Jose de Rivera’s Infinity is like a cloud, an 800-pound stainless steel cloud, floating above the national mall.
After receiving my first “Request-A-Sculpture” submission from a reader, I located the artwork in front of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. At first glance, it wasn’t my cup of tea.
In 1967, Infinity was the first abstract sculpture commissioned by the U.S. government. The commission was part of the Art-In-Architecture program to promote collaboration between public building projects and the fine arts. In the 60’s, this sculpture was a huge departure from the Roman gods and Civil War heroes in the area.
De Rivera had to rent a studio on Long Island to build the sculpture, as it was too large for his own studio. At 16 ft long, 13 ½ ft tall and 8 ft wide – Infinity was the largest artwork this Louisiana-born sculptor ever made.
De Rivera and assistants used hammers and torches to extrude and weld the steel rod into one continuous three-sided object. The painstaking process to achieve the mirror-like polished finish took 14 months.
Once completed, the gigantic metal sculpture was placed atop a 16 foot black granite pedestal. The pedestal is motorized to allow the sculpture to slowly spin – fully rotating in 6 minutes.
Funny, I hadn’t noticed it moving on my first visit. I returned a few more times, increasingly attracted to Infinity. Photographing it became an obsession, with infinite possibilities in motion, vantage point, weather and light.
The sculpture’s name Infinity, doesn’t have any grand “inside” meaning. De Rivera explained, “When I make an abstract sculpture, I give it an abstract name. Then they can discuss it all they want.”
He was shocked when the public demanded a greater explanation. “What I make represents nothing but itself,” he declared.
This sort of smug abstractionist talk has always annoyed me. What’s wrong with good old-fashioned objects and figures?!
Yet, as I sorted through my Infinity photographs, I discovered countless forms and figures – a heart, a bird, a pin wheel, a figure eight, faces, and cursive letters.
In other pictures, I fell in love with a strong curve or reflection – without caring “what it looked like” in representational language. If made of music, Infinity would be Jazz.
The sculpture isn’t married to a particular message or story. Instead, it turns quietly – inviting imagination and interaction, waiting for a kid to look up with eyes of wonder.
See what you will. It’s only promise is change.