In a little less than a year, an art installation that organizers hope will be the “tipping point” for Knoxville’s growing reputation as a vibrant arts and culture destination will have its official opening.
The installation being created now by internationally renowned glass artist Richard Jolley, will cost upward of $1 million. It will permanently adorn the Knoxville Museum of Art‘s 3,500-square-foot Great Hall. Called Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity and forged in glass and steel, it portrays the epic story of humanity. It will sprawl 185 running feet and will weigh more than seven tons.
Jolley already has brought a degree of prominence to Knoxville through his work. He has participated in more than 65 solo museum and gallery exhibits throughout the country as well as in Europe and Japan and his works can be found in more than 33 public collections including the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Corning Museum of Glass, Los Angeles County Museum of Modern Art and the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C.
Jolley is perhaps more recognized outside his home than in it. Superstar Elton John is a fan. Jolley’s works have been photographed in John’s Atlanta home for national magazine features. Jolley was born in Wichita but was raised in East Tennessee. He attended Tusculum College and then received his Masters of Fine Arts degree at Peabody College (now part of Vanderbilt University) in Nashville.
Since 1975, he has operated a studio in Knoxville and he jokes that he, “having acquired too much heavy equipment and ephemera, will most likely remain.”
But let’s talk about this transformative project, what Knoxville Museum of Art Executive Director David Butler says will be “the largest figural glass assemblage in the world.”
Funded largely by a gift from Ann and Steve Bailey, the project already has been underway three years in Jolley’s west Knoxville studio and in a borrowed warehouse. Actual installation into the museum, where it will be bolted to the walls and part of the ceiling of the Great Hall, will commence this fall. It will be unveiled to the world during a series of events from April 29 through May 4, 2014.
The piece will consist of seven huge glass and steel panels addressing the cycle of human life. They are titled Primordial, Emergence, Flight, Desire, Tree of Life, Contemplation and Sky. I have visited Jolley’s studio three times since he started work on Cycle of Life and, as a long-time fan of his, I can see that this is the culmination of all the work he has done in the past. From the birds and totems of his early days, to the star charts and skies of about 10 years ago, to the big flat red and yellow bronze moons and portraits that followed, this work encompasses and pushes forward all of them. And through it all, is “that” man — a self-portrait of Jolley himself — and his recurring female partner who are central to so much of his body of work. I am glad that those two figures — done in a grand scale in this case — are a part of this important work because they say Richard Jolley to me.
The museum, designed by famous American architect Edward Larrabee Barnes and opened to the public in 1990, also is in the midst of a spruce-up. Its entryway currently is being reconfigured and that is just part of the plans for a comprehensive renovation of its signature Clayton Building. New garden areas also are in the works.
So, mark your calendars for April 29 through May 4. You do not want to miss any of the excitement when the world returns to Knoxville. This time, for an insight into life’s biggest questions.
Photo credit: The picture of five members of the Visit Knoxville staff was provided by Visit Knoxville. Thanks.