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Artist now assessing damage to 'Helmholtz' sculpture

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For more about “Helmholtz” creator Mark di Suvero and to see some of his other sculptures, go to www.spacetimecc.com.

Mark di Suvero has to test whether pieces can be repaired or will need replacement

Friday, October 11, 2013 - 12:01 am

The repair of the damaged “Helmholtz” abstract steel sculpture is in a “scientific phase,” with the artist testing pieces to see if heat will return them to their original shape or if they need to be replaced, said Charles A. Shepard III, Fort Wayne Museum of Art executive director.

“The artist seems totally convinced it is going to look as good as new,” said Shepard, who in recent days has talked frequently by phone with “Helmholtz” creator Mark di Suvero.

“Helmholtz” was damaged early June 16 when Colton Adamonis of Fort Wayne allegedly drove into it, police reported. Adamonis had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15, police said, which is nearly twice Indiana's legal driving limit of 0.08.

He was arrested on drunken driving charges, including endangerment, property damage and leaving the scene of an accident. A hearing on his criminal case is scheduled for Tuesday in Allen Superior Court.

The sculpture, which depicts a bull, weighs 8 tons and stands about 26 feet tall. Made largely of steel I-beams, it stood in a grassy area between Freimann Square and the Arts United Center, 303 E. Main St.

The Museum of Art wanted di Suvero to repair the sculpture to preserve the artistic integrity of the piece as well as its market value, Shepard said in August. The piece, which has been part of the museum's collection since 1985, would have been valued at $1 million to $1.5 million before the damage.

A construction crew took apart the sculpture in early August so it could be shipped to di Suvero's studio in Petaluma, Calif., for repair.

One complicating factor has been that di Suvero built “Helmholtz” before artists started using computer-aided design (CAD) technology, Shepard said. Instead of comparing pieces of the sculpture to their exact specifications on an original design, di Suvero must test pieces individually to see if they have been twisted or bent and what it would take to put them back in original condition.

Based on di Suvero's early testing, it seems likely he will have to replace the stainless steel disc that is part of the sculpture, Shepard said. The disc was bent, which changed its circumference. It will be very difficult to flatten it to the correct circumference by applying heat, Shepard added.

Because di Suvero still is investigating the extent of the damage, he hasn't been able to estimate repair costs, Shepard said. The museum hopes to get an estimate in a few weeks.

No city or tax dollars will be used in repairing the sculpture, Shepard has said. The cost will be paid by the insurance policies of the driver and the Museum of Art.

“Helmholtz” probably won't be repaired and returned to Fort Wayne until this spring, Shepard said.

The museum will have an unveiling and other festivities to celebrate its return, he said. The museum also plans to have educational programs and outreach to help people appreciate this sculpture and others they find difficult to understand.

“Helmholtz,” for example, celebrates a material — steel — that workers in America used to build the country, Shepard said. Its creator, di Suvero, is an internationally renowned sculptor in high demand whose works are displayed all over the world.

In addition, the museum also has a few people working on proposals for visually pleasing ways to protect the sculpture from being damaged again, Shepard said.