Needle Tower

The destination of today’s lunchtime bike ride was Needle Tower, a public artwork by Kenneth Duane Snelson, an American contemporary sculptor and photographer.  The 60-foot abstract sculpture of steel wires and aluminum tubes is on display outside of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, which is located just off the National Mall at Independence Avenue and 7th Street (MAP) in southwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood. 

At first glance it seems improbable that Needle Tower can even remain upright.  But the aluminum tubes of the slim and graceful piece act in compression, and held in tension by the stainless steel cables threaded through in the ends of the aluminum tubes.

Snelson’s works often center around or incorporate geometric shapes.  And this piece is a good example of that.  The tower itself is interesting.  But looking up from the inside of Needle Tower is where it really impresses.  I see Stars of David getting progressively smaller in a seemingly endless procession ascending into the sky, symbolizing the infinite nature of the universe.  According to Snelson, however, six-pointed stars are common, and the piece does not include the Star of David nor is it symbolic.  In Needle Tower the six pointedness comes from the natural geometry of the three compression struts that make up each layer.  Sets of three alternate with left and right helical modules, adding up to six when viewed upwards from the base of the tower.

The structure was built in 1968, and has been on continuous display since the museum’s namesake, Joseph Hirshhorn, donated it in 1974. It remains one of the museum’s most popular works of art.  Needle Tower is so popular, in fact, that it was placed in its central spot outside the museum so that when tourists pass by on their way to and from nearby museums and attractions, it draws their attention to both the piece and the Hirshhorn.

A second Needle Tower, Needle Tower II, was completed in 1968 and was acquired in 1971 by the Kröller-Müller Museum in the Netherlands. That piece resides in the museum’s sculpture garden.  And I look forward to seeing it on my next bike ride to the Netherlands.

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

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