The Wadsworth Atheneum acquired a sculpture by Tony Smith, "Amaryllis," in 1967, shortly after Smith's groundbreaking one-man show there.
Over the years, the geometrical black abstract construction has been in various places outside the Hartford art museum and has suffered the customary weather damage. One placement in particular, however, turned the clean lines of the artwork into a mess.
"It was placed next to a sculpture by Lila Katzen that was very attractive to skateboarders. It had ramps and curves," said Edd Russo, chief registrar at the museum. The two works were on the sidewalk.
"Skateboarders would try to rocket off that one onto this one ['Amaryllis'] to try to bounce." At one point, a skateboarder trying the move crashed into and destroyed one of the museum's windows.
"Amaryllis" was eventually uninstalled and placed in storage. After a nine-year absence and extensive restoration, "Amaryllis" was placed back outside the museum on Monday in a new spot.
Patricia Hickson, the Emily Hall Tremaine Curator of Contemporary Art, said "when I saw it in offsite storage, I wanted to cry. The surface was so mottled, bleached, dented." Hickson was delighted to oversee the reinstallation on Monday, which was her birthday.
Restoration work was done by Versteeg Fabricators of Bethany. A crew of five from Mariano Brothers Specialty Moving of Bethel, who are veterans at installing Tony Smith works, used a forklift to meticulously place the artwork on its slab on a grassy spot on Main Street, near the statue of Nathan Hale. The steel sculpture is 135 inches tall, 128 inches wide and weighs about 7,000 pounds.
The museum was motivated to restore and reinstall the minimalist work by a letter last December from Kiki and Seton Smith, the daughters of Tony Smith (1912-1980), asking that all museums that owned Smiths exhibit them on the centennial of his birth.
"Amaryllis" is one of an edition of three. The other two are owned by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, which has it on display, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, which does not.
The sculpture is not in a position to attract skateboarders anymore. But it seems inevitable that people will climb on it. Atheneum Director Susan Talbott said she hopes they don't, but the museum staff is taking a "wait and see" attitude.
Also on Monday, "Washington Memorial," a work commissioned in 1932 by the Daughters of the American Revolution, was placed in a more visible position than the one it had occupied until recently. The newly restored work by Ben Johnson (after Jean-Antoine Houdon) commemorates visits to the Hartford area by George Washington.
Talbott said that a third outdoor art installation, a newly commissioned work, may go up in the near future, but would not give details.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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