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Two new sculptures installed at renovated museum

The plywood casings have come off, but Rodin's Walking Man and Caryatid still are swathed in industrial-strength plastic, waiting for the landscaping of their home site on the south side of the art museum to be restored to its former elegance.

Just beyond the row of tall, graceful poplars that have watched over the renovations and seismic strengthening of the past two and one-half years, another sodded sculptural garden also is taking shape. Like the Rodin Sculpture Garden, the new space will be filled with contemporary figurative works.

The first of two significant new sculptures recently acquired by the museum is a hot pink concrete and resin piece by Claes Oldenburg, Soft Inverted Q. Sited on the terrace of the new wing of the museum, the life-size Oldenburg -- still under protective wraps -- is a gift of Robin Quist Gates in memory of George Quist, '48.

A second major sculpture by a contemporary American artist soon will stand guard at the opposite, north end of the expanded museum complex. Call Me Ishmael, a massive work of Cor-Ten steel, is the creation of Richard Serra and will be a long-term loan from Doris and Donald Fisher.

Installation of the Serra sculpture will take a full day of collaboration between riggers and structural engineers on Saturday, Aug. 1. After an early-morning arrival on two flatbed trucks, the two monumental plates -- each of which weighs more than 30 tons and measures 53 feet long, 13 feet high and 2 inches thick -- will be hoisted by cranes and slung onto steel plates fixed to reinforced concrete and rebar caissons sunk some 12 feet underground.

Serra, who has produced 100-ton torqued ellipses and site-specific sculptures in locations that range from Denmark to New York and Iceland, is expected to be on hand for the installation.

Earlier this week the first of the 50 Rodin sculptures that will be housed in the south rotunda and an adjacent gallery were carted over from the storage warehouse in the old Encina gymnasium. Art works will continue to arrive for installation in the 18 renovated galleries throughout the summer and fall as museum curators gear up for the official opening of the Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Center for Visual Arts at Stanford University during the week of Jan. 21.

As the stucco exterior of the new wing of the center dries and cures in the July sun, the color is changing by imperceptible degrees to match the sandstone of the historic building, constructed in 1894, that it now adjoins. The 42,000-square-foot wing houses galleries for special exhibitions, the center's collection of modern and contemporary art, an auditorium, cafe and bookstore.

"The contractors, Rudolph & Sletten, are in the final stages of completing the finishes and making necessary corrections," said Tom Seligman, the Jill and John Freidenrich Director of the museum. "Our staff now occupy the facility and we will soon begin to install our collections and special exhibitions and put all operations in place for opening."

The Serra and Oldenburg sculptures join the largest collection of Rodin sculptures outside the Musée Rodin in Paris and the center's wide-ranging collections, which cover the history of art and represent a spectrum of cultures.

Call Me Ishmael is a characteristic work by Serra in which the artist explores such sculpture-making issues as mass, gravity, weight, volume and the viewer's perception or awareness of his body in space. Tilted slightly off axis, the two Cor-Ten steel plates suggest the hull of a ship as well as the leviathan from Herman Melville's novel Moby Dick, whose opening lines inspired the sculpture's title.

The sculpture also may contain autobiographical references. Born in San Francisco in 1939, the sculptor is the son of a pipefitter who worked in the Marine Shipyards, and Serra himself worked in steel mills in the 1950s and '60s. When he began to exhibit his work in the late 1960s, Serra was associated with minimalist artists such as Donald Judd and Carl Andre who linked the content of sculpture to its form, structure and materials. Since then he has been widely recognized as one of America's most innovative artists and is particularly well known for his public art, some of which has been controversial. Tilted Arc, the site-specific sculpture he designed for Federal Plaza in New York City, was torn down in 1989 by the General Services Administration after one judge charged that the sculpture was attracting rats.

Serra has designed basalt columns for an Icelandic island, sculpted a piece for the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Denmark that is set between two hills that lead to the sea, and completed an installation on a freeway roundabout in Luxembourg. He currently is working on projects for sites in New Zealand and Germany.

Oldenburg, who was born in Sweden in 1929, is widely recognized as a proponent of the American Pop Art movement of the 1960s. The idea for his Soft Inverted Q began in the late 1950s when typography was an integral part of the posters that he created to advertise his own exhibitions. He was intrigued by the colossal letters he saw on a visit to Los Angeles in 1963, like those that spelled out "Hollywood," and explored monumental letters in landscape in a series of lithographs.

In the 1970s Oldenburg gradually transformed the letter "Q" from a symbol associated with the alphabet to an object of sensuous contours, adding a figural reference to the navel and painting the sculpture a bodily shade of pink. Soft Inverted Q is the first major work by Oldenburg to suggest human anatomy while retaining an inherent and fundamental form.


By Diane Manuel

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