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The fate of Alexander Calder’s Universe hangs in the balance

Monumental mobile is leaving the lobby of Chicago’s Willis Tower to be put in storage

by Victoria Stapley-Brown  |  29 March 2017
The fate of Alexander Calder’s Universe hangs in the balance
Alexander Calder's Universe sculpture in Willis Tower lobby (Image: Ward Miller)
Alexander Calder’s large motorised mobile Universe, an abstracted depiction of the sun, moon and stars which has hung in the lobby of Chicago’s Willis Tower (formerly the Sears Tower) since 1974, is being de-installed and heading for an art storage facility, the Chicago Tribune reports. The process of dismantling the work—which will reportedly take ten days—began on Monday, 27 March. The work’s eventual fate is as of yet unknown, although there is some speculation that it could end up coming to auction.

The local group Preservation Chicago mentioned the sculpture in its annual list of “most endangered structures” in Chicago, released on 4 March, due to plans for a renovation on Willis Tower, an office and retail building purchased by the Blackstone Group for $1.3bn in 2015. Calder’s Universe was conspicuously missing from renderings released in February of the lobby’s planned redesign. The 108-storey building—which held the title of the world’s tallest skyscraper for 25 years after its completion in 1973—is a popular tourist destination thanks to the 103rd-floor observation deck, which gets more than 1m visitors each year.

Complicating matters is an ongoing legal battle over who owns Universe, which was not included in the sale of the building to Blackstone. Sears Holdings Corp, which originally built the tower and commissioned the sculpture, had an option to buy the work back, after selling the building in 1994. It tried to do so in 2010, but the investor group that then owned the building asked a judge to block the sale, arguing that the buyback agreement had ended.

For now, the work “will be stored at a fine art handling company until its owners determine its next destination”, a spokeswoman for Equity Office, an affiliate of Blackstone, told the Chicago newspaper in an email, adding that the company is “taking every precaution to safely transfer the sculpture”.




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