Jene Highstein, Black Sphere, 1976
Gordon Center for Integrative Science
I’m Christine Mehring, and co-curator of this exhibition. To learn more about the material history of Jene Highstein’s “Black Sphere,” we met with Amanda Trienens, the conservator for “Black Sphere,” and with Rhona Hoffman at her gallery, where she described the process Jene Highstein used to create his large scale concrete sculptures.
My name is Amanda Thomas Trienens. I’m the owner and principal conservator of Cultural Heritage Conservation. I do architecture conservation, but I also work on sculpture that is made of building materials. And so most often, that’s concrete.
And I am working on “Black Sphere” by Jene Highstein. It’s a sphere, but it has a very handmade quality to it, you can see there’s almost different planes of the way the hands on the trowels applied the cement. The armature is steel, and it has ties around these ribs that hold the cement skin, if you will, but at one point it was dropped from a crane. So this is sort of a the second skin if you will, on this armature. So originally, the work was made with integrally colored cement to get that rich blackness. And now we have this painted sphere. Highstein went for these deep, velvety blacks in his pieces, they were, it was more almost like voids than objects. But again, once it goes outside and starts to weather, it becomes the sort of muted black kind of gray, and really, some of the original intent of the piece is gone. And so I think that’s where then he switched to paint.
Now let’s hear from Rhona Hoffman, owner of Rhona Hoffman Gallery, who describes the experience of working with Jene Highstein on making a related sculpture.
The way it’s built as a as a substructure of steel, upon which you can then put chicken wire and then add the concrete. So Jene was you know, the foreman because he was the artist, and it’s black concrete. So we literally were covering all, and it’s big, I don’t remember, it’s big, it’s bigger than a breadbox. So what it was layer upon layer of this black concrete, which the four of us spent the day doing. And Jene would have, we’d have to smooth it out and we’d have to build it up. And it was fun, but it was hard work that took all day. We were just doing it with our hands, with our not even gloved hands. See the bumps and that’s what he wanted. I mean, he could have made a ball and just painted it black enough while he was there. But that’s not what he wanted. The beautiful density of a blackness and it didn’t absorb light. It didn’t reflect light. It was just there, like a big black hole. You know, black mass is now that’s that’s the thing, right? And this is like that. And I’m pretty sure Jene and I talked about Carl Sagan, but we never discussed whether he expected the sun to fade it. Papi we should have had that discussion.
Long Image DescriptionLong descriptions are text versions of the information provided in a detailed or complex image, like the image above.
A solid sphere, standing at six feet tall, dominates the foreground of a 1980 black-and-white photograph. The structure’s spherical shape is emphasized through a flash of sunlight: it highlights the top left of the sphere to a near-white while the bottom of the sphere is plunged into deep shadow. The sphere’s surface is imperfect; it is marked with subtle variations of dimpling, ridging, and large, but shallow and slight, indents. The spherical sculpture rests directly on the ground beneath it, leaving a matching circular shadow. Compared with the rising structure and small, sparse tree directly behind it, cars parked along the street, and buildings off in the distance, the sculpture’s heavy and assertively modern form dramatically punctuates the space it inhabits.