As an art historian, my first encounter with the work of the eminent American artist Mark di Suvero (1933) was during the installation of one of his most iconic monumental sculptures called HURU.
In Autumn of 1997, I was witness to the installation of the massive multi-story sized steel sculpture that was set up on the grounds of UMass Boston’s Arts On The Point. This was when I had just begun my undergraduate studies under the tutelage of Professor Paul Hayes Tucker.
Professor Emeritus Tucker was the Founder of Arts On The Point, a public sculpture park on the premises of Boston’s only public university. The piece was disassembled on April 24, 2013 and moved to San Francisco.
It was also in 1997 that I began to summer on the small island of Nantucket. Fast forward seven years later, the arrival of another monumental sculpture by Di Suvero on the island was greeted with nearly as much controversy, and a good deal of resentment, as when HURU landed in Boston.
In January 2005, WINTERTIME was installed on the property of a private collector, on Madaket Road – a few miles away from the island’s Historic District. HURUS’ cousin, an exhilarating bright orange-red sculpture drew criticism because too many islanders felt that it unsettled the Grey Lady (as Nantucket is often called).
Towering above the collector’s private home, WINTERTIME is approximately 30 feet high (20 feet shorter than it’s cousin, HURU) and 60 feet wide. In the local newspaper, WINTERTIME’s new owner was quoted as saying that he considered the piece “a creative work of art representing faith and hope.”
According to The Inquirer and Mirror, “It didn’t occur to him [the collector] to wonder whether other people would view it as art or aberration.” Nor, I&M continued, did he “consider seeking Historic District Commission approval to install the piece and said he will challenge any attempt by the HDC to regulate it.” Huh(?)!
The collector, on the other hand, asserted, “We looked at is as being basically discreet (and) not intended to be controversial… There’s a lot of sculpture on the island all over and I don’t like all of it. If people find a water tower acceptable, I think they’d find this much more uplifting.”
The Chairman of the island’s Historic District Commission was also quoted, “It makes you think there’s a sucker born every minute and some of them have a lot of money.” Continuing, he stated, “I don’t feel the HDC should be monitoring or regulating art, but at some point it can intersect with the concerns of the commission on preserving the historic structures of the island in their settings. The question is, with something that has no use other than visual appreciation, what are the standards one applies and does it detract from the setting? At some point, I’m sure we’ll discuss it.”
In a response to the aggression addressed toward WINTERTIME’s arrival on Nantucket, long-time island resident, Irish-born poet Frank J Cunningham wrote a poem, entitled “Huru’s Ship,” in praise of the work that was published in The Inquirer and Mirror, as a Letter to the Editor.
Fast forward (nearly) a decade later, inspired by “Huru’s Ship,” STEELY EYED SAMURAI is the last in the trilogy of short films that I (Homa Taj) set out to make based on Cunningham’s Nantucket poems, which in fact include some 40 works several of which have been published in various journals, throughout the years … The first in the series is Nantucket Atheneum (2013) and the second is the recently completed Maria’s Comet 1847.
More updates to come …
PUBLISHED POEM: “WINTERTIME: Huru’s Ship (Mark DiSuvero),” Letter to the Editor, The Inquirer & Mirror, January 27, 2005