Vitra International AG, Weil am Rhein, Germany
Steel painted with polyurethane enamel
26 ft. 3 in. x 29 ft. 6 in. x 19 ft. 10 in. (8 x 9 x 6.1 m)
Commissioned September 1981 by Rolf Fehlbaum
Installed May 3, 1984
Inaugurated May 5, 1984
The Balancing Tools was our first private commission, though the site eventually turned out to be a very public one.
Rolf Fehlbaum, the proprietor of Vitra, a manufacturer of contemporary furniture located in the countryside near Weil-am-Rhein, Germany, not far from Basel, Switzerland, commissioned the sculpture, a surprise gift to his father, Willi for his seventieth birthday, saying that our use of functional subject matter would appeal to his father, who was a "practical man."
Willi Fehlbaumís enthusiasm for the furniture of Charles and Ray Eames had led him to obtain exclusive right to its manufacture in Europe. We accepted the commission with the thought that our sculpture might in some ways refer to the work of the Eameses, whom we very much admired.
Our proposal used three basic, iconic tools of wood fabrication: the hammer, a pair of pliers and a screwdriver. In order to achieve the scale necessary to the site, these were combined, in large-scale versions, to form a kind of gate, with the hammer on top, precariously supported by the tip of the screwdriver and one handle of the parted pliers, in an equilibrium on the verge of collapse. Tilted and turning at the very edge of control, the dynamic relation of the three components suggested an acrobatic act which reminded us of Charles Eames' love of the circus.
The grouping could also be seen as a dance. We thought of the annual spring ritual in Basel in which symbolic representations of the cityís workmen's guilds -- the Wild Man, the Gryphon and the Lion -- dance together on a bridge over the Rhine.
In the years following, Fehlbaum commissioned additions to the Vitra complex by well-known architects such as Tadao Ando and Zaha Hadid. Frank Gehry was asked to create a museum devoted to chairs, which opened in 1988.
After an exchange of letters and plans between Fehlbaum, the artists and the architects, the Balancing Tools was relocated to a site between the new buildings closer to the road and less related to the factory background. The sculpture may now be seen together with the Gehry museum, having a decided affinity with its thrusting, twirling, unpredictable forms.