Santiago Calatrava chosen to design public art sculpture at River Point

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Rendering of a sculpture by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava that will be installed in a park in front of the River Point office tower at 444 Lake St.

Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava has been chosen to create a sculpture to be installed in a park along the Chicago River, in front of the River Point office tower at 444 Lake Street. Installation is planned for summer 2019. | Provided rendering

Provided rendering

Santiago Calatrava’s 2,000-foot-tall Chicago Spire never did get built, thanks to a recession that had nothing to do with his spectacular design.

But Calatrava will leave his mark on Chicago, nevertheless.

The Spanish architect, structural engineer, sculptor, painter and all-around Renaissance man has been chosen to create an outdoor sculpture that will be installed at developers’ expense in the park at River Point, the 52-story office tower at Lake and Canal that includes a 1.5-acre public park over rail lines.

The red leafy sculpture will be 29 feet tall and 25 feet wide.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel with architect Santiago Calatrava in May 2018 at the unveiling of the design for a new sculpture by Calatrava to be installed along the Chicago River.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel chats with architect Santiago Calatrava at Monday’s unveiling of the design of a new sculpture by Calatrava that will be installed next summer along the Chicago River. | Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

Fran Spielman/Sun-Times

A press release describes it as having “twists in an outward, reaching spiral constructed of overlapping, leaf-like elements descending in scale from very large at the sculpture’s base to very small at the outer reach of the … spiral form.”

The goal is that, no matter what direction the viewer approaches from, the “massive layered spiral reveals stunning architectural depth, overhand and movement,” the press release states.

Viewers will almost certainly have other ideas about what the sculpture is and is not, touching off a civic debate similar to the one that has raged ever since the Picasso was installed in Daley Center Plaza.

Calatrava was so moved by the commission — and views the sculpture such an important contribution to one of the architectural capitals of the world — he arranged to be here for developer Larry Levy’s announcement of his selection.

A model of the sculpture will be displayed at the Art Institute. In 15 months, the sculpture itself will appear.

“You are the city that introduced public art. And you have more than 1,000 pieces of art in the streets of Chicago. Calder, Picasso, Miro, Kapoor … and many many other artists,” Calatrava said.

“To have a contribution to this collection of public art that is accessible to everybody, accessible any time of the day and enhancing your city, one of the most beautiful architectural cities of the 19th to 21st Century,” is a tremendous honor.

He added: “I want to express my gratitude for the opportunity that has been given to me. I have to say I am enormously moved and I was very, very motivated with my entry for this place, in my opinion, one of the very, very significant places of the art world.”

A sculpture by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, to be installed in a park in front of the River Point office tower in summer 2019, will be nearly 30 feet tall. | Provided

A sculpture by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava, to be installed in a park in front of the River Point office tower in summer 2019, will be nearly 30 feet tall. | Provided

Calatrava said he tried to “articulate a piece that speaks to the architecture in the background … through the color and through the freedom of lines.”

Mayor Rahm Emanuel described his lunch with Calatrava preceding Monday’s news conference as an “incredible hour of learning about cities, architecture, art, the growth of cities and also [Calatrava’s] own career.”

“It was actually the first college credit I got without having to pay for it,” the mayor joked.

Emanuel said he has seen Calatrava’s work in Jerusalem, Berlin, Buenos Aires, Madrid and Zurich.

“To see this work now — his work — in a city that he has such a deep intellectual and cultural experience and history with. To then have this exclamation point at the river point and bring this to a conclusion,” will be incredible, Emanuel said.

The mayor wasn’t done with the hyperbole.

“In the pantheon of Picasso, Miro and … all of the other artists — to have somebody with his background of architecture and public art come to the city of Chicago, this day will be remembered … as not just a day for River Point but a day when the city of Chicago gave definition to our public space and our re-introduction to the river,” he said.

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