Lot 3
  • 3
bidding is closed


  • Sculpture Screens from The First National Bank of Miami, Florida
  • melt-coated brass over steel, in 10 parts

Catalogue Note

In 1960 the newly completed lobby in The First National Bank of Miami was marked with sophistication and poise. The radiant ceilings gleamed in geometric sections, the walls paneled in teak and the vault painted blue. But amidst all the space’s elegant finishes nothing was more prominent than the monumental screens by Harry Bertoia that stood side-by-side as a stunning backdrop to the ground level of the 18-story building that bordered Biscayne Boulevard. Commissioned by architect and interior designer Florence Knoll for the bank and completed in 1959, each panel’s shimmering elements in the present sculpture speak to a stylistic continuation of Bertoia’s work in the 1950s and early 1960s, and are a reflection of the artist’s unparalleled craftsmanship.

The screens are amongst the earliest of approximately 50 commissions Bertoia executed during his career, attesting to the importance of the work within the artist’s oeuvre. Beginning with his first commission in 1953 for General Motors Technical Center in Warren, Michigan, Bertoia was commissioned to create sculpture screens for such prominent venues as Manufacturers Hanover Trust Company in New York City, Cincinnati Public Library and Dallas Public Library. Of these projects, Bertoia said “I try to get acquainted with the architectural conditions—try to understand the architects and what they are doing” (Nancy N. Schiffer and Val O. Bertoia, The World of Bertoia, Atglen, PA, 2003, p. 70). However, the artist’s relationship with Knoll was a particularly special one. After all, it was Florence—whom he met as a student at Cranbrook Academy of Art—and her husband Hans who encouraged the artist to leave the Pacific Coast and move East to work in the early 1950s. Bertoia said of spending time with the couple, “It was a stimulation. It created an atmosphere of well-being, of projections, of expectations…They were sources of inspiration in many ways. My relationship with both was quite wonderful” (Ibid., pp. 37- 41).

In the present work, Bertoia melted brass over steel materials and layered the assorted forms into a monumental tree-like structure. This melting technique and marriage of materials exposed a beauty that, similar to many of Bertoia’s most renowned works, does not produce a Sonambient sculpture, yet still achieves a powerful essence of movement.

Over the decades the screens found a new home, exhibited in the Pacific Design Center in Los Angeles. They were later donated to the University of Virginia in 2000 by benefactor Victor Elmaleh. Bertoia’s superior skill, versatility with materials and urge to celebrate space, sound and motion during his career contributed to the way in which one experiences their environment. As Bertoia put it, “… my work registers a process of inquiry, an expression of joy for life, an aim toward understanding, a mark for existence” (Ibid., p. 12).