OOSI Sculpture

Turning Point Garden

Date Unknown / Philip Johnson / Cleveland

TPGarden2017a.jpg

Looking out at this courtyard between Tink, Guilford, and Mather Dance, one sees three structures: A maroon amphitheater, a light blue sit-in, and a beige cylindrical tower. However, what we see today is very different from the view which would have been seen around 2000, at the piece’s completion. Before the Tinkham Veale University Center was built, these three sculptural installations stood alongside two others that have since been removed. The remnants of the complete Garden here today leave many viewers with an abundance of questions.

The vastly different shapes, colors, and apparent functionality within one series create a confounding space. The ability to enter each group hearkens out to Phillip Johnson’s storied career as one of the most renowned architects in American History. In fact, the Garden feels like a brief reduction of Johnson’s career and life. The maroon and blue pieces seem to create spaces that refer to Johnson’s early academic background. During his time as an undergraduate at Harvard, Johnson studied Classical Greek Culture, History and Philosophy, and the influences from his younger years certainly shine through in this work from his twilight years.

He has created a round, outdoor theater space where the performers are below the level of the spectators: a hallmark of the Greek fathers of the Western theatrical tradition. He also created an enclosed space where inward facing seats encourage discussion and reflection, which was a common occurrence in the Ancient Hellenistic World; though the symposiums that might take place in the Turning Point Garden would have to be much more restrained than those in the Greek World.

The beige tower was actually intended to be a “Control Kiosk”. Every blueprint, contract, and production correspondence refers to the tower as the “Control Kiosk”, and it took me a while to figure out why. It turns out that the door on the inside leads to an electrical panel and a ladder that goes up to the hole on the side that could feasibly fit a projector or spotlight that might shine into the amphitheater. Early sketches from the archives show the door leading to a lighting/audio panel. Photos from the fabrication show a man installing the door on the hole. It has been closed off and locked because the room kept getting filled with detritus from students.

(Fun fact: all the trash piling up around the area worried Buchannan, prompting him to send a letter to Johnson asking to design trashcans for the space, so that the garbage problem could be eliminated without interrupting the artistic coherence of the space. Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition.)

I have been unable to find even the barest shred of evidence to corroborate the notion that this piece is an abstraction of the Titanic. I also could not find any link of Phillip Johnson to any of the people aboard the vessel, nor anyone who had designed it. A fun idea? Yes. The artist’s fun idea? It seems unlikely, based on what I was able to find.

The Turning Point Garden was Phillip Johnson’s first foray into monumental, pure sculpture. A Cleveland native, Johnson was approached by Harvey Buchannan, the longtime head of the Putnam Sculpture Collection. Buchannan sent a letter to the home of Phillip Johnson meekly inquiring about the possibility of Johnson doing a sculptural piece to mark the point on the campus that the pedestrian spine turned from North to Northeast. Instantly upon receiving the letter, Johnson called Buchannan gleefully stating he was “very excited” at the prospect of doing an architectonic piece; something he’d been wanting to do for quite some time. Within two weeks, Johnson was back in his hometown of Cleveland looking at the site. He told Buchannan once he returned to New York that he was consumed with ideas for CWRU, to the point that he was losing progress on his other projects. He did continue to say that because he’d eliminated some ideas, he knew he was at least making headway. After a few more weeks, Johnson presented his final model for Turning Point: a series of monolithic, jagged pillars that stuck out of the ground and teetered over students. The design was approved, installed, and dedicated by 1997. But Turning Point marked far more than the literal turning point on campus: It signified a celebration of Cleveland’s bicentennial anniversary, it marked a turning point in Johnson’s career, as this was his first pure sculpture, and it was the 25th sculpture acquired by the Putnam Collection. Word of Johnson’s piece spread quickly and before the year was out, Harvey Buchannan had approved The Museum of Applied/Contemporary Arts (MAK) in Vienna, Austria to commission a copy of the piece called Wiener Trio, which is still up today.

Within three years, Buchannan again sent a letter to Johnson informing him that the area around Turning Point was too dull and boring, now that his brilliant work illuminated the space. However, he didn’t want to install anything that clashed with Johnson’s masterpiece. He asked Johnson to create a sculpture park to accompany Turning Point. Johnson, now 90 years old, eagerly agreed and executed the plans for a “sculptural still life” that he had been thinking of. The park featured four installations: a sit-in area, a sit-on area (now removed), a theater space, and a control kiosk. Funding issues lead to a 2 year gap between the design of and installation of the Garden which worried Buchannan. He knew Johnson was in his twilight years and was worried that he would pass away before the piece was completed. A hopeful (but ultimately unsuccessful) letter to an anonymous source of funding described Johnson as “looking and acting immortal, but knowing he wasn’t” in an effort to procure money. When all of those issues resolved themselves, the piece was installed and dedicated. Johnson was 91 years old. He passed away just 7 years later.

You may have noticed that the Turning Point element is no longer on view, because to build the Tinkham Veale University Center, the University had to uproot that central part of Johnson’s piece and put it in storage. There are rumors and inklings, however, that there may be a home for this masterful work of sculpture yet, with the dawn of the CWRU Greenway.

Location: Bellflower Rd, south side two blocks east of East Ave. between Guilford Hall and Mather Dance Center

County

: Cuyahoga

Tags

: ,

Citation

: Philip Johnson, “Turning Point Garden,” Ohio Outdoor Sculpture Inventory, accessed August 14, 2018, http://oosi.sculpturecenter.org/items/show/1027.

Dublin Core

Title

Turning Point Garden

Description

Looking out at this courtyard between Tink, Guilford, and Mather Dance, one sees three structures: A maroon amphitheater, a light blue sit-in, and a beige cylindrical tower. However, what we see today is very different from the view which would have been seen around 2000, at the piece’s completion. Before the Tinkham Veale University Center was built, these three sculptural installations stood alongside two others that have since been removed. The remnants of the complete Garden here today leave many viewers with an abundance of questions.

The vastly different shapes, colors, and apparent functionality within one series create a confounding space. The ability to enter each group hearkens out to Phillip Johnson’s storied career as one of the most renowned architects in American History. In fact, the Garden feels like a brief reduction of Johnson’s career and life. The maroon and blue pieces seem to create spaces that refer to Johnson’s early academic background. During his time as an undergraduate at Harvard, Johnson studied Classical Greek Culture, History and Philosophy, and the influences from his younger years certainly shine through in this work from his twilight years.

He has created a round, outdoor theater space where the performers are below the level of the spectators: a hallmark of the Greek fathers of the Western theatrical tradition. He also created an enclosed space where inward facing seats encourage discussion and reflection, which was a common occurrence in the Ancient Hellenistic World; though the symposiums that might take place in the Turning Point Garden would have to be much more restrained than those in the Greek World.

The beige tower was actually intended to be a “Control Kiosk”. Every blueprint, contract, and production correspondence refers to the tower as the “Control Kiosk”, and it took me a while to figure out why. It turns out that the door on the inside leads to an electrical panel and a ladder that goes up to the hole on the side that could feasibly fit a projector or spotlight that might shine into the amphitheater. Early sketches from the archives show the door leading to a lighting/audio panel. Photos from the fabrication show a man installing the door on the hole. It has been closed off and locked because the room kept getting filled with detritus from students.

(Fun fact: all the trash piling up around the area worried Buchannan, prompting him to send a letter to Johnson asking to design trashcans for the space, so that the garbage problem could be eliminated without interrupting the artistic coherence of the space. Unfortunately, that plan never came to fruition.)

I have been unable to find even the barest shred of evidence to corroborate the notion that this piece is an abstraction of the Titanic. I also could not find any link of Phillip Johnson to any of the people aboard the vessel, nor anyone who had designed it. A fun idea? Yes. The artist’s fun idea? It seems unlikely, based on what I was able to find.

The Turning Point Garden was Phillip Johnson’s first foray into monumental, pure sculpture. A Cleveland native, Johnson was approached by Harvey Buchannan, the longtime head of the Putnam Sculpture Collection. Buchannan sent a letter to the home of Phillip Johnson meekly inquiring about the possibility of Johnson doing a sculptural piece to mark the point on the campus that the pedestrian spine turned from North to Northeast. Instantly upon receiving the letter, Johnson called Buchannan gleefully stating he was “very excited” at the prospect of doing an architectonic piece; something he’d been wanting to do for quite some time. Within two weeks, Johnson was back in his hometown of Cleveland looking at the site. He told Buchannan once he returned to New York that he was consumed with ideas for CWRU, to the point that he was losing progress on his other projects. He did continue to say that because he’d eliminated some ideas, he knew he was at least making headway. After a few more weeks, Johnson presented his final model for Turning Point: a series of monolithic, jagged pillars that stuck out of the ground and teetered over students. The design was approved, installed, and dedicated by 1997. But Turning Point marked far more than the literal turning point on campus: It signified a celebration of Cleveland’s bicentennial anniversary, it marked a turning point in Johnson’s career, as this was his first pure sculpture, and it was the 25th sculpture acquired by the Putnam Collection. Word of Johnson’s piece spread quickly and before the year was out, Harvey Buchannan had approved The Museum of Applied/Contemporary Arts (MAK) in Vienna, Austria to commission a copy of the piece called Wiener Trio, which is still up today.

Within three years, Buchannan again sent a letter to Johnson informing him that the area around Turning Point was too dull and boring, now that his brilliant work illuminated the space. However, he didn’t want to install anything that clashed with Johnson’s masterpiece. He asked Johnson to create a sculpture park to accompany Turning Point. Johnson, now 90 years old, eagerly agreed and executed the plans for a “sculptural still life” that he had been thinking of. The park featured four installations: a sit-in area, a sit-on area (now removed), a theater space, and a control kiosk. Funding issues lead to a 2 year gap between the design of and installation of the Garden which worried Buchannan. He knew Johnson was in his twilight years and was worried that he would pass away before the piece was completed. A hopeful (but ultimately unsuccessful) letter to an anonymous source of funding described Johnson as “looking and acting immortal, but knowing he wasn’t” in an effort to procure money. When all of those issues resolved themselves, the piece was installed and dedicated. Johnson was 91 years old. He passed away just 7 years later.

You may have noticed that the Turning Point element is no longer on view, because to build the Tinkham Veale University Center, the University had to uproot that central part of Johnson’s piece and put it in storage. There are rumors and inklings, however, that there may be a home for this masterful work of sculpture yet, with the dawn of the CWRU Greenway.

Creator

Sculpture Item Type Metadata

Location City

Location County

Location Site

Bellflower Rd, south side two blocks east of East Ave. between Guilford Hall and Mather Dance Center