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Soaring Steel Sculptures Debut On Governors Island

By Julie Shapiro | May 26, 2011 4:01pm | Updated on May 27, 2011 7:06am

By Julie Shapiro

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

GOVERNORS ISLAND — A sculpture show this big needs its own island.

Eleven of abstract expressionist Mark di Suvero's joyful, gleaming sculptures — stretching up to five stories tall and weighing up to 50,000 pounds apiece — recently arrived on Governors Island and are now on display in a free, summer-long outdoor exhibit.

The enormous sculptures are mostly made from steel, twisted and welded into inviting shapes that encourage visitors to approach and interact with them.

"For Chris," a memorial to a friend of di Suvero, which stands among the island's historic buildings in Nolan Park, features arcing ribbons of steel with a large suspended bell that the public is encouraged to ring.

The 52-foot-wide "She," perched near the water's edge in Picnic Point, includes a hanging wooden platform that rocks in the breeze and can serve as an oversized swing.

Leslie Koch, president of the Trust for Governors Island, said the 172-acre island is the perfect spot for di Suvero's massive sculptures.

"Mark's work is able to deal with the scale of the island," Koch said. "One of the things that makes this so magnificent is the horizon and sea. Other sculptures would shrink [in such large surroundings]."

The idea for the show came from the Storm King Art Center, a sculpture park in upstate New York. The center worked with di Suvero, who is in his late 70s, to decide exactly how to place and orient the art across Governors Island.

"You get these fabulous long vistas with the harbor, with the skyline of the city," said John Stern, president of Storm King. "That's what attracted us to this landscape."

The larger sculptures took di Suvero years to build in his studios in Long Island City and northern California, Stern said.

"He doesn't use drawings — he just starts cutting the metal," Stern said. "Mark builds all the pieces himself. He has cranes when the sculptures get large."

Bringing the sculptures to Governors Island was a painstaking process, which involved disassembling them, transporting the pieces on flatbed trucks, transferring the steel to barges and then welding the sculptures back together on site.

The recent weeks of rain made the installation all the more difficult, but di Suvero was on the island every day to make sure it was done on time, Stern said.

"It really was a heroic effort," Koch said.

One additional sculpture is on the way to Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, which provides ferry service to Governors Island in the summer.

"Mark di Suvero at Governors Island: Presented by Storm King Art Center" opens May 27 and runs on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and holiday Mondays through Sept. 25. For the ferry schedule, visit the Trust for Governors Island's website.