bertoia: a celebration of sound and motion

i love living in san francisco.  but, sometimes i miss living in a larger city, like london.  i especially miss the auction previews in mayfair and st. james’s.  they seem like pop-up museums.

i missed the harry bertoia selling exhibition at wright in their new york auction gallery from 1/22/14-2/15/14.  so, while i was working in new york last week, i popped in to see bertoia: a celebration of sound and motion, a selling exhibition at sotheby’s from 11 february-9 march 2014.

harry bertoia may be best known for his sound sculptures, called sonambients.

‘…a sculptural element breaking silence,

it has a voice,

hence, we listen to it,

maybe there is something to say.’

-harry bertoia, 1972

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | eleven monumental sound sculptures, commissioned for the standard oil building plaza | chicago, IL | 1975

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | monumental sound sculpture from the standard oil commission | beryllium copper and brass | 1975

photo credits wright 20 and lisa walsh | innerspace

and, for his other welded wire constructions.

 harry bertoia (1915-1978) | large spray | stainless steel and steel wire | circa 1965

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | pine tree | stainless steel and steel | circa 1955

photo credits sotheby’s

‘wire forms have a great range of expressions.

their constructions pertain to space rather than ground,

and their configurations can be light, airy, almost floating.’

-harry bertoia

the sotheby’s installation reminded me of the ruth asawa sculpture gallery at the de young museum in san francisco.  asawa’s looped and tied wire sculptures explore the relationships between light, shadow, transparency, and form.  bertoia’s sculptures also incorporate sound and motion.

click here to read my previous post about ruth asawa.

ruth asawa sculpture gallery | lobby | hamon tower | de young museum | san francisco, CA

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | dandelion | gilt stainless steel, brass and slate | 1960

photo credits joseph mcdonald, lisa walsh | innerspace, and sotheby’s

like bertoia’s wire constructions, his bush sculptures are radiant and organic.  almost like they could continue to grow naturally.

‘i regard nature as being the strongest influence.’

-harry bertoia, 1957

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | bush | patinated bronze | 1965

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | bush | patinated bronze | 1965

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | bush | patinated bronze | 1965

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

i have an asian art background.  so, some of bertoia’s naturalistic sculptures remind me of chinese antiquities.  the patina of ancient chinese bronzes.  the textures, forms, and perforations of antique chinese scholar’s rocks.

money tree | bronze with glazed earthenware base | eastern han dynasty (25-220)

asian art museum (aamsf) | san francisco, CA

black lingbi y-shaped scholar’s rock | 18th/19th century

christie’s new york | 16-17 september 2010 | sale 2339 | lot 1227

photo credits aamsf and christie’s


harry bertoia (1915-1978) | untitled | patinated bronze | circa 1965

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | untitled | patinated bronze | circa 1965

harry bertoia (1915-1978) | untitled | welded and patinated bronze | circa 1960

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

other bertoia sculptures are more metaphysical.

‘…my mind would think in terms of cosmic relationships,

such as planetary systems and galaxies…’

-harry bertoia, 1972

don’t you think that bertoia’s comet sculpture is spectacular?

 harry bertoia (1915-1978) | maquette for the comet sculpture, designed for the w. hawkins ferry residence | grosse pointe shores, MI | brass coated metal wire and bronze | 1964

photo credits lisa walsh | innerspace

‘the work of harry bertoia defies categorization.

its singular, aggressively personal expression,

sits on the borders between art, design, sculpture, and instrument.’

-reed krakoff, designer and bertoia collector, 2014

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