FLIGHT, by Richard Lippold
Confident recognition of true merit in a work of art comes as a great source of satisfaction to the amateur critic, and my daughter and I experienced this thrilling sensation during our visit to New York City in 1962. The work of which I speak is Richard Lippold’s sculpture, “Flight,” which was completed shortly before our trip, in the Vanderbilt Avenue lobby of the new Pan Am building.
Even before entering the building, we were overwhelmed by the brilliant immensity of the sculpture as it first came into view from beyond the glass and granite wall of the lobby entrance. Composed entirely of gold and silver wire, “Flight” is an abstract geometrical design which rises from the center of the otherwise empty ground floor upward and outward to the extremities of the ceiling above the mezzanine surrounding it on three sides. These two levels, an exposed escalator at the rear of the lobby, and the enormous plate glass windows at the entrance afford an almost complete sphere of vantage points from which the sculpure is visible.
“Flight” might almost be referred to as architecture, for it is inseparable from the building, depending on it for its size and support. The wire strands—no two of which come into contact—are strung in the form of cones and wide ribbons, the latter spiraling in a half circle as they progress from floor to ceiling, The centerpiece is a large cone standing on end upon a foundation about ten feet long and half as wide. Anchored around this cone are four smaller cones and four ribbons of wire, and from this starting point they extend upward and outward until they fill the upper reaches of the foyer. Spotlights around the base of the work and in the ceiling are trained upon the whole so that the otherwise austere hall is dazzling.
Much of its fascination is that “Flight” becomes more mysterious with study. Technologically alone it is a masterpiece, and even the hastening passerby involutarily pauses to reflect upon the method of creation. Here is a work of genius in concept and skill. This is no assembly of prefabricated parts; it was given form where it stands, strand by strand. Contemplation of the difficulties involved in merging the wires, and in the fact that the slightest kink meant removal and replacement of the entire strand only serves to increase the marvel of the accomplishment.
As we began slowly to circle the sculpture, its tremendous power became apparent. The sculpture suddenly became alive, and we felt ourselves both led and followed by the ever-changing reflections of light as they sped along the wires, now straight, now undulating, now darting off at unexpected angles as new wires captured the rays. Entire expanses of wire which had heretofore been invisible insinuated themselves into our field of vision, and familiar surfaces unobtrusively slipped from view.
Being in the presence of this work of art was for us an emotional experience. The myriad paths made by planes across the heavens—some visible only as they fade into eternity, some never visible at all—have been given their monument. With motionless light and stationary wire, Richard Lippold has embodied the very essence of flight.
FLIGHT, by Richard Lippold