"Phoenix, 1974-1975." Painted Steel. Alexander Liberman. Canter Sculpture Garden, Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
1. Literal description. A construction of ten bias-sliced tubes made of steel, painted orange. Approximately 15 feet high, 11 feet wide, 7 feet deep.
2. Situation. At southeast corner of Cantor Sculpture Garden on a slight rise. Open to the sun at all times.
3. Structural composition. Geometrically, the composition is of vertical columns that have gone into collapse so that balanced diagonals are emphasized:
The action of the collapse is reversible; i.e., the diagonals are hinged. It is the reversibility of this action that has, undoubtedly, called forth the name "phoenix".
The composition is in three tiers with two hinges:
The strength of the reversible collapse is intimated by the pyramidal shape or profile the composition presents from the northwest approach to it.
The collapse also moves forward, although this can only be perceived when standing under the sculpture and looking up.
4. Definition of mass. As with many modern or kinetic sculptures mass is not the central sculptural problem. The removal of mass as a problem is indicated by the openness of the tubes - they are hollow and ends sliced on a bias. Hence:
One sees through the sculpture to interiors and the opposite sides. This openness coupled with balance - effect can be seen as a denial of mass - just as the phoenix is a denial of death.
The sculpture - although not massive - is earth-oriented. The width at the base is wider than the top. This "phoenix" is not intended to fly.
5. Effect of gravity. While most sculpture classically is defined in terms of interaction of mass and gravity, in "Phoenix" the sculpture is defined in terms of balance and gravity. The emphasis on balance provides an animal quality - balance is the animal's counter-response to gravitational pull.
6. Definition of space. The sculpture utilizes space as a theatre for motion. Space is a positive quality independent of the sculpture. Space, like gravity, is here opposite balance and motion, rather than mass.
7. Surface. Flat orange painted steel. Surface effect is minimal and unimportant, as long as it is unobtrusive.
Light is important, however, in creating depth through shadows on the interior of the sculpture.
8. Comments. The sculpture struck me more and more effective and interesting the longer I viewed it. The dynamic qualities overcame the coldness and ironic qualities of the steel.
Associations. Tubes = blood vessels / life tubes / columns / pilings / hostility to pilings, concrete support columns, substituting motion, hollow vessels, life.
Later associations. Tubes = bones without marrow / hinged bones / lifting, rising (person).
Whorls of air / tubes of whorls / tubes of rings of air created by bird rising.
Hart Crane, To Brooklyn Bridge. "How many dawns, chill from his rippling rest/ the seagull's wings shall dip and pivot him,/ shedding white rings of tumult, building high/ Over the chained bay waters Liberty--"