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U. of C. Sculpture Gone Since 2013 Tracked to Humboldt Park Warehouse

By Sam Cholke | May 21, 2015 5:53am

"Grande Disco" by sculptor Arnaldo Pomodoro was removed from the University of Chicago campus in September 2013 for restoration. [DNAinfo/Sam Cholke]

HYDE PARK — A 10,000-pound sculpture by acclaimed artist Arnaldo Pomodoro has been absent from the University of Chicago campus for nearly two years.

“Grande Disco,” a 15-foot-wide bronze disk, was plucked from the courtyard in front of the Surgery Brain Research Institutes, 5812 S. Ellis Ave., in fall 2013 for six months of restoration.

A year-and-a-half later, the space where the giant sculpture was to return, shiny as polished brass and once again rotating, is still empty.

DNAinfo Chicago tracked “Grande Disco” to a squat brick warehouse next to a railroad interchange in Humboldt Park.

“It’s going to sit here for another year, I think,” said Roger Machin, who runs field operations for the fine art installation business Methods and Materials out of the building.

Sam Cholke says Pomodoro's work is featured all over the world:

Jeremy Manier, a spokesman for the university, said the university was happy that restoration was  underway, but was reassessing its collection of public art to figure out what should be put into or pulled out of storage as the campus changes.

In 2013, Machin’s crews used jackhammers to break "Grande Disco" out of the cement and hauled it off to the warehouse, where it has sat for a year while the university decided what to do with the work by the sculptor from Milan, Italy.

Many of the dark areas of the bronze sculpture were turning green with corrosion before it was removed for restoration. [Flickr/Don Burkett]

Pomodoro’s work is instantly recognizable both for its scale and the way he ruptures a simple form to revel a deepening and ever-darker pattern of fragmented geometric patterns at the core. His work can be seen everywhere from the United Nations building in New York City to the Vatican Museums in Vatican City, to Brisbane City Hall in Australia.

“The concept for all of them is reflection with darkness at the core,” said Jane Foley of Evanston-based Liparini Art Restoration.

Foley was expected to start work restoring the sculpture in 2013, but said she only got the signoff from the university to start work last summer, and work didn’t begin in earnest until November.

“It hasn’t looked the way it should look in many years,” Foley said.

She is now in the process of removing the green corrosion from every cranny of the sculpture before it is polished, given a treatment to prevent corrosion, lacquered and buffed with palm tree wax.

“It’s a very complex process — each little indentation needs to be cleaned,” Foley said. “My plan is to have it ready by the end of July.”

Once it’s complete, Machin’s crews will be in charge of setting the sculpture on a spindle attached to a gearbox that will slowly rotate the entire 10,000-pound piece.

“Ten thousand pounds isn’t very much,” said Machin, who wasn’t sweating about making “Grande Disco” spin again.

He said he’s now waiting to hear where to set it spinning. He said university officials told him last week that they had decided to move the sculpture elsewhere on campus.

"The university has created a new landscaped pathway and common space in the area west of Ellis Avenue, adjoining the plaza outside the Surgery-Brain Research Pavilion," Manier said. "We are assessing how the plaza will complement this new public space, and it would be premature to replace the sculpture while that assessment is underway."

Northwestern University has moved its own Pomodoro sculpture, “Constructed Cylinder,” indoors.

But many of the other versions of “Grande Disco” remain outdoors, including ones in downtown Charlotte, N.C.; the Piazza Meda in Milan; and in front of the State Theater in Darmstadt, Germany.

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