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    Description

    PROPERTY FROM A COLORADO COLLECTION

    HARRY BERTOIA
    A Gilt Bronze Prototype for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Chapel Reredos, circa 1955
    52 inches (132.1 cm) high, including wood base

    The present lot is an important and rare prototype for the reredos, or altar screen, Bertoia was commissioned to create for the Kresge Chapel at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The screen is among his first monumental architectural works and marked the artist's continuing collaboration with noted modernist architect Eero Saarinen. Saarinen's design for MIT shows a departure from orthodox modernism and is often contrasted with Mies van der Rohe's rather boxy chapel created for the ITT campus in Chicago. In a bold move a circular plan was selected, Saarinen explains:

    "since this is uniquely, a non-denominational chapel, it was essential to create an atmosphere which was not derived from a particular religion, but from basic spiritual feelings. A dark interior seemed right-an interior completely separated from the outside world...The interior was curved, both for acoustical reasons and to give the space a lack of sharp definition and an increased sense of turning inward."


    The architect's goals were achieved with dramatic effect and Bertoia's work became the focal point of the structure. In traditional ecclesiastical architecture natural light is transformed into "spiritual light" as it passes through stained glass windows. In Saarinen's vision the windowless insular space is lit dramatically by an oculus placed above the altar flooding it with a column of natural light. The result is that of an intimate, minimalist mid-century pantheon. The screen itself consists of 24 metal wires arranged in an arc connecting the oculus to the back steps of the altar. The wires are interspersed with rectangular plates and geometric wire ornaments to play off the light from above. The screen itself becomes a glittering cascade of light that is ever changing throughout the seasons and times of day.

    Bertoia supplied this prototype to the Saarinen Studio during the design phase of the chapel in the early 1950s. It differs from the finalized work in that it is embellished with individual square reflectors and not the rectangular panels seen elsewhere in the artist's "Money Trees." It is an intriguing rare survival and a testament to the collaboration between two great 20th century artists.

    LITERATURE:
    Cf. "Challenge to the Rectangle: MIT Campus Center with Auditorium and Chapel," Time, June 29, 1953, p. 64;
    "Old Hand at Odd Shapes," Life, Mar. 14, 1955, p. 82;
    "La Capella e l'Auditorium de MIT," Casabella, Nov.-Dec. 1955, pp. 16-29;
    "Puddled Spire: Chapel for MIT," Time, Dec. 5, 1955, p. 88;
    "Buildings in the Round: MIT's Cylindrical Chapel and a Domed Auditorium," Architectural Forum, Jan. 1956, pp. 116-121;
    "MIT's Kresge Chapel," Architectural Record, Jan. 1956, pp. 154-157;
    "New Chapel at MIT," Progressive Architecture, Jan. 1956, pp. 65-67;
    "Three Critics Discuss MIT's New Buildings," Architectural Forum, Mar. 1956, p. 157;
    A. Saarinen, Eero Saarinen on His Work, New Haven, 1968, p. 37;
    J. Nelson, Harry Bertoia: Sculptor, Detroit, 1970, no. 25;
    D. Albrecht, Eero Saarinen: Shaping the Future, New Haven, 2006, p. 170;
    D. De Long, Eero Saarinen: Buildings from the Balthazar Korab Archive, New York, 2008, pp. 152 and 153.


    Condition Report*: Overall in very good condition.  Great provenance.
    *Heritage Auctions strives to provide as much information as possible but encourages in-person inspection by bidders. Statements regarding the condition of objects are only for general guidance and should not be relied upon as complete statements of fact, and do not constitute a representation, warranty or assumption of liability by Heritage. Some condition issues may not be noted in the condition report but are apparent in the provided photos which are considered part of the condition report. Please note that we do not de-frame lots estimated at $1,000 or less and may not be able to provide additional details for lots valued under $500. All lots are sold "AS IS" under the Terms & Conditions of Auction.

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    Auction Dates
    December, 2009
    10th Thursday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 1
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