Power Tools Help Sculptor Bring Giant to Barclays Center
As you head to a Nets game or a concert at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, say a big hello to “Ona,” the giant bronze sculpture by Ursula von Rydingsvard.
You can’t miss her -- “Ona” is Polish for “she” -- at almost 20 feet tall and 6 tons, a mass jutting into the space below the arena’s steel-ribboned nameplate.
Von Rydingsvard, 71, has been making art for 40 years. She came to Bloomberg headquarters in New York for lunch. She likes cedar a lot and works with big saws.
SLIDESHOW: Ursula von Rydingsvard: Artist and Alchemist
Smith: How did the commission at the Barclays Center come about?
Von Rydingsvard: I’ve been in Brooklyn now for 33 years. I think they were looking for an artist who was in Brooklyn for a long time. David Berliner from Forest City asked me to do this piece but he said he first wanted to see a model or a drawing.
This is where I went a little haywire. I built the full-scale model out of cedar. When they saw this work it knocked their socks off!
Smith: What did they ask you for initially?
Von Rydingsvard: They wanted the piece to be outside the Barclays Center.
Smith: They gave you complete license?
Von Rydingsvard: Yes, there’s nobody who could say to me, “Do this, not this, maybe that.” People who commission me can’t really tell me what they want. If they knew better what to do, then they should do it. If they’re asking me, it’s my brain that they want.
Smith: Where did that shape come from?
Von Rydingsvard: Have you seen the Barclays Center? It’s huge! And it’s made of corten steel. There’s a foreboding feel, almost jail-like. Nevertheless, really beautiful things happen inside. I knew, if I wanted to be in front of it, I needed to have some presence, some power. So I made a piece that was sand cast in bronze. I wanted the sand casting because it would be more matte. I hate shiny, glossy things.
Smith: “Berwici Pici Pa,” your installation in the lobby of the Bloomberg building, transforms a long, long corridor. How did you come up with the design.
Von Rydingsvard: I had the idea of these vessels that had a very intimate relationship with the wall.
The vessels, vessel after vessel, squeeze into one another; they’re a kind of huge family because they are things that belong to one another. I wanted to communicate feelings; anything from anxiety to something that you can get a great deal of comfort from.
Smith: Do you ever wish you could see the pieces that you made earlier, to go back and revise them?
Von Rydingsvard: No. Sometimes I’m asked to remake a piece that’s been destroyed or partially destroyed and it’s so hard. It’s important that you’re willing to take risks; that you do things that you’ve never done before. Why live if you’re going to repeat?
Smith: What are you working on now?
Von Rydingsvard: I’m going to be doing a piece out of pounded copper for the Andlinger Center at Princeton University. It’s hand-pounded so it’s very labor-intensive thing. It will be installed by the spring of 2015.
In April, I’m opening a show at Yorkshire Sculpture Park in Wakefield, England. The land is so gorgeous. I’m going to do maybe seven outdoor sculptures and many, many indoor pieces. It will be the biggest show of my life.
Smith: Do you listen to music in your studio?
Von Rydingsvard: No. I’m very careful about listening to my cutters. They’re like the princes of my studio. They do things with that circular saw that very few people alive could do. They nibble like an animal might nibble. We torture the wood in a way it never thought it could be tortured. It’s something that takes a certain amount of courage.
I listen to those sounds to see if there’s anything that’s going amiss because I’ve been a cutter myself for 20 years. I know just what the sounds are supposed to be like. In fact, it’s my dream, and I put it somewhere in my will that after I die, I want my cutters to get together in a line, facing one another and they’ll be cutting the cedar and I know I’m going to hear it because I’m so used to listening to them.
(Catherine Smith writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
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