Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo, the Netherlands
Steel painted with polyurethane enamel
41 ft. 9 in. x 11 ft. 3 in. x 14 ft. 7 in. (12.7 x 3.4 x 4.4 m)
Sited: 38 ft. 5 in. x 11 ft. 3 in. x 7 ft. 5 in. (11.7 x 3.4 x 2.3 m)
Commissioned 1976 by the Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller
Installed August 30, 1976
Donald M. Kendall Sculpture Gardens at PepsiCo, Purchase, New York
Cor-Ten steel painted with polyurethane enamel (brown)
41 ft. 9 in. x 11 ft. 3 1/8 in. x 14 ft. 7 in. (12.7 x 3.4 x 4.4 m).
Sited: 37 ft. x 11 ft. 3 in. x 7 ft. 5 in. (11.3 x 3.4 x 2.3 m)
Purchased May 1984 by PepsiCo, Inc.
Installed July 9, 1984
Trowel I was originally conceived in 1969 without a particular site in mind, one of the first large single object sculptures designed for fabrication in welded steel. The model made of plywood waited in the studio for a place where the full scale work could be plunged into the earth, a perfect example of a sculpture with no need for a base.
Trowel I’s first site was in the Sonsbeek Park in Arnhelm in the Netherlands where it became part of an exhibition of outdoor sculpture, Sonsbeek 71, a grand survey that also included works done in other parts of the country, like Robert Smithson’s Broken Circle, made in an abandoned quarry in Emmen. Coosje van Bruggen was co-editor of the exhibition’s catalogue.
Trowel I was fabricated in the Netherlands from plans and models prepared in New York. A clamp concealed underground held the sculpture up, so that most of it could be seen above ground. Trowel I stood a little over 38 feet; its steel construction was coated with aluminum compound which gave the surface a silver sheen. Following the exhibition, Trowel I was donated to the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo, where it was placed at a crossroads in an adjoining national park.
Coosje van Bruggen and Claes Oldenburg had met in 1970 during the installation of a traveling show of his works at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, where she was a curator at the time. They met again in 1971 at Sonsbeek 71 and later corresponded about Trowel I’s iconography, appearance and site, especially after its move to the Kröller-Müller Museum. Coosje was highly critical of the site as well as the silver color of the sculpture. The two artists eventually joined in a refabrication and relocation of the work financed by the Museum.
Instead of the silver color which she felt turned the sculpture into a table utensil, Coosje proposed a blue based on the color of Dutch workingmen’s overalls in order to reassert the subject’s identity as a tool. She also proposed siting the reconstructed Trowel I within the Museum’s outdoor sculpture park whose grounds she knew well from having worked at the Museum one summer while studying for her Master’s Degree in Art History. In August 1976, Trowel I was installed in a relatively wild part of the garden, on a level grass area surrounded by high trees and rhododendron plantings, which gave the sculpture scale within an intimate setting.
A month earlier, the artists had visited the Lippincott factory in North Haven, Connecticut, where Batcolumn, a sculpture for a site in downtown Chicago, commissioned in 1975, was under construction. While there, Coosje defined the color of the sculpture by mixing a particular dark grey to replace the red of the presentation model. In her view, the grey color would not only emphasize the 100 foot tall sculpture’s silhouette against the sky, but reinforce its architectural appearance by relating its color to metallic construction details in the vicinity: fire escapes, bridges, watertanks, and elevated train platforms, as well as the city’s skyline and skyscrapers, like the nearby Sears Tower, instead of setting it apart in the traditional way as a sculpture isolated from its surroundings.
Trowel II, identical in design but made of unpainted Cor-Ten steel, was also being completed at the factory. Trowel II would eventually become part of the PepsiCo outdoor sculpture park in Purchase, New York.
Coosje van Bruggen’s crucial interventions which had so much to do with the appearance, iconography and specificity of the Trowel and Batcolumn were the beginning of the artists’ partnership on Large-Scale Projects -- a collective name Coosje gave to the many public works that followed over a period of more than thirty years.
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