An embarrassing story of how it took me 20 years to interpret an abstract sculpture

The myth behind the sculpture

When I was applying to colleges, I went on a campus tour at Columbia University.  Columbia campus is gorgeous and I was drinking it all in. When we approached Columbia Law School, the tour guide drew our attention to the odd sculpture in front of it.  We stood there for a while trying to interpret what it was. The guide said that is was purchased from an artist in Europe and shipped to Columbia in pieces.  Rumor had it that it was incorrectly assembled, resulting in such an abstract look. 

At the time, I just chuckled and took his word for it.  It took me 20 years (!) to finally look into the matter myself. So much for a scientist!

While Columbia campus has plenty of abstract sculptures, it turns out that “Bellerophon Taming Pegasus” (as the sculpture is called) was not just another acquisition.  It was commissioned from Jacques Lipchitz, a Lithuanian Cubist sculptor who began his artistic career in Paris.  He was Picasso’s contemporary, applying the Cubism movement to sculpting.

While the sculpture was in fact cast in Italy and shipped to New York City in pieces, its assembly is far from haphazard. The work depicts the human figure of Bellerophon, a hero from Greek mythology, as he is capturing the winged horse Pegasus to aid him in slaying Chimera (a fire-breathing monster with a lion’s body, a goat’s head on its back and a serpent’s tail).  The myth of Bellerophon is often taken to represent man taming nature. 


And how is this related to a law school?  According to Jacques Lipchitz, “You observe nature, make conclusions, and from these you make rules… and law is born from that”.

Back to Beholder’s Share

Now I admit, the first time I see a piece of art, I judge it based on aesthetics and skill.  I like realism (probably not surprising for a scientist) and I need to understand the art piece to like it. I have been accused of being superficial, as I don’t always search for the deeper meaning.   (Black Square anyone?)

The question is, if a piece of art is not as clear as say a vase of flowers, what is the magical element that would make you take a deeper look, rather than dismissing it? To me, it is the level of skill and precision that was necessary to carry it out. Whether it is a Renaissance painting or a modern day tile mosaic, I marvel at the intricate techniques used to create great art.

Beautiful mosaics made of small tile pieces adorn the New York City subway stations.

Whether consciously or not, each person approaches a piece of art with their own set of experiences – a personal prism.   This leads to very personal interpretation of each artwork and brings individual meaning to each viewer.  So as long as that is the case, how much does it matter how close the artwork is to reality? Does it have to represent the same thing to the viewer as it did to the artist?

Check out my art at the recent “BLANK” virtual exhibition by Seagery Zine! My works are all the way in the back.

Art is my emotional outlet and my oasis.  I use art to express my feelings and work through life issues.  Come join me on this journey of letting go of control and letting the creative process take over.  You will get access to all of the behind the scenes footage and see the major breakthroughs that translate into new artwork.

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