The Lunchtime Tourist

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May 5, 2003 // UPDATED 10:50 am - April 30, 2007
By: iaStar Financial building: Part 2, the art
iaStar Financial building: Part 2, the art

20 Washington Ave. S.

While architecture is a fine art of its own, this building has two sculptures worthy of a closer look. Both are by renowned artists whose work is indicative of the abstract and minimal aesthetic that captivated the arts world in the mid-20th century.

Along the bustling Hennepin Avenue entrance to the building are a suite of sculptures meant to provide serenity to those passing by. Installed in 1966, two years after the building opened, they were designed by Masayuki Nagare, a Zen Buddhist who studied rock gardens while growing up in Kyoto temples. His monumental granite and concrete piece, "Cloud Fortress," on the site of the World Trade Center (also designed by this building's architect Minoru Yamasaki) survived the attack but was destroyed during recovery efforts.

The Swedish granite sculptures here in Minneapolis are displayed in a grassy park-like setting with wide stairs leading to them. But be forewarned -- the grass must be considered art too, because if you venture onto it beware the security guard.

Inside the building, perched on an overhang the entire width of the lobby, is a massive sculpture by Harry Bertoia (1915-1978). Known for his famous 1950s wire chair for Knoll, Bertoia was a prolific furniture designer, jeweler and sculptor who taught at Cranbrook Academy of Art and worked in the studio of Ray and Charles Eames.

"Sunlit Straw" is composed of thousands of brass-coated steel rods welded together to represent sheaves of wheat. The 48 x 14 foot sculpture was constructed in five 600-pound sections in the artist's Pennsylvania studio, then reassembled on site. Lawrence Schmeckebier, the dean of Syracuse University's School of Art, called this "one of the most significant examples of 20th century sculpture in America." Stunning photos of the model, construction, crating and installation are in a book about the sculptor available at the Downtown library (NB 237.B44N4).

Another large-scale Bertoia sculpture is displayed in another architecturally significant building in the metro area. If you know where it is, e-mail the answer to thelunchtimetourist@hotmail.com -- the first 10 correct answers win a Lunchtime Tourist button.

LUNCH TIP: If you passed up the sushi last week, saunter over to Nami at 1st Avenue and 3rd Street for colorful Japanese food.