For decades, a large, colorful sculpture by famed artist Alexander Calder had been the centerpiece of the Willis Tower lobby, but its tenure in the iconic supertall skyscraper is coming to an end this week. The sculpture, titled Universe, was first installed in the tower’s lobby in 1974 when the building was still brand new, but according to the Chicago Tribune, workers were spotted yesterday afternoon dismantling the art installation. According to the Tribune, the dismantling and removal of the installation is expected to take ten days.
The move is not a surprise to preservationists and those who have been keeping a close eye on the latest plans for Chicago’s tallest skyscraper. Two years ago, New York-based Blackstone Group paid a record-setting $1.3 billion for the tower. It was expected at the time of purchase that Blackstone would update the tower and bolster its status as a major tourist attraction by providing new amenities. Then just this last month, members of the tower’s new ownership team publicly unveiled its plans for a major $500 million renovation of the tower. The overhaul will include a massive makeover of not only the lobby space, but also key attractions such as the observation deck.
Just a month after the announcement was made, the preservation group Preservation Chicago highlighted Calder’s Universe, as well as other important public artworks of 20th century, in its latest list of most endangered buildings and spaces. And while the sculpture was located in the lobby of a private office building, the preservation group specifically acknowledged the colorful mobile as one of Chicago’s most important pieces of 20th century public art.
However, it appears to be unknown what comes next for the sculpture. Blair Kamin of the Chicago Tribune suggests that there is an ongoing legal dispute over the installation’s ownership. A spokesperson for the tower’s management teams tells Kamin that the sculpture is going to be “stored at a fine art handling company until its owners determine its next destination.”
A sad disappearing act: The coiling helix of Alexander Calder's "Universe" was removed from Willis Tower today, 1st step in de-installation. pic.twitter.com/Y0RCD8sbY9— Blair Kamin (@BlairKamin) March 27, 2017
And as of this morning, workers started removing sections of the sculpture that were affixed to the wall of the lobby.
"The Universe." Mama Johnson works in the Sears. Said security guard there today was on the job when it went up 43 years ago. @Pres_Chicago pic.twitter.com/UlWFWEbzOK— Charlie J. Johnson (@Charliemagne) March 28, 2017
Ironically, Mayor and Emanuel and Choose Chicago, the city’s official tourism arm, announced earlier this year that 2017 is to be the “Year of Public Art in Chicago.” Choose Chicago has been promoting the effort across social media and on their website by cataloging outdoor murals and public sculptures throughout the city.
It's the Year of Public Art in Chicago. From world famous installations to neighborhood murals, come get inspired: https://t.co/yAiqSZfgts pic.twitter.com/h2sUUZXFca— Choose Chicago (@ChooseChicago) March 10, 2017
However, the preservation group Preservation Chicago fired back suggesting that visitors skip on Alexander Calder’s Universe sculpture in the Willis Tower since it will no longer be there.
Just don't go looking for Calder's Universe Sculpture in the lobby of Willis/Sears Tower...because it won't be there! https://t.co/zBuKBxFeMO— Preservation Chicago (@Pres_Chicago) March 28, 2017
- Willis Tower Calder mobile coming down [Chicago Tribune]
- The 7 most endangered Chicago buildings in 2017 [Curbed Chicago]
- Chicago’s Willis Tower reveals plan for ambitious $500M makeover [Curbed Chicago]