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There are so very many things to worry about when you’re installing a 5-ton, 32-foot painted-aluminum sculpture such as Roy Lichtenstein’s Brushstroke, now in place on the Jefferson Drive plaza of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden.
Things like: Is it hurricane-proof? Do its protrusions provide the Smithsonian-required 7 feet of vertical clearance for viewers? And is it even the right color?
“I saw it from a distance when I drove up, and I thought, Oh, my Godthey didn’t finish it right!” says Kerry Brougher, the Hirshhorn’s chief curator and director of art and programs, who was on hand for the all-day Sept. 16 installation. Brougher was briefly confused by the sculpture’s packing wrapblue swaddling with a printed boats-and-bay motif reminiscent of bunkbeds at the beach. The work underneath is a sinuous cream-and-black pour that Hirshhorn Director Ned Rifkin describes as “almost a waterfall”; artist Jeff Koons termed it “a fantastic piece,” though in photos it looks like a cross between the Rolling Stones’ tongue logo and a self-strangling stork.
Indeed, the Hirshhorn’s worries about visibility and impact helped motivate its purchase of the work. The site’s previous pieceGeorge Rickey’s spindly Three Red Linesdidn’t have anywhere near the graphic heft of Brushstroke, a dynamic example of the dialogue between painting and sculpture that so captivated Lichtenstein.
“One problem that we’ve had at the Hirshhorn is that people walking on the Mall don’t necessarily know this is the Hirshhorn Museum,” says Brougher. “We need something on this side that speaks to the public, that’s kind of a signpost.” And a signature piece seems a natural follow-on to the museum’s evolving spatial orientation. “The building’s being turned around from its formal entry on Independence Avenue, because the majority of our traffic already comes from the Mall,” Rifkin says.
At 6:30 on Tuesday morning, though, the only traffic at the Hirshhorn’s plaza is the slow pacing between cranes of Jay Merrick, the burly rigging foreman for Mariano Brothers Inc., which is erecting Brushstroke. Merrick says he just oversaw the emplacement of 120,000 pounds of stone for an Andy Goldsworthy installation at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. But Brushstroke, he adds, presents its own delicate difficultiesincluding bringing its two pieces together for a midair welding so that its final profile can be fine-tuned.
“The wind is a major concern,” Merrick says, peeling back the sculpture’s wrapping to reveal the edges where the two pieces will be joined. “You have to put your hands in there to weld the pieces, and any gust or little movement could cause a big problem,” such as a mar in the delicate polychrome surface. Not to mention a severed hand.
Wind is also on the mind of Hirshhorn sculpture conservator Lee Aks, who says he began worrying last week about how to protect the museum’s sculpture garden from Hurricane Isabel. He and other museum staffers plan to tether or even disassemble some of the garden’s works. “Parts of the Calder Six Dots Over a Mountain start revolving so fast in a heavy wind that it literally comes apart.” He’s not so worried about Brushstroke, which was built to withstand South Florida-caliber storms.
By 9:30, a fresh breeze blows down the Mall, and only the first still-wrapped piece of Brushstroke has been lifted. Rifkin is scheduled to arrive from New York at 11 to eyeball the sculpture for final positioning. But he’ll need his hard hat firstanother thing for the staffers to worry about.
“Ned’s should be the cleanest,” jokes Hirshhorn exhibits specialist Catherine Satterlee.
“Here’s one,” says her colleague Sherri Chambers, holding up a white one.
“I’m going to take it if you’re not going to guard it,”
“I’ll guard it,” says Chambers. Robert Lalasz