Right in time for the holidays, Guild Hall is getting a big gift this season, smack dab on the art institution’s front lawn. “Cube 72,” the iconic Tony Rosenthal sculpture that’s graced the front landscape since the early 1970s, has been returned to its rightful spot.
The sculpture, originally commissioned by former Guild Hall director Enez Whipple and Eloise Spath, was a gift from Rosenthal, who had it welded at the shop of Sid Cullum on Three Mile Harbor Road. Installed in 1972, it quickly became an iconic symbol of the art institution, as much for its eye-catching presence as its interactive accessibility to all who passed it by.
Like its mother piece that was created in 1967, “Alamo,” on Astor Place in Manhattan, when pushed “Cube 72” turns on its axis, making it not only appear to defy gravity but also to be the rare piece of art where human interaction is part of the work. Or, as Rosenthal himself might put it: its abstract art made accessible, instead of merely an object to be contemplated. It, and most of the sculptor’s work, is meant to be touched.
However, also like “Alamo,” years of wear and tear (or, perhaps, push and pull) created a need for repair, which was done by Liberty Iron Work in Southampton and funded by the Estate of Tony Rosenthal, managed by Dave Petrie.
It’s not the first time “Cube 72″ needed a little attention. In 1983, the 90″x90″x90” piece snapped off its axis and had to be welded back in place. Several years later, the Cor-Ten steel plates, which Rosenthal originally believed would turn into a deep shade of plum after being exposed to the elements, rusted to his great chagrin. In 1988, it was painted the rust-resistant black for which it’s now famous.
“We are grateful to the foundation for restoring ‘Cube 72,’ and we are so happy to be able to once again install this beloved work in a prominent location for the community to enjoy,” said Melanie Crader, Guild Hall’s director of visual arts.
Rosenthal, one of the many artists who made a home on the East End. He was born in Highland Park, Illinois, in 1914, and got his first taste of creating art out of inanimate objects when, at nine years old, he was enrolled by his mother in a basic carving sculpture course for kids at the Art Institute of Chicago. His first work was in soap; by the 1930s, he was working in full-on bronze as a studio assistant to master sculptor Alexander Archipenko.
Perhaps is was during this time and the following years, when President Roosevelt’s Work Progress Administration was supporting art for all as the order of the day, that Rosenthal gained his love for sculpture that would become part of community life — the very same concept that spawned Guild Hall back in 1931, when East Hampton resident Mary Woodhouse funded the creation of one of the country’s first interdisciplinary, community-focused art centers.
Rosenthal, who passed away in Southampton in 2009 at the age of 94, was known for saying that he enjoyed making public sculptures for participation; objects with a functional purpose as well as an aesthetic one. Back where it belongs, the public is encouraged to come by and take it for a “spin.”