"It was the only answer for this space," Jolley said Wednesday as members of the media got the first look at the answer he created from glass and bronzed steel. The project -- the seven-ton "Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity" -- debuts to the public Sunday.
The permanent exhibit is an exploration of a life cycle from youth to maturity. Six of Jolley's "earth icons" illustrate that journey in a narrative covering about 100 running feet on the Great Hall's interior wall. Three other elements suspended from the 23-foot-tall ceiling form an abstract cosmos in the installation's sky component.
With thousands of individual pieces and nine sections, "Cycle of Life" is one of the world's biggest figurative glass and steel assemblages. Jolley said Wednesday he was influenced to create a life cycle in part because of Southern literature's interest in "a sense of place. That's how it started."
Because Jolley early on decided he didn't want his work to interfere with the floor space, the wall art is set 11 to 12 feet above the terrazzo floor. Pieces are supported by three 1,500-pound undulating metal platforms anchored to the wall.
"Cycle of Life" starts, both as an installation and a concept, with a cracked golden-glass moon set amid tall poplar tree trunks that are covered in blown-glass thistles and leaves. That section, entitled "Primordial," blends into the larger-than-life figures of a man and woman. Each of these "Emergence" forms is made of deep black cast glass set in steel figural armatures. Just before the Great Hall's winding stairs, 135 blown-glass blackbirds fly on a metal web in the "Flight" section.
The three other earth icons -- all done in massive scale -- represent life's changes. Huge black cast glass and steel figures of a reclining man and standing woman create the section called "Desire." The progression ends with a man's head in black glass and jagged-edge steel. So large that it was made in two sections to get through the museum's double doors, the head called "Contemplation" weighs 3,600 pounds. Between "Desire" and "Contemplation" stands a 22-foot tall "Tree of Life" covered in frosted glass thistles, nesting doves and pomegranate leaves.
In contrast to the more monochromatic blacks and bronzes of the wall elements, Jolley's three "sky" icons are colorful and range from large blown glass balls in shades of blue to a constellation of silvered glass orbs.
Jolley began the work in 2009. He needed a year to create the techniques to make the larger figures. Installation in the Great Hall required three months.
The project, estimated at more than
Since the installation of "Cycle of Life" was completed in late February, the wall sections have been covered from ceiling to floor with a white curtain on which Jolley painted images representing the work underneath. That curtain was rehung Wednesday after the media preview and will be permanently removed Saturday before a sold-out Glass Ball for museum patrons.
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