Double Ascension

Historical Background

Herbert Bayer, 1973. 14-1/2'h x 33'l, Individual steps: 2'11" x 11' x 9". 515 S. Flower
"Double Ascension" was one of the first public art pieces commissioned as part of the redevelopment of downtown and has remained one of the best. It is therefore not surprising it was executed by an artist who was both a student and a teacher at the Bauhaus. Opening in 1919 in Weimar, Germany, the Bauhaus attempted to integrate arts and crafts with architecture and create works with public application. This objective looked backward to a medieval past when cathedrals were constructed by artists and artisans as houses for God and as sanctuaries for the community's collective conscience. The Bauhaus also looked forward to our own age, when mankind's relationship to both the physical and natural worlds are increasingly seen as an organic unity. Shortly after taking power in 1933, the Nazis closed the Bauhaus. Many people associated with the school, including Herbert Bayer and architects Walter Gropius and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, later migrated to the United States, where they had a profound impact on the appearance of post-war buildings and cities.

Through his long standing friendship with Robert O. Anderson, the chairman of the board of Atlantic Richfield Company, Bayer was hired in 1966 as the company's art and design consultant. He designed furnishing and interiors for ARCO's offices, including its national headquarters at ARCO Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.(1) At ARCO Plaza, Bayer was also responsible for designing the open space at the office and shopping complex.

Bayer developed several different schemes for the project. In 1967, he proposed 10 sculptural elements, including a biomorphic shaped figure set in water, and a gently undulating plaza alluding to the human body.(2) During the following two years, he considered a bridge with blue, red, orange-yellow and white panels over a 22 foot pool. Black-and-white checkerboard panels were also incorporated in the scheme.(3)

The fountain and sculpture that make up the final design are not isolated objects standing alone in space. Rather, they are an ensemble that visually and physically connect to its surroundings. On one hand, the fountain and sculpture give the plaza a human scale, counter-balancing the impact of the impersonal office buildings designed by A.C. Martin & Associates. On the other hand, the fountain, the plaza, the buildings, and "Double Ascension," are a visual and sensual quartet that together compose an engaging urban and urbane place. Dark gray granite unites the color and texture of the 60 foot diameter fountain with the building facades, the plaza floor, and the public sidewalk while the spacious and open entrance to the plaza highlights the installation and makes it one of downtown's most striking landmarks.

Low steps circling the fountain form an intimate theater that is at once separate and part of the city, inviting people to sit and watch, touch, and hear the water cascading over the pool's curved rim. Rising from the fountain like two spiraling staircases, "Double Ascension's" bright orange-red aluminum steps are a bold contrast to the surrounding dark colors and materials. Differences in light intensity on the individual steps are an illusion from the light reflecting at different angles. Kinetic effects are created by the cascading water and the rotating motion seen when walking around the sculpture.

"Double Ascension" is derived from Bayer's earlier "Articulated Wall," "Stairs to Nowhere" and "Double Twist".(4) Bayer originally titled the work "Stairway to Nowhere," but changed it after ARCO executives complained that the title did not properly reflect the company's goals. The original title, however, was prescient of the company's takeover by BP-Amoco in 1999 and its disappearance as a corporate entity.

Footnotes:

1 Anonymous, "Atlantic Richfield: Art and Design," no date, p. 5.

2 "herbert bayer," by arthur a. cohen, MIT Press, Cambridge, Mass., c. 1984, p. 160.

3 Ibid, pp. 160, 175.

4 Ibid, p. 176.



The text has been provided courtesy of Michael Several, Los Angeles, May 1999.

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