Harry Bertoia’s Sculpture

harry-bertoias-sculpture



Born in Italy in 1915, Harry Bertoia eventually moved to Michigan, attended Cass Technical High School, where he was introduced to metals, and moved on to the Cranbrook Academy, where he met fellow student Clifford West. Shortly after his marriage in 1943, Bertoia moved to California at the behest of his friend Charles Eames, and collaborated on the design of the Eames Chair produced by Knoll Associates. In the 1950s, he set up his own studio in Bally, Pennsylvania, where he designed the well-known Bertoia Chair, also for Knoll. Soon, he was experimenting with sculptures of different alloys and patinas, and would create ‘musique concrète’ soundscapes utilizing his sculptures. He died in 1978, a victim, says West, of heavy metal poisoning, acquired as a result of his constant proximity to metals and chemicals.

From a cinemagraphic and sound perspective, this is West’s most progressive film, as abstract in filmmaking technique as the sculptures themselves. Opening with the camera slowly moving over what appears to be the surface of the moon, it suddenly falls back to reveal instead the texture of a sculpture. The film is one of constant motion, resulting from the vertiginous movements of West’s camera, or the movement built into the sculptures themselves. The music, played by Bertoia, utilizing various objects alternately hammering or caressing his sculptures, is reminiscent of the work of Xenakis. From the perspective of West’s career, the film marked the beginning of a new, bolder approach to camera movement, as seen in later films such as ‘Bronze: River of Metal’ (1972), and ‘The Art of Rolf Nesch: Material Pictures’ (1972).