|Commissioning Entity||Carnegie Mellon University|
|Owner||Carnegie Mellon University|
Walking to the Sky consists of a 100-foot-tall tilted steel pole and a number of brightly-painted representational fiberglass figures. Some of the figures stride up the pole and into the sky, while others—including a father and son—observe from the ground. Art patrons Jill and Peter Kraus commissioned the sculpture for Carnegie Mellon University from Jonathan Borofsky, a noted artist and university alumnus, who describes his work as “minimal with content.”
The placement of this enormous sculpture presented a challenge to the university. A picture of Walking to the Sky was photoshopped into photographs of various campus sites for consideration. A site was selected and a concrete foundation was poured at the heart of the campus, where the sculpture would have been visible from throughout the university’s historic Hornbostel Mall. Walking to the Sky would have challenged the century-old primacy of the iconic Hamerschlag Hall tower, and would have altered the scale, clarity, and integrity of Henry Hornbostel’s grand campus design.
Controversy ensued—initially about the location and collaterally about the sculpture itself. The mixed reception by the campus community, and the lack of a public process to assess such works, resulted in the creation of a Policy for Public Art at Carnegie Mellon University and the establishment of a Public Art Committee. Consequently, Walking to the Sky was installed at a site in front of Warner Hall, at the Forbes Avenue gateway to the campus, where it serves as a marker for the Regina Gouger Miller Gallery, an object of interest for visitors and passers-by, and speaks to the aspirational qualities of the university and its people.
Borofsky conceived the sculpture as art for the human spirit that would make archetypal connections with its audience. Since humanity is constantly on the move and seeks an inspiring—and often perilous—trajectory to a higher place of achievement, destiny, or redemption, Borofsky proposes that we’re all walking to the sky in our own ways.
Borofsky derived Walking to the Sky from childhood stories of visiting a giant in the sky, and from a drawing that he made in 1977. The first iteration of the sculpture was displayed at Documenta IX, an important international art exhibition, in Kassel, Germany, in 1992. This sculpture, called Man Walking to the Sky, incorporated a single figure striding up a pole, which Borofsky identified as himself, the artist. Soon after, Woman Walking to the Sky was installed in Strasbourg, France.
A version with multiple figures (Everyman, Everywoman, Everychild) of various ages, genders, and races was temporarily erected in Rockefeller Center in New York City in 2004, where it seemed to speak to the aftermath of 9/11. This sculpture, later acquired by the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, was the model for the version at Carnegie Mellon. There is another iteration of the sculpture in Seoul, South Korea. Borofsky’s world bristles with poles and walking figures, points of contact between the realms of earth and sky.
When Carnegie Mellon’s Walking to the Sky began to visibly flex in 2009, irrespective of any wind, it was disassembled and reinstalled with a stronger tapered pole.
By Martin Aurand, architecture librarian and archivist, Carnegie Mellon University
Jonathan Borofsky. https://www.borofsky.com/
Klein, Michael. “Jonathan Borofsky: On a Grand Scale.” Sculpture 23:10 (December 2004), 34-39.
Jonathan Borofsky (1942- ) graduated from Carnegie Institute of Technology (now Carnegie Mellon University) with a BFA in 1964, and earned an MFA at Yale in 1966. Borofsky’s art focuses on depictions of the human figure that emphasize both physical presence and psychological experience. He had many solo museum exhibitions in the first half of his career, and is internationally renowned for the large-scale outdoor public art projects that have dominated the second half of his career. These commonly consist of oversized dreamlike human figures such as Hammering Man, Molecule Man, and Walking Man, which are frequently realized in various versions at various scales at various locales around the world. The Carnegie Museum of Art sponsored a gallery exhibition entitled Jonathan Borofsky: Human Structures in 2006-2007, shortly after Walking to the Sky was unveiled at Carnegie Mellon.