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Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)
Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)

Dandelion from the Hilton Hotel, Denver, Colorado

Details
Harry Bertoia (1915-1978)
Dandelion from the Hilton Hotel, Denver, Colorado
stainless steel
137½ x 75 x 75 in. (349.3 x 190.5 x 190.5 cm.)
Executed in 1961.
Literature
J. K. Nelson, Harry Bertoia, Sculptor, Detroit, 1970, no. 50 (illustrated).

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Saara Pritchard
Saara Pritchard

Lot Essay

Mimicking the feathered dome of seed-bearing parachutes which burst forth from the stem of the of a Dandelion weed, standing over eleven feet high, Harry Bertoia's Dandelion is shaped from thousands of welded stems that branch out in three successions. Weightless and whimsical, the flower is the perfect inspiration for Bertoia's sculptural series. Consistently revealing his pioneering appreciation for the importance of surface, motion, negative space and ambient sounds, his radical sculptural innovations, inspired by the forms of nature, stand as some of the most inspired sculptures of the 20th century. While artists have consistently aimed to transform rather than imitate nature, for Bertoia there was no better inspiration than the perfection and symmetry found in flowers and trees. Designed by evolution, the Dandelion is the perfect form-fit for independent survival.

Appearing as buoyant and weightless as its floral counterpart, the sculpture appears as though it may float away. And yet, to the contrary, its steel composition renders it a design marvel and architectural wonder. The sculpture is emboldened by the textural contrast between the welded joints and the smooth, glistening branches that are activated by gravity. The sphere is meticulously constructed by two levels of radiating pliant steel branches that are welded to hundreds of rods that initially project from the center. Shimmering tiny orbs are attached to the tip of each branch, and further the lustrous gleam. The dynamic sculpture is as much reliant on its careful construction as by the open space around the forms that establish the powerful visual grace.

Created specifically for the Columbine Bar at the Denver Hilton Hotel, the present example is the first of Bertoia's Dandelions. The winner of the 1961 Award of Merit from the American Institute of Architects, the structure, designed by I.M. Pei and associates in 1960, embodied the bold, modernist forms of the period, yet was radical in its use of materials. The architects explain that by "introducing a new vernacular with rough reddish-brown Mo-Sai panels, the hotel faade is a striking departure from the metal curtain wall prevalent in the fifties" (courtesy Pei, Cobb, Fried & Partners). The innovative use of material even extended indoors-the rectangular ceiling panels were finished with varied shades of gold, and floor to ceiling windows allowed generous amounts of light to enter from the plaza outside. At one end of the high-ceilinged, expansive lobby, Bertoia's Dandelion could be seen rising up over the circular-shaped bar, the focal point for the entire entrance.

Known as the first Dandelion sculpture, the present work is a stunning example from an immensely popular series that Bertoia continued to revisit through the 1970s. Among the best, none of the Dandelion sculptures are as large or complex as the Hilton work, with the exception of one housed in a public collection. In 1963, Bertoia created the largest Dandelion which incorporated a fountain for the Perpetual Savings and Loan Association in Beverly Hills, now displayed at the Omaha Public library. A year later, seven melt-coated brass versions appeared above a reflecting pool at Eastman Kodak Pavilion World's Fair in New York.

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