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Bertoia Skips Town

Back in November Sotheby’s Auction House in New york sold a Harry Bertoia sculpture which had been commissioned for the Marine Midland Tower (now HSBC Center) in 1970.  The screen-like sculpture sat outside the building’s top floor restaurant.  It was expected to sell for up to $120,000 but went for over $218,000 with the buyer’s premium.  The screen is made of bronze and copper measuring 68″ x 70″ x 11″.  Following is a description of the lot from the auction catalogue:

The present screen represents a stylistic continuation of Bertoia’s work in the 1950s and early 1960s, and in particular his collaborations with the architect Gordon Bunshaft at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. It bears a close resemblance to several of the models Bertoia created in 1954 for his famed mezzanine screen commissioned by Bunshaft for one of his modernist masterworks, SOM’s Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust Building in New York. Bunshaft, who was born in Buffalo in 1909, had a long architectural relationship with his hometown, and in 1961 he designed an addition to the Albright-Knox Art Gallery. Included in the Gallery’s cafeteria was another Bertoia screen, and in 1964 Bunshaft donated a cut-nail Bertoia sculpture to the institution.

From 1969-1971, SOM designed Buffalo’s tallest skyscraper, the 40-story One Marine Midland Center, which served as headquarters for Marine Midland Bank. The present screen was mounted as a sculpture in the lobby outside the restaurant on the 38th floor. While the exact details of the commission are unknown, it would appear to be the final chapter in the Bunshaft-Bertoia collaboration in Buffalo. After the bank was acquired by HSBC, the building was re-christened One HSBC Center.

In addition to this screen and the Albright screen mentioned in the catalogue, M&T Bank also commissioned Bertoia to design the undulating bronze fountain in the public space in front of One M&T Plaza.  That one is unlikely to be spirited away any time soon. But, never feel too confident about the permanence of our built heritage. The catalogue also mentioned another screen designed for SOM’s iconic Manufacturer’s Hanover Building in NY (most recently Chase). That screen was also recently sold and moved to a new location.  Unlike the Buffalo screen which was a typical free standing object, the NY screen was considered an integral part of the delicately clear glass building designed by Buffalo born Gordon Bunshaft.  When it was intact the screen could be seen from the street as could most of the building interior.  The gorgeously detailed mid century glass curtain wall was protected with historic landmark status a few years back but the interior was not.   Too bad because much of the beauty of the curtain wall comes from the fact that you can so clearly see what is inside.  New York Preservationists must be making that Homer Simpson sound – Doh!

Image is from the Sotheby’s online catalogue

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