Fig. 1 Mark di Suvero, "Ik Ook," painted steel, 1971-72, National Gallery of Australia.
As the wind billows on a cool spring day, Mark di Suvero’s work Ik Ook stands still in the National Gallery’s sculpture garden.
Mark di Survero is a Chinese born abstract expressionist sculptor. Of Italian descent, di Survero and his family emigrated to San Francisco in 1941, to escape the growing war in the Pacific. After graduating from college in 1957, di Survero moved to New York, where he worked part time in construction – an experience which proved extremely consequential in his art making practices. His first solo exhibition at The Green Gallery in Manhattan was both a commercial and critical success, pushing di Survero’s work into the limelight of his art milieu: “Few artists of modern times had then been treated to the kind of instant and extravagant praise that was lavished on di Suvero's work when he had his first one‐man show at the Green Gallery in the fall of 1960.” As a result of di Survero’s trans-national experiences, and an upbringing in a time of immense change, his works speak to audiences now and then- there and everywhere.
Before the opening of The Green Gallery exhibition, di Survero experienced an accident in an elevator shaft which left him unable to walk. Due to the nature of his sculpture – which utilised heavy construction materials – di Suvero had to alter his art making practices and had to work with others to help him complete his works. His progression through this ailment, and his eventual recovery is reflected through his art. His works constructed soon after the accident are much closer to ground level and are often made of lighter materials such as wood. This can be seen in his work Hankchampion. Built on a human scale, this work reflects a person who is unable to leave the confines of his wheelchair.
Fig 2. Mark di Suvero, "Hankchampion," wood, steel hardware and chains, 1960, Whitney Museum of American Art.
As di Suvero aged, and regained his ability to walk, his art shifted in focus. Ik Ook which is on display in the National Gallery of Australia’s sculpture garden reflects this change. Completed in 1972, di Suvero had finally retired his walking stick and was in full recovery. Barbara Rose explains in her article On Mark di Suvero: Sculpture outside Walls, that “planted in the earth, many of the new pieces reach explicitly towards the sky in a symbolic gesture of aspiration.” Ik Ook thus showcases the final stage of Mark di Suvero’s recovery.
Moreover, the work reflects the permanency of the materials which it employs. What appears to defy expectations, the industrial structure is fixed in position. In a world of change - from industrial growth to globalisation to di Suvero’s personal recovery – the artist creates works which are transfixed in their place, unwavering to the world around it. Rose suggests that “both in [its] potential movement as well as [its] splayed embrace, the v-shaped joined grinders of Ik Ook…suggests an erotic play element that asserts itself in opposition to the rigid industrial materials and geometric structure of the work.” The works permanency is thus a comment on the inevitable flux of the world, and arts defiance to change with it. Additionally, the foreboding colour choice of black, pairs with the harsh use of material to define Ik Ook in its place. Sticking out from the calm natural surroundings, the work does not appear weathered or distraught. Still, its place on the man-made Lake Burley Griffin may even speak to the thin line between nature and construction. What appears to be a natural surrounding is in fact a meticulously designed landscape, no more natural than the work of Mark di Suvero. The deliberate reflection of aspiration and defiance in this work is a way in which di Suvero has humanised an inherently industrial society.
Ik Ook does not move with the wind, it does not age with time. It defies all expectations of the natural world. And still, it tells a story of growth and healing. A story which defines Canberra’s landscape – and is familiar to us all.
Rose, Barbara. ‘On Mark Di Suvero: Sculpture Outside Walls’. Art Journal 35, no. 2 (1975): 118–25.
Mark Di Suvero | Hankchampion’. Accessed 16 September 2021. https://whitney.org/collection/works/820.
About the Artist – Mark Di Suvero’. Accessed 16 September 2021. http://www.spacetimecc.com/about/.
Kramer, Hilton. ‘A Playful Storm of Sculpture’. The New York Times, 25 January 1976, sec. Archives. https://www.nytimes.com/1976/01/25/archives/a-playful-storm-of-sculpture-to-a-new-york-uncertain-of-its-future.html.
Ratcliff, Carter. ‘Mark Di Suvero’. Artforum, November 1972. https://www.artforum.com/print/197209/mark-di-suvero-36175.