Mark di Suvero, Clock Knot

Mark di Suvero, Clock Knot, 2007. Painted Steel 498 × 260 × 420 inches. Purchase, Landmarks, The University of Texas at Austin, 2013. Photo by Ben Aqua.

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Audio Transcript

Linda Henderson LH: This is Linda Henderson, Professor of Art and History at the University of Texas, speaking about Mark di Suvero’s sculpture Clock Knot for Landmarks.

Mark di Suvero’s Clock Knot is an ideal sculpture for a university campus. It brings together his vast interests in a variety of fields, ranging from philosophy, poetry, music, dance to physics, engineering, a variety of kinds of concerns. He’s someone who believes deeply that the artist must be engaged with the world and aware of recent developments in all kinds of fields.

When di Suvero emerged on the scene in New York in the 1960s, it was in the context of Abstract Expressionism. He had been inspired by the paintings of Franz Kline with their bold, thrusting gestures, and in works, like Hank Champion of 1959, which was shown for the first time in a show in 1960, which received great critical acclaim.

Di Suvero invented basically a new kind of sculpture. Critic Sydney Geist said, “Sculpture will never be the same again,” and indeed these sculptures of wooden beams gathered from refuse in the demolition going on in downtown New York City, were chained together expressing thrusting forces out into space. Sculpture had come off the pedestal, was on the ground and was something that the viewer could experience in terms of its energy and dynamism.

Di Suvero and his friends in the Park Place Gallery group in the mid 1960s were deeply engaged with urban dynamism. His materials changed from refuse to steel I-beams, which he painted in bright colors and expressed equally the energy of the color of the city.

Behind Clock Knot lies a great deal of intellectual knowledge. At the same time, di Suvero feels deeply that his sculpture is meant to awaken us, awaken a sense of the child and our delight in play and he’s talked recently about his interest in play and viewers’ physiological response to sculpture in a conversation with Andrée Bober.

Mark di Suvero MdS: I struggle for…to make a work that is joyous with life, that aids people to be together, that can move people, not just emotionally, but physiologically. So far I’ve had beautiful responses and I don’t know what will happen.

LH: Experience of a di Suvero sculpture is one of space and one of time. Off the pedestal, the sculpture invites us to move around and under it, to experience from every point of view. Clock Knot does that for us. As we move around the sculpture, it may initially appear to be a clock with hands and yet from another point of view, will be a completely different configuration. The space is crucial to our experience. At the same time, we are moving through that space and, for di Suvero, space and time are tightly integrated in what Einstein called “the space-time continuum”. Di Suvero says, “I am a child of Einstein, we all are.” He also says, “I can not think about space without time,” and indeed our motion around that sculpture, creates a space-time experience for each of us.

MdS: I want people to understand my sculpture, I want them to live through it, I want them to be able to walk through it, and feel the sense of space all the way around them, so that you’re not looking at a piece of sculpture as an object, but you’re feeling it surrounding you as if it was more than just a cape, but that it was a piece of music that was all the way around you.

LH: When di Suvero builds a sculpture with a crane, he’s very conscious of the weight of the beams he’s manipulating. He’s used the analogy of a dancer, in terms of his having to be so sensitive to balance, and in Clock Knot we feel that balance. We’re aware that the sculpture weighs tons and yet, the way he configures this material, it gives us this exhilarating sense of lift as though this multi-ton dancer who has alit upon the knoll could spring off at any moment and float up among the buildings. Di Suvero has said that sculpture is a springboard for the spirit and the presence of Clock Knot on the University of Texas campus certainly will make this definition come true. Clock Knot adds to the history of sculpture as it is being represented on the campus, and will indeed provide an exhilarating stimulus for all of those who come in contact with it.

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Mark di Suvero, Clock Knot, 2007.

American, born in China 1933

Mark di Suvero is one of the most important sculptors of his generation. As a student, he was deeply engaged in studying and writing poetry and was attuned to music, from Bach to jazz. Once he began to pursue sculpture, di Suvero found an outlet for his explorations in other fields that intrigued him, including architecture, mathematics, science, engineering, poetry, and languages.

Grounded in abstract expressionism, which emphasizes the direct expression of emotion through line and color, di Suvero was energized by the spaces of New York City, especially those being torn down for “urban renewal.” From the refuse, he pioneered a new form of sculpture in which wooden beams chained together in outward-leaning constructions declared the physical forces that held them in check. The works engage space in an unprecedented manner, and this focus on space has remained a central goal throughout di Suvero's career. In 1967 he began to build large-scale sculptures with a crane, using steel I-beams and other industrial materials. Learning to use a crane offered di Suvero a new mode of working, but it was one in which the process of composing the sculpture remained at the core of his artistic practice.

The heroic sculpture Clock Knot exemplifies the power of art to transform public locations. Walking around the work produces constantly changing views, and moving under it offers another experience of the sculpture and its space. The crossed I-beams and circular “knotted” center of Clock Knot suggest a giant clock face with a horizontal “hand” extending to the left. But as one moves around the sculpture, what had been read as a vertical beam shows itself to be one leg of an inverted V-form. Is it a clock or not/knot? Clock Knot is a work of poetry and power. As visitors pass through its space looking at the sky and feeling the exuberant lift of the sculpture, their imaginations will play with its visual and verbal suggestions. 

Mark di Suvero, Clock Knot, 2007. Photo by Nathan Termansen.
Mark di Suvero, Clock Knot, 2007. Photo by Ben Aqua.

Location: Berm between CPE and ETC

GPS: 30.289671,-97.736162