Flint Institute of Arts unveils new, 1.5-ton outdoor sculpture ‘Paradise’

FLINT, Michigan -- The Flint Institute of Arts unveiled a 9-foot addition to the Hurand Sculpture Courtyard in May. 

‘Paradise’ by artist Hubert Phipps weighs over 1.5 tons, is cast in bronze, and now serves as a focal point of the courtyard, which also features sculptures by Eric Fischl, George Rickey, and David Barr. 

The piece, inspired by Phipps’ experiences growing up in the rural Virginia countryside, evolved over the last several years, beginning first as a sketch in 2014. It was then modeled in clay and cast as a bronze marquette that was exhibited at the Ann Norton Sculpture Gardens in Florida in 2016. Later in the year, a 7-foot foam and resin version was part of Phipps’ exhibition entitled ‘Journey’ at the New York Studio School of Drawing, Painting, and Sculpture.

The piece on long term loan at the FIA is one of three 9-foot versions that were made this year. The sculpture is meant to pay homage to natural features, rock formations, and other elements of the outdoors or what Phipps calls “natural wonders.” Phipps hopes the abstract nature of the piece allows viewers to constantly find new things, depending on what angles they view it from. 

“I'm not sure that I have any expectations of what anybody might think about the artwork,” Phipps said. “And I say that because when I see this, or any art work, from day to day or from time to time, I see different things. You know, a new day, a new perspective. I'm not sure I had any particular hard and fast notion of what it (the completed sculpture) was going to look like in the beginning. However, now that it's done, I see different things, I see different angles.”

Approximately 40 percent of the FIA’s 9,000+ collection is three-dimensional pieces. Bringing unique and visually appealing art from all over the world to Flint has long been a critical part of the FIA’s mission.

“To bring something, especially of this scale, here to Flint is something unique and different,” said Tracee Glab, curator of collections and exhibitions at the FIA. “We want to have those kinds of experiences for our visitors, to be able to see things they wouldn't normally see in an art museum. You can literally expand your horizons all in one place here and see art from all over the world in one place very close to home.”

The logistics of getting such a large-scale piece in place in the courtyard are a work of art themselves. Once the molds of the piece were made, they were shipped to China to be cast, and then shipped back. Several staff had to use cranes and other heavy machinery to move and assemble the sculpture to get it ready for the public unveiling. 

“We had images of that and we knew the eventual scale,” Glab said. “We did cardboard cutouts, took them out into the courtyard and it kind of stationed them and held them to see how it was going to look in the courtyard. Then we also mocked it up on the computer to see how it would look. So all of that happened before it ever was shipped here. It’s a great addition to our sculpture courtyard.”

Phipps has long been familiar with the FIA, which is the second-largest art museum in Michigan and has one of the largest art schools in the country. He said he was honored to have a piece on display.

“I’m just so impressed with the quality of the Flint Institute of Arts,” he said. “Not only with their amazing collection, but the school and now their exhibition space for the glass. It’s one of the finest collections that I've seen. And then beyond that, understanding what the Institute does for the community and outreach and the really high quality programs that they provide. As soon as (FIA executive director) John Henry expressed an interest in paradise, I was just very excited to do whatever I could do to make that happen.”

The Flint Institute of Arts is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays and from 1-5 p.m. on Sundays. More information is available on their website.

Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.

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