HYDE PARK — Mark di Suvero returned to the city he fled in 1968 after being harassed by the police to install on Wednesday a massive sculpture in the neighborhood of the president who gave him a medal.
Di Suvero was in Chicago on Wednesday to install “Destino,” a steel sculpture with a massive bent I-beam that rotates as the wind blows in off the lake.
“It’s a very simple piece, most of mine are very complicated,” said di Suvero, sitting on the back hatch of a pickup truck on the lakefront near 53rd Street.
When the crew let go of the ropes holding the large beam, which looked like something di Suvero had snagged off of a bridge near his studio in New York City, it spun surprisingly quickly in the strong breeze.
Di Suvero, 82, said he personally bent the largest beam with a crane. He is a former crane operator turned sculptor who still carries his union card in his wallet and used to work in East Side when he lived in Chicago in the ‘60s.
“A U-form is pretty easy,” Di Suvero said.
Ivana Meštrović, di Suvero’s assistant and whose grandfather, Ivan Meštrović, sculpted “The Bowman” and “The Spearman” sculptures that mark the gateway to Grant Park on Congress Parkway Downtown, said di Suvero’s designs are all in his head and he almost never sketches them out before starting.
“He crawls around on the plates and just cuts them out,” Meštrović said. “He does most of the physical work himself.
Di Suvero said it’s not difficult work for him, and even bending the giant beam with a crane wasn’t particularly hard.
“Everything is about understanding where the center of gravity is,” di Suvero said.
In 1963, di Suvero thought the center of gravity in the art world was in Chicago and moved to the city, where he struck up a friendship with the photographer Danny Lyons and spent a lot of time in Hyde Park, where Lyon was studying philosophy at the University of Chicago.
A photo of the di Suvero and Lyons together in Hyde Park and other images from Chicago are on display at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York City as part of a retrospective on Lyons.
“I thought Chicago was thinking ahead because they put in a Picasso, and that is of course where the police grabbed us,” di Suvero said.
Di Suvero said he was arrested in 1968 during a protest against the Vietnam War near the Pablo Picasso statue in Daley Plaza, and left the city for good shortly after what he described as brutal treatment by the Chicago Police.
“Hyde Park has always been wonderful,” di Suvero said Wednesday, back in the city for the first time since its most famous resident gave him a medal.
In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded di Suvero the National Medal of Arts, a rare opportunity for di Suvero to talk to his favorite president one-on-one for a few seconds during the photos.
“I said, ‘I think you should cut the military budget in half,’” di Suvero said. “His eyes went big and he said, ‘I’m going to reduce it, but it might not be by half.’”
“Destino” is di Suvero’s first major work in Chicago since he was awarded the medal and he said he liked the idea the president returning to Hyde Park and seeing his sculpture.
“For that man, I would do a lot,” di Suvero said. “He was a great president.”
Di Suvero’s sculpture will be on display for the next year through a partnership between the Chicago Park District and EXPO CHICAGO.
He has also installed a sculpture called “Magma” on the lakeshore across from Buckingham Fountain Downtown through an IN/SITU Outside program to expand the number of artists showing large works in public places in the city.
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