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A Day for Detroit: Beverly Pepper’s Giant Wedge of Steel

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As part of the city of Detroit’s recent bankruptcy filing, its emergency manager has called on Christie’s to appraise the collection of the Detroit Institute of Arts, and many fear that the institution’s works may make their way to auction in an attempt to raise money for the cash-strapped city to pay off its creditors. The legality of such a sale remains uncertain, but in the meantime we and several other sites are observing A Day for Detroit, when we acquaint ourselves with some of the treasures from the DIA collection that could disappear into private collections, like Beverly Pepper’s towering steel sculpture “Normanno Wedge I” (1983).

Pepper, a New York City native who was born in 1924 currently spends her time between there and Todi, Italy, has been making sculpture since the 1960s — though she briefly took up Land art in the mid-70s. She was one of the first contemporary artists to start making monumental works out of Cor-Ten steel. “Normanno Wedge I” was originally installed in Top Gallant Farm, the late art dealer André Emmerich’s private sculpture park on his 140-acre property in upstate New York. That park closed in 1996, though DIA had already acquired the sculpture in 1991.

The wedge shape has been a recurring motif in Pepper’s work for decades, especially in works installed outdoors and in urban settings — in the summer 2005 another of her Cot-Ten steel sculptures, “Horizontal Wedge,” was installed on Park Avenue in New York City.

“I believe my work offers a place for reflection and contemplative thought within the context of active urban environments,” Pepper told the Calgary City News in 2010 on the occasion of the unveiling of a series of sculptures in the Canadian city. A similar series of works, “The Manhattan Sentinels,” was installed in Manhattan’s Federal Plaza in 1996.

Watch a 1979 episode of the TV show “Inside New York’s Art World” with Beverly Pepper and Sarah Faunce:

— Benjamin Sutton

(Image: Beverly Pepper, “Normanno Wedge I,” 1983. © Beverly Pepper, courtesy Marlborough Gallery, New York.)

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