The corporate model : sculpture, architecture, and the American city, 1946-1975
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This dissertation is a theoretical and historical account of urban sculpture in the U.S. following World War II. The title refers to an example set by corporations during the 1940s and 1950s for commissioning modernist office towers and abstract sculpture that fundamentally shaped the early history of a modern public art in the U.S. This corporate model was taken up by American cities during the 1960s in the construction of new civic centers that combined large-scale, abstract sculpture with glass and steel city office buildings. Federal funding further encouraged new sculpture commissions, which proliferated across the U.S. Emerging theories about visual communication impacted both urban planning and the corporate image during this period, as urban renewal reshaped cities for maximum legibility and corporations commissioned designers to create new trademarks. I argue that these twin aims conditioned the planning, production, and distribution of urban sculpture, whose status oscillated between the landmark within urban planning and the trademark of corporate America, between a concrete city element and an abstract symbol. I tell the history of post-war urban sculpture through three case studies. In the first case study, I examine three significant sculpture commissions for urban building lobbies realized by the architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill during the 1950s: Harry Bertoia’s screen (1954) at the Manufacturers Trust Company Bank on New York’s Fifth Avenue; Richard Lippold’s Radiant “I” (1958) at the Inland Steel Company Headquarters Building in Chicago; and Alexander Calder’s mobile (1959) for the Chase Manhattan Bank branch at 410 Park Avenue. In the second case study, I trace the parallel trajectories of urban renewal in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan and Alexander Calder’s fountains and stabiles made for World’s Fairs and international expositions, which intersected in La Grande Vitesse (1969), the National Endowment for the Arts’ first sculpture commission for its Art in Public Places program. In the third case study, I look at three sculptures produced by the fabricator Lippincott Inc., either as a series or in multiple editions, during its first five years of operation: Tony Rosenthal’s cubes (1967-68), Barnett Newman’s Broken Obelisk (1963-67), and Claes Oldenburg’s Geometric Mouse (1969-71).