Six-Week Sculpture Installation
A Major Overseas Project
In 2007 Arts Management Services LLC (AMS) was hired to manage a major and challenging sculpture installation.
For this six-week project I assembled a ten-person team (five from the US and five from Greece) to install "Garden Sculpture" by the artist Michael Singer at the US Embassy in Athens, Greece.
The project was completed on-time, within budget, and without injuries.
What Is FAPE?
The project was commissioned by The Foundation for Art and Preservation in Embassies (FAPE). This is a non-profit organization dedicated to placing American art in U.S. embassies around the world. For over 30 years, FAPE has contributed to the U.S. Department of State’s mission of cultural diplomacy by partnering with American artists. These artists are specially chosen for artworks that encourage cross-cultural understanding.
FAPE asked Michael Singer to design a sculpture to be placed outside a new building constructed on the embassy grounds. This building was design by Kalman, McKinnell and Wood Architects. Michael McKinnell and Michael Singer have a long history of collaboration which first began with their award-winning Becton, Dickinson and Company project. This new building and outdoor sculpture are adjacent to the existing embassy that was designed by the renown modern architect Walter Gropius.
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The sculpture can be viewed from several angles: from inside the new building, from its terrace, from the grounds, and from an entry bridge.
About the Sculpture
It is 70' long and made of marble, concrete, aluminum, and inlaid tile. Its 49 tons were fabricated at Michael's studio in southern Vermont. Then it was packed and shipped. I tracked the ship on my computer as it crossed the ocean. At one point I watched the dots on my computer screen representing the container ship, sharply divert from its course to avoid a storm.
No pieces broke in transit though several replacement pieces were included just in case. These extra pieces were used to increase the concrete walkway surrounding the piece. Notice in the photos the white concrete squares embedded in the ground surrounding the sculpture.
Dozens of custom-made wood crates arrived in a single shipping container. They arrived ahead of schedule at the port in Piraeus, not far from Athens. Good thing we shipped early since the container remained in the port for two weeks until a strike by dock workers ended.
Challenges were common in this project. Months before on my first trip to Athens to make arrangements for the installation, a rocket-propelled grenade struck the front of the embassy! I arrived just a day after this occurred. The rocket missed the American Seal it was aimed at and blasting into the ambassador's private bathroom. No one was injured. The incident occurred early in the morning when no one was in the embassy. I was told that this is typical Greek protest, violent but not meant to injure anyone. The incident underscored the unique challenges we often face in overseas art installation.
Once the container arrived at the embassy, its contents were lifted by crane over the embassy wall and placed around the foundation.
The installation took six weeks including a week to correct errors in the concrete foundation.
What the Artist Says
The artist describes the sculpture in this way:
"...a platform-like structure emerging from below grade at one end and rising three feet from the ground level at the other end. The solid forms of the piece combine to reference a whole, as if the piece were a foundation for something once present. The piece has been said to have archaeological references, an uncovering of something lost and mysterious."
Michael Singer discusses the design and fabrication of 'Garden Sculpture.'
Water runs from the high end of the sculpture down over a narrow concrete corridor. Then it spills out onto a wide textured cast aluminum spillway. Finally, the running water falls into a deep, below-ground cistern.
Flowering indigenous succulents were planted throughout the sculpture. They now drape over edges and blend in beautifully with surrounding olive trees and lavender hedges.
Marble slabs provide seating for visitors and employees. It is a place of quiet except for the sound of birds and flowing water.
Special thanks goes to Alan Chapman. He's the best builder and troubleshooter on the planet, and he's my number one choice when I need additional help. His unique meld of artist and carpenter make for marvelous solutions. Plus, he made us all laugh when it counted most. And brought us together when things got tense. The success of this project is dedicated to him.
Another special thanks goes to our translator, Fred Naff. He is an ex-pat and local architect who was so much more than a translator. With wonderful calm, intelligence, and humor, he guided us safely through many pitfalls, and was just a heck of a lot of fun to be around! The project could not have succeeded without him.
Update: January, 2018
This large compound of the US Embassy in Athens is expanding again! The new building designed by Kalman, McKinnell and Wood Architects only 10 years ago is now being totally gutted, renovated, and added onto. Michael Singer's sculpture is now covered to protect it during the three-year construction project. All the plants and dirt were removed and the water shut off. When the project is completed, AMS will return to completely restore this sculpture.
Update: June, 2023
Well, 3 years became 5 with delays due to Covid. Plans are afoot for me to return later this year to finally restore this marvelous sculpture.