When Hans and Florence Knoll hired Italian born sculptor Harry Bertoia to develop his creative concepts without the constraints of a strict design agenda, it was a sure sign they recognized his unrelenting creative talent for integrating beauty and elegance of design. That the Diamond, Bird, side chair and barstool grace the floors of the Museum of Modern Art is testament to his contributions in elevating an appreciation of the integral nature of design as a primary element of mid-century aesthetics. On a more pragmatic side, these wire mesh seating shells sold so well that a lump sum payment allowed Bertoia to expand the range of his inquiries into the potentialities of metal in all its forms and aspects.
Bertoia’s Willowsculpture resonates as an expression of grace and delicacy; qualities that bely the usual associations we have with the intrinsic properties of the alloy of which it is made. This suspended version – the rare version of Willow– seems to have a self-aware presence; one that delights in that contrast of properties. Yet it invites nothing more than existential pleasure in the viewing of it. Think of Willowas a boldly articulated version of Calder if the latter master had a more organic or corporeal evocation in mind. Suspended, it commands its area yet respects its spatial relationship to its surround. Light, form, space – these are conceptual tools of the sculptor. But who else would think to use reflective material more readily associated with inflexibility and tensor strength to create a bouquet of cascading strands of stainless steel, suspended in space, flora-like and so gracefully beautiful?