A sculpture by famed artist Reuben Nakian now graces the entrance to Brigham Young University's new Museum of Art. The work, an 8x8x8-foot, 4,900-pound bronze was lifted by crane July 29 onto a pedestal on the east side of the red granite museum.
Called "Juno," the work was a National Endowment for the Arts commission Nakian received in 1981. It represents an artistic style based in abstract expressionism, yet with a classical structure that was not embraced by abstract expressionists - according to Neil Hadlock. Hadlock, a sculptor and member of the BYU art faculty, selected the work and oversaw the coloring of the piece at the Tallix Foundry in New York."In making a museum decision," Hadlock said, "we made a list of artists we believed would have a place in history, yet at the same time selected someone we could afford. When I spoke with specialists in several major museums, I was told Nakian was a good choice and would overshadow many sculptors we think of now."
Hadlock, who equates Nakian to a Schoenberg or a Stravinsky in music, located the piece at the Gremillion Fine Arts Gallery in Houston.
"After Nakian died, there were a few of his large pieces that had not been cast, and `Juno' was one of them," Hadlock said. "I believe BYU now has a fine example of an artist's artist, a museum's artist and an art collector's artist."
Nakian, who was born in College Point, New York, on Aug. 10, 1897, as the youngest of five children of Armenian parents, experienced exhibition success as an animal sculptor in the '20s and national publicity for his social portraits of the New Deal cabinet in the '30s. He also received recognition for an eight-foot sculpture of America's baseball hero Babe Ruth.
From his studio in a wooded suburb of Stamford, Conn., Nakian's thematic exploration gradually extended into the realms of classical mythology, where he probed the mystiques of long-ago civilizations and discovered his own roots.
"He was trained as an academic artist," Hadlock says, "and started using the textures, the unfinished surfaces and gesture of large forms as the ideas for his sculpture."
In some of his massive stone shapes, Nakian juxtaposed fragments of human anatomy (arms, legs, limb). According to the catalog "Nakian" by the Belian Art Center, the sculptor "resorted to improvisations with the human body, where a single contour can define the swelling of an anatomical bulge, delimit an abstract plane and initiate a movement."
Nakian, who died in 1986, has had important retrospectives in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., New York's Museum of Modern Art and in other cities. He also represented American art at the biennials in Sao Paulo and Venice and has many of his sculptures in public places and museums in the United States.
The BYU Museum of Art will open its doors in October with "The Etruscans, Legacy of a Lost Civilization."