Jul 24, 2019
Richard Serra’s 1991 work Seattle Right Angles Propped is the newest piece of public art installed at the University of Chicago—steel forged in two parts that meet at a right angle, two Ls that support each other with the force of counterweight and gravity.
In its previous location in a backyard beachfront of suburban Glencoe, Illinois, the sculpture provided a frame around where the rolling landscape met Lake Michigan. Now, in its new home 30 miles south, it echoes both in form and meaning the portico that connects UChicago’s Department of Art History and the Smart Museum of Art. It also underscores the University’s commitment to bring public art to the Hyde Park community.
Dorie Sternberg, Lab’43, donated the piece to the Smart, where it was installed in May and formally unveiled in June.
Over the years, Sternberg and her late husband Paul cultivated a notable art collection in their home. They couldn’t resist Serra, who since the 1960s has revolutionized the genre of massive sculptural work—typically using steel in site-specific urban spaces. The Sternbergs commissioned Seattle Right Angles Proppedfor their yard and could admire it from their glass-walled kitchen every day.
After her husband passed away in 2004, Sternberg decided that she wanted to see some of her art donations placed in her lifetime, including the Serra sculpture. The work seemed destined to travel south: Sternberg (née Feitler), grew up near UChicago on Woodlawn Avenue, and her brother, Robert Feitler, Lab’45, X’50, is a former board chair of the Smart Museum.
Seattle Right Angles Propped is not quite as prominent as some of Serra’s other sculptures. But to Mehring, the piece represents Serra’s pioneering work in the field of process art, wherein the focus is not the finished product, but its creation.
Seattle Right Angles Propped was installed a little over a year after the Smart announced the formation of the Feitler Center for Academic Inquiry, which often utilizes collections and exhibitions to engage Art History faculty and students with other students from any number of disciplines—from law and economics to the physical sciences.
The sculpture represents a significant moment within art history, and fills a gap in the museum’s collection of Minimalist and Post-Minimalist sculpture. The piece, Mehring said, will help faculty discuss art’s direct embeddedness in the real world: its new, direct relationship to the viewer’s body; its pioneering use of industrial materials; and its large scale.