Time-Lapse: Installing the “Silver Tree”

Askew is part of a series of works by Roxy Paine that he describes as “dendroids,” arboreal or treelike forms with elaborate branching structures. Now five years old, the sculpture has become an iconic beacon on the Museum campus.

“The installation of Roxy’s Askew was one of the most challenging of the new building expansion,” says Dan Gottlieb, director of planning and design at the NCMA. “The sculpture arrived by open truck in many pieces.”

“But when the main ‘trunk,’ was lowered by crane to within a few feet of the highly engineered base,” says Gottlieb, “it was evident that it would not fit and would have to be adjusted while the sculpture dangled, mid-air for the next 24 hours! A team of hardware experts arrived on site to make the corrections–inserting new stainless steel fasteners–and the base was set, much to everyone’s relief.”

The artist, Roxy Paine, overseeing the resetting of the base of Askew

“Roxy and his assistants then got to work welding the remaining branches, and all ended well.”

NCMA Curator of Contemporary Art Linda Dougherty emphasizes that Paine employs the same industrial materials and processes used to build pipelines and pharmaceutical plants, “cutting shaping, welding, polishing, and combining custom-made forms with thousands of pieces of metal pipe to create trees with intricately detailed branches, dramatic cantilevers, and eccentric forms.” The artist, she says, is keenly interested in the human desire to “order and control nature.”

“I take this organic, majestic being and break it down into components and rules. The branches are translated into pipe and rod.” 

–Roxy Paine

“It occurred to me late in the planning process,” says Gottlieb, “that though we placed the sculpture in a lovely location, we missed, by a matter of less than 20 feet, the golden opportunity to place it exactly on axis as viewed from the new Rodin gallery (making a wonderful connection). Together with the landscape architect, Walter Havener, we adjusted the design to accommodate the large footing required.”

Askew, as seen from inside the NCMA’s Rodin Court

“I look at it every morning when I drive by on my way to work, and it still surprises me every time because it is so unexpected,” says Dougherty. “I love how it echoes both the facade of the building and the real trees across the path–a poetic bridge between the manmade and the natural.”

Roxy Paine, Askew, 2009, stainless steel, H. 46 ft. 8 in. x Diam. 32 ft., Gift in honor of Julia Jones Daniels, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the North Carolina Museum of Art (1998-2002) and member of the Board of Trustees (1983-1995)

“One of the things I enjoy best about Askew is that I know I’m not the only one who’s fascinated by it,” says associate curator of contemporary art Jen Dasal. “I’m constantly seeing active families clamber over to check out the sculpture, and I’ve seen multiple photographers shooting wedding or engagement images in front of it. Best of all, I love seeing the occasional bird–or three–perched on its limbs, as if it were a ‘real’ tree. It passes muster for even the pigeons!” 

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