shipping container. They arrived ahead of schedule at the port in Piraeus, not far from Athens. Good thing we shipped early since the container remained in the port for 2-week until a strike by dock workers ended.
But the unusual was common in this project. Months before on my first trip to Athens to make arrangements for the installation, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the front of the embassy! I arrived just a day after this occurred. The rocket missed the American Seal it was aimed at and blasting into the ambassador’s private bathroom. No one was injured. The incident occurred early in the morning when no one was in the embassy. I was told that this is typical Greek protest, violent but not meant to injure anyone. The incident underscored the unique challenges we often face in art installation.
Once the container arrived at the embassy, its contents were lifted by crane over the embassy wall and placed around the foundation.
The installation took 6 weeks including a week to correct errors in the concrete foundation.
What the Artist Says
The artist describes the sculpture in this way:
“…a platform-like structure emerging from below grade at one end and rising three feet from the ground level at the other end. The solid forms of the piece combine to reference a whole, as if the piece were a foundation for something once present. The piece has been said to have archaeological references, an uncovering of something lost and mysterious.”
Michael Singer discusses the design and fabrication of ‘Garden Sculpture.’
Water runs from the high end of the piece down over a narrow concrete corridor. Then it spills out onto a wide textured cast aluminum spillway. Finally, the running water falls into a deep, below-ground cistern.
Flowering indigenous succulents were planted throughout the piece. They now drape over edges and blend in beautifully with surrounding olive trees and lavender hedges.
Marble slabs provide seating for visitors and employees. It is a place of quiet except for the sound of birds and flowing water.
Special thanks goes to Alan Chapman. He’s the best builder and troubleshooter on the planet! His unique meld of artist and carpenter made for marvelous solutions. Plus, he made us all laugh when it counted most. And brought us together when things got tense. The success of this project is dedicated to him.
Another special thanks goes to our translator, Fred Naff. He is an ex-pat and local architect who was so much more than a translator. With wonderful calm, intelligence and humor, he guided us safely through many pitfalls, and was just a heck of a lot of fun to be around! The project could not have succeeded without him.
Update: January, 2018
This large compound of the US Embassy in Athens is expanding again! The new building designed by Kalman, McKinnell and Wood Architects only 10 years ago is now being totally gutted, renovated and added onto. Michael Singer’s sculpture is now covered. All the plants and dirt were removed and the water shut off. When the renovations are completed in 2-3 years, AMS will return to completely restore this sculpture.
Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts added this sculpture to their permanent collection as a gift from one of Michael’s closest friends, Dr. William Fishkind.
About the Sculpture
This piece is titled Ritual Series, 1990. It consists of wood, granite, fieldstone, copper, iron and bronze and measures 230″ x 230″ x 75″ tall.
The wood has a gorgeous texture created by sand-blasting 2″ thick rough-cut pine, harvested from the woods nearby Michael’s Vermont studio by a local mill. After sand-blasting, the large and heavy planks were carefully singed to create an ancient look. The wood is not coated and easily bruised so handling needed to be careful and with gloves at all times. Likewise packing and storage is always done with special care so that no surfaces touch each other or any hard surface.
Fieldstone was collected from around the artists 100-acre property in the mountains of southern Vermont. Mr. Singer would assemble a group of us from his studio and line us up behind him in a single row. We would then follow him all over his fields like ducklings. He would point to a rock and one of us would pick it up and carry it. Most were too heavy to carry more than one. When we all had one we would load them on his pickup truck and transport them to be cut flat on one end. One or two would be cut in an odd way with slices up the middle.
Art Installation Details
One of the secrets of this artist’s work is the precise degree of vertical plumb and horizontal level. Most good carpenters notice when something is off-level by anywhere from an 1/8″ to 1/4.” Incredibly, Mr. Singer notices pieces that are off-level by only 1/32″! This precision creates a subliminal effect of calm and quiet, making the heaviness of stone, metal and thick wood somehow light, floating, contemplative, even otherworldly. This stunning effect can be felt in many of his works.
The granite and bronze plates were heavy and the long and thick pine planks bulky, needing 2 to handle and place precisely according to the instructions.
Our team devised an instructional system with carefully marked photographs whereby intricate sculpture such as this can be assembled and disassembled by museum and gallery preparators.
This art installation required 2 people 5 days to install.
These pictures show details of the piece after completing the art installation for it’s first exhibition at the Williams College Museum of Art in 1990, from April 7 through October 21.