Image of Calder's <i>La Grande Voile</i> Calder's La Grande Voile
La Grande Voile

One of the most successful public art installations on campus is Alexander Calder’s La Grande Voile (The Great Sail) in McDermott Court, a monolithic stabile of black-painted steel. The sculpture was an early acquisition for MIT’s public art collection, which in 2006 was named one of the top 10 such collections in the United States. Fabricated in France, Calder’s 33-ton sculpture was disassembled, shipped to Cambridge, and installed at MIT in 1966. Its five intersecting, curved steel forms rise 40 feet, yet barely touch the ground, creating a playful tension between the massive structure and lightness of its footprint. The sculptor trained as a mechanical engineer before pursuing a career in art, and his interest in giving expression to the dynamic interplay between art and engineering appealed to the MIT community. In fact, Calder created a scale model (also displayed in the exhibition) for testing in MIT’s Wright Brothers Wind Tunnel to determine the wind loads on the finished work. During installation of the sculpture in 1966, professors Harold Edgerton and Robert Schrock supervised the burial of a time capsule under it. Contemporary reports stated that no date was set for digging up the capsule.

Exhibited:
Wind Tunnel Model
La Grande Voile
Alexander Calder
1965

La Grande Voile
Alexander Calder
1965
Located in McDermott Court, MIT campus

The original Calder scuplture was a gift of Mr. and Mrs. Eugene McDermott to MIT. The model was loaned to the MIT Museum by the MIT School of Architecture and Design and MIT AeroAstro Department.

To discover MIT’s extensive public art collection see: http://listart.mit.edu/public_art

photo: Michael Cardinali for MIT Museum

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  • On a very hurried trip down one side of the square in the late 1960s during my first visit to the MIT campus I saw the huge steel shape (Calder’s) and, too much in a hurry, thought some big experimental hydraulic or highly compress gas device has exploded. I’m sure that it was red color at that time. I marveled briefly how such violence hasn’t damaged the surrounding buildings. A couple years layer at the San Jose, California, Art Museum, I saw a Calder exhibit – they had a film of (I think) TWA Airlines having brought Calder to MIT to supervise installation of that big work. I figured my powers of observation hadn’t been very good during that hustle past MIT’s Calder.

    I think it’s quite handsome.

    Alfred A. Aya Jr.
    17 May 14 at 1:56 am

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