Mark di Suvero was born in 1933 in Shanghai, China, where his Italian diplomat father was stationed. The di Suvero family moved to San Francisco at the start of World War II. He graduated from the University of California, Berkeley in 1956, with a degree in philosophy. He moved to New York City the following year to pursue his art. At that time he was making sculptures out of scraps from demolished buildings. An elevator accident in 1960 left di Suvero paralyzed from the waist down. Instead of giving up on his art, he learned how to use an electric arc welder and began making works out of steel. Through his own perseverance and determination, di Suvero regained use of his legs in 1965. At this time, he learned how to use a cherry picker, a crane—the artist pioneered the use of a crane as a sculptor’s working tool–and an acetylene torch, allowing him to create the monumental sculptures for which he is known.
Di Suvero’s sculpture is a cross between assemblage art and Abstract Expressionist gesturing. His work is created from found pieces, making it environmentally friendly. He became very interested in movement after his 1960 accident left him immobile. This interest was expressed in kinetic sculptures with moving parts. Di Suvero is also interested in the participatory potential of his sculptures. All of his works since 1975 feature some degree of movement and participation, engaging the viewer in an intimate dialogue with the piece.
Poland, created in 1966, is an early example of di Suvero’s fascination with movement. The piece consists of a steel beam and base with a moving piece of steel attached by wire. The kinetic sculpture resembles a cross between a prehistoric animal and a backhoe scoop. The piece seems alive, swinging when you least expect it, prompted by a breeze or the touch of a spectator. Its dark brown color is in harmony with the environment: the materials signify heavy industry but are dependent on the environment in which the sculpture is placed. Poland confronts the viewer with its monumentality while challenging perceptions of traditional sculpture. Its potential movement attracts and engages the spectator, daring one to touch it. (Please do so gently! Poland is more than 50 years old.)