BMA Voices: When sculptures fly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Melanie Harwood, Senior Registrar

In the years I’ve been here I’ve moved a lot of art – of all sizes, weights and description. Art handling mainly requires focus, common sense and teamwork. Occasionally though there is an opportunity to install really big art, art that is so large and heavy that it involves specialized riggers and equipment. Relinquishing direct control of the installation process is difficult enough, but the added variables of weather, equipment and municipal permits involved in outdoor sculpture gardens make them particularly memorable adventures. On the positive side, however, there are moments of sheer exhilaration when it all comes together – as happened for me on May 25, 1988.

May began well enough with construction on the Levi Sculpture Garden proceeding on schedule in spite of an April 28 snowstorm. Arrangements were in place for the simultaneous move of works from the Levi’s Lutherville property to the BMA and delivery of new pieces from New York, Connecticut and Vermont. City permits for street closures were obtained as the only 100 ton crane on the East Coast was reserved to lift the largest single piece, Ellsworth Kelly’s, Untitled, from the Charles Street service drive. All was in readiness. Then, sometime in mid-month things got complicated. It began to rain, mostly at night. Work slowed and in one case, newly poured footings were washed down the hill in a downpour. The 100 ton crane blew a gasket and its arrival was delayed – which was just as well as there were last minute adjustments to Kelly’s piece at the Connecticut foundry and its delivery was delayed as well.

Finally on May 25, a cold, windy and drizzly day, we were ready to place two of the largest sculptures in the garden: Tony Smith’s Spitball and the Kelly. Just as the mammoth blue crane began to lift Untitled from the flatbed, Ellsworth Kelly himself appeared with our deputy director, Brenda Richardson. They watched nervously beneath dripping umbrellas as 35 feet of stainless steel wrapped in blue plastic rose 100 feet in the air over the trees. In spite of wind and a daunting tangle of large branches, the crane operator skillfully lowered the sculpture until the waiting crew was able to guide it onto pins submerged in the cold muck and water. Kelly was positively euphoric once the sculpture was safely in place. I know the sculpture was conceived as a fragment of a huge disc but I’ll always see it as an airborne fin!

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s "Untitled" being lowered through the trees.

Ellsworth Kelly’s “Untitled” being lowered through the trees.

The Levi Sculpture Garden opened on June 17, 1988. Visitors strolled the paths enjoying the sculpture and freshly established landscaping. Among the invited guests I saw Ellsworth Kelly and Mark DiSuvero chatting in front of the latter’s sculpture, Sister Lu, Kelly inquisitively sticking his head into the bucket!

BMA Voices is an insider’s exploration of The Baltimore Museum of Art collection through the eyes of its curators, conservators, and registrars. Featuring a new object every day during the BMA’s 100 Day Celebration, the project will highlight some favorite, amusing, unusual, and obscure objects.

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

Ellsworth Kelly. Untitled. 1986. The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchased as the gift of Ryda and Robert H. Levi, Baltimore, BMA 1986.70. © Ellsworth Kelly

3 thoughts on “BMA Voices: When sculptures fly

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