02-07-2014 02-07-2014
Skinner Auctions
Skinner Auctions Boston MA
2704B Boston
February 7, 2014 4:00PMCalender

Harry Bertoia (American, 1915-1978) Maquette for the MIT Kresge Chapel Altar Screen, c. 1950-1955

Auction: American & European Works of Art - 2704B Location: Boston Date / Time: February 07, 2014 4:00PM


Harry Bertoia (American, 1915-1978)

Maquette for the MIT Kresge Chapel Altar Screen, c. 1950-1955
Welded, painted, and gilt metal, 24 x 9 3/4 x 4 5/8 in. (61.0 x 24.8 x 11.7 cm), mounted to a hardwood base.
Condition: Very minor oxidation, minor surface grime.

Provenance: Collection of Robert Bradford Newman (1917-1983), professor of architectural acoustics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture and the Harvard Graduate School of Design, and principal of Bolt, Beranek and Newman Inc., Cambridge, Massachusetts.

The present work is a maquette for one of the earliest commissioned site-specific architectural sculptures created by Bertoia for his friend and Cranbrook colleague, Eero Saarinen.

The Kresge Chapel at MIT was completed by Eero Saarinen and Associates in 1955, and a key feature of the Chapel's design is an oculus window which illuminates an otherwise windowless and cylindrical building. Saarinen commissioned Bertoia to create a monumental work to complement this direct and elevating light source, befitting a sacred space. Bertoia created a floor-to-ceiling altar screen of vertical rods and gilt metal plates, which gleam and dematerialize in natural and electric light.

The Kresge Auditorium and Chapel would not have their unconventional forms without the collaboration of the acoustical engineering firm of Bolt, Beranek and Newman. The firm comprised a physicist, electrical engineer, and architect, respectively. Newman was the firm's youngest principal, having served as a teaching assistant to Dr. Richard Bolt and obtained his MArch from MIT in 1949. (1).

Saarinen felt that the Auditorium's form should not simply serve its function, but have a "meaningful relation to its site and neighbors." (2) Saarinen defended his Auditorium's spherical form against the more conventional shoebox form by arguing that its shape created a feeling of shelter and inclusivity, and that a building of progressive design, acoustic technology and materials befit a progressive university. To break up the "unusual resonances" of a domed ceiling, Bolt, Beranek, and Newman innovated an acoustical 'cloud' system of sound-reflective ceiling panels.

The Chapel was designed, in Saarinen's words, "in both opposition and harmony" to the Auditorium, and intended to complete a hub of civic and cultural life on campus. Saarinen defended its windowless cylinder form against critics by stating that it "implied the self-contained, inward-feeling which was desirable" for a non-denominational place of worship, and that its undulating interior walls were acoustically necessary and emphasized "an enclosed feeling." (3) Bolt, Beranek and Newman acoustically designed the Chapel for both small instrumental groups, as well as the pipe organ installed above the entrance to the chapel. (4)

1. William J. Cavanaugh, Echoes: The Newsletter of the Acoustical Society of America, Volume 21, Number 3, Summer 2011, p. 1.
2. Technology Review, p. 387.
3. Ibid.
4. Berenek, Leo, Interview with Forrest Larson, Music at MIT Oral History Project, October 9, 2008, Interview No. 2, p. 16.
Estimate $70,000-90,000

Each vertical wire appears to be gilt/gold painted to match each leaf. Each leaf appears to be soldered to the wire on the reverse, and the entire leaf gilt/gold painted so that the solder is not obvious. Oxidation visible to each wire and leaf. Surface dust which would benefit from a cleaning. No additional condition issues to report.

The absence of a condition statement does not imply that the lot is in perfect condition or completely free from wear and tear, imperfections or the effects of aging. Condition requests can be obtained via email (lot inquiry button) or by telephone to the appropriate gallery location (Boston/617.350.5400 or Marlborough/508.970.3000). Any condition statement given, as a courtesy to a client, is only an opinion and should not be treated as a statement of fact. Skinner Inc. shall have no responsibility for any error or omission.


MIT, Richard Bolt, Newman Inc., Eero Saarinen, Harry Bertoia, Robert Bradford Newman, gilt metal, Massachusetts, Eero Saarinen and Associates, Cambridge, Massachusetts Institute of Technology School, Harvard Graduate School, Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Architecture, professor of architectural acoustics, Kresge Chapel, gilt metal plates, Kresge Auditorium, physicist , electrical engineer, and architect, teaching assistant to Dr. Richard Bolt, a teaching assistant to Dr. Richard Bolt, acoustic technology, William J. Cavanaugh, Acoustical Society of America, Technology Review, Forrest Larson