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Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)
Works from the Estate of Ben and Natalie Heineman Born just before the start of World War I, Ben and Natalie Heineman were always animated by a progressive, modernist sensibility. Living through a century of enormous change, they always looked forward. They led distinguished lives as exemplary citizens of their city, state and country and as dedicated supporters of education and the arts. After attending the University of Michigan and Northwestern Law School in the early '30s, Ben Heineman served in North Africa for the State Department during World War II and spent 20 years as one of Chicago's leading corporate lawyers. At that time, he was also active in national law reform, working with academics and other practitioners, and serving as special counsel prosecuting organized crime for Governor Adlai Stevenson. Mr. Heineman then spent 30 years in business, from 1954 to 1986, first as the CEO of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway and then as CEO of Northwest Industries. He was a powerful symbol of business statesmanship and had a national reputation as an innovative businessman both in a hidebound industry and in developing the new conglomerate corporation. During his business career, he served pro bono on numerous task forces for President Lyndon Johnson (in such areas as civil rights, welfare reform and government reorganization), as head of the Illinois State Board of Higher Education and as leader of many civic efforts in Chicago at the request of the first Mayor Richard Daley. Natalie Heineman received her undergraduate diploma and masters degree (in social work) from the University of Chicago in the early 30s. She began her career of service climbing tenement stairs during the Depression to help the poor receive medical care. A lifetime of dedicated effort to reform and improve child and family services followed, including her role as President of the Child Care Society of Chicago and the Child Welfare League of America and as a member of the national board of the United Way. She was one of the first women, if not the first woman, to serve in those positions, and was a national expert on adoption and foster care. Ben was a trustee of the University of Chicago for more than five decades, serving as a close personal advisor to all its presidents but especially to his close friend, Edward Levi, later Attorney General under President Ford. He also was a long-serving and dedicated trustee of Chicago's Art Institute, the Chicago Lyric Opera and the Chicago Symphony. He successfully opposed a merger of the Opera and the Symphony (ostensibly for economic "synergies") so that they could retain their distinct identities and continue to perform in their separate, architecturally-significant venues. Natalie and Ben donated new productions of The Barber of Seville and Billy Budd to the Lyric, and were devoted weekly opera and concert-goers. In keeping with their love of the modern, the couple used leading American architect Harry Weese to design an addition to their summer home in Wisconsin: a dramatic glass box suspended 200 feet over Green Bay from steel beams driven into a limestone outcropping (the "Shadowcliffe House"). After Ben's retirement, he and Natalie found a new avocation: acquiring contemporary sculptured glass for their homes and office. In 2006, the Heinemans gave all of their sculptures, then considered one of the premier collections in the world (240 pieces, 87 artists), to the Corning Museum of Glass. Tina Oldknow, the Corning Museum's curator of modern glass, said that the Heineman collection exhibited a "wide-ranging documentation of studio glass...a high level of connoisseurshipspecial importance [due to] the inclination of the couple to collect more than one work by an artist." The Heineman Collection, Ms. Oldknow, concluded, is "vital" to the "museum's identity." The collection will be rotated permanently in a Heineman Family Gallery. Before the Heinemans started collecting studio glass, they were purchasing outstanding abstract expressionist and color field paintings for their Chicago house and then for their light-filled apartment seventy-one stories above Michigan Avenue in Chicago. Their modernist taste had been inspired, in part, by Ben's membership for many years on the 20th century acquisitions and committee of the Art Institute of Chicago. Paintings by such innovative artists as de Kooning, Gottlieb, Mitchell, Rauschenberg, Francis and Louis became striking focal points of the collection. Their fascination with a color, shape and line --reflected in their architecture, interior design and glass collection--was a driving motive in acquiring the paintings that they lived with on an intimate basis for forty years. They shared in the excitement of selecting, and then hanging in prominent places representative works of a great period in post-war art. When the entire glass sculpture collection was sent to Corning in 2007, these modern masterpieces-accompanied by outstanding Bertoia sculptures--were the only major art in that remained in the Heinemans' personal collection. In the last years of their lives, those pieces gave this elderly but always-young couple great joy.
Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)

Screen Tree

Details
Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)
Screen Tree
brass-coated metal wire
57¾ x 84 x 11 in. (146.6 x 213.3 x 27.9 cm.)
Executed circa 1955.

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Jonathan Laib
Jonathan Laib

Lot Essay

"I like to think of my work in this way: There are several kinds, and I like to think that each kind occupies a certain region in the cosmos, maybe the cosmos of my mind, but each work finds its proper environment in a region. And if you go far enough you could expand this region, cultivate it and it would become fruitful and do more I regard nature as being the strongest influence."
- Harry Bertoia

The Heinemans' painting collection is aptly punctuated by an impressive range of sculptures by 20th century master designer and sculptor, Harry Bertoia. The couple's familiarity with sculpture clearly allowed them to thoughtfully interweave interior space with art: Bertoia's large standing screen acted as the centerpiece to the Chicago interior. Though he worked predominantly in steel and brass, Bertoia's works are imbued with a deep interest in the potency of negative space, motion, ambient sounds and surface. Bertoia began his career studying jewelry and furniture design, well-known for his invention of the Diamond chair and even designing wedding rings for Ray and Charles Eames. Indeed, the glistening surface and textural detail of the large-scale screen exemplifies the artist's early training and fascinations, as well as the great success he had with his experimental treatments of metal alloys.

As one of the most innovative sculptors of his time, Bertoia was continuously inspired by nature and his materials. The melt-coated brass sculptures recall beads of dew on branches or bales of sundrenched straw. Bertoia capitalized on the infinite forms of the golden section of nature-or Fibonacci numbers--where numbers follow sequential patterns that govern the wondrous symmetry and balance found in plants, flowers and trees. Made of hundreds of delicate strands of brass melt-coated wires, Untitled is one of the largest-scale examples of Bertoia's straw inspired sculptures to become available at auction at over 7 feet wide. The sculpture at first glance seems haphazard in its composition, but in reality, the carefully assembled, interwoven and welded pieces create an impressive labyrinthine nest at the center which resolves itself in neatly ordered vertical strands at the exterior. The open spaces are enhanced by the glimmering yet organic surface of the treated metal, culminating in an endlessly fascinating and dynamic sculpture.

The following lot, Untitled (sonambient) (LOT 302), is also an exceptional example from the artist's oeuvre, and perhaps one from the best known series and most-beloved of Bertoia's diverse body of work. Beginning with the earliest tonals in 1960, Bertoia continued reinventing the series through his death in 1978. The six foot tall example from the Heineman collection succinctly embodies this important series in one elegant row of carefully positioned rods which produce a clear and harmonious sound when activated. Formulated by bronze rods attached to plates that rest on the floor, Bertoia referred to the Sonambients as "metallic harps."

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