Toppling Ladder with Spilling Paint
Loyola Law School, Los Angeles
Steel and aluminum painted with polyurethane enamel
14 ft. 2 in. x 10 ft. 8 in. x 7 ft. 7 in. (4.3 x 3.3 x 2.3 m)
Commissioned July 1985 by Loyola Law School, with a grant from the Times Mirror Foundation, Los Angeles
Installed September 1986
Inaugurated September 26, 1986
Toppling Ladder with Spilling Paint, our second collaboration with the architect Frank O. Gehry, grew out of our initial 1983 visit to his office, then located in Venice, California. Over a period of a month we spontaneously discussed one another’s approach to architecture, sculpture, and drawing. With Gehry we toured several of his projects in different stages of progress. One of his nearly completed projects was the campus of Loyola Law School near downtown Los Angeles, which the architect described as a "pile-up of buildings like an Acropolis."
In the center of the campus, Gehry had located Merrifield Hall, a red brick building that contained a moot court, emphasizing the facade by placing a row of four freestanding concrete columns in front of it. He explained that he had wanted to add a fifth column lying on its side, to break the regimentation. Inspired by this vision, we began to think of a proposal in place of the missing column. A sculpture implying dynamic motion in the form of a ladder about to fall was our response, and a sketch was improvised out of materials found in Gehry's office – wire cloth, foamcore, and a rubber band.
One of Gehry's trademarks at the time was his innovative use of chain-link fencing, most prominently at the shopping center known as Santa Monica Place. A more permanent model of the Toppling Ladder was made, its scale determined by using an actual chain-link fence in place of the rungs. An open can was attached to the top, spilling paint in a lateral direction. Three years after our visit, the full-scale work was realized by enlarging the model nine times to the approximate height of the Merrifield columns, painted in a chain-link gray so that the sculpture, like the concrete columns, appears unpainted, except for the blue splat of spilled paint, which recalls the glazed tiles Gehry designed for the Norton House in Venice.
Toppling Ladder with Spilling Paint is caught in a moment of attempted equilibrium that suggested to us not only the scales of justice but also the precarious balance between architecture and sculpture.
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