It was 60 feet tall and stood at the corner of Woodall Rodgers and Pearl Street for nearly 13 years — until Tuesday just before five p.m., when the component pieces of the monumental sculpture, Proverb, lay on the ground. The massive dismantling took the specialists at Display Fine Arts Services the entire day.
Proverb was officially on loan from the artist, Mark di Suvero (through the cooperation of the Nasher Sculpture Center). It may not have been the tallest of his famous steel girder sculptures — they grace some 55 cities around the world — but it was certainly way up there. Ad Astra, the towering red-orange tripod that’s become something of a signature piece for NorthPark Center, is 45 feet fall. In 2013, there was a rare convocation of eight of di Suvero’s giants at Crissy Field in San Francisco, but the tallest was 55 feet. One of the artist’s earlier metal works, the collaborative, anti-war protest piece, The Peace Tower, was 60 feet tall but lasted only three months in Los Angeles. Proverb, like many of di Suvero’s more recent works, also had movement built into it. As can be seen in the video above, the metronome-like pendulum that hung from the twin, A-frame supports could actually swing free.
Proverb stood on a half-acre of green space behind the Meyerson Symphony Center, a space once considered an eyesore when the Arts District was going up and a motor bank sat there. But the Dallas Symphony Foundation bought it 20 years ago — after public appeals from civic leaders and Meyerson architect I. M. Pei — with the idea of using it to expand its facilities in the future or turn it into something of a gateway park to the Arts District.
Instead, in June, the foundation sold it to Lincoln Property, which plans to build what everyone in the city has been clamoring for, a 23-story office tower. But for that boon to the Arts District — and the $7.2 million sale price — the foundation’s endowment is expected to contribute approximately $400,000 per year to the Dallas Symphony.
In 1960, di Suvero was nearly killed in a horrific elevator accident. Although his back was broken and he was left in a wheelchair, the artist returned to sculpting. He’s always prided himself on his hands-on work with his pieces, unlike many monumental sculptors who are more or less conceptual artists who come up with the design and then turn over the construction work to hired firms.
Doctors felt di Suvero would never walk again, but in four years, he learned how to walk with arm crutches — and perhaps even more amazingly, it was only then that he started to work on steel girders. (While in the wheelchair, he’d taught himself how to use an arc welder.) By 1967, he’d bought his first crane — and pioneered its use as a sculptor’s tool (a crane can be used not just to lift a piece into place — it can be used to ‘cold bend’ the steel via gravity). Di Suvero would go on to become a 2010 National Medal of Arts winner, along with Quincy Jones and author Harper Lee.
In keeping with his hand-on preferences, the 81-year-old Di Suvero was on site in Dallas Tuesday. He can be glimpsed in Dane Walter’s time-lapse video around .57, consulting with workers in the center (he’s the guy without a hard hat), but more clearly at 1:29 (below) with his crutches and a red T-shirt.
Art & Seek would like to thank the AT&T Performing Arts Center for their assistance in letting Dane perch on the top balcony of the Winspear Opera House.