Posted on May 8, 2020 at 6:00 PM by Adrienne Gennett
Last September, the Brunnier Art Museum reopened after a 19-month closure, with the beautiful new Lori A. Jacobson Gallery and large glass entrance wall, but it was the trio of dazzling constellation-like glass and metal chandeliers, that some might say, stole the show. Titled the Met Chandeliers, they were installed as the public works of art project for the renovation of the Brunnier. The pair of smaller chandeliers include 39 LED light bulbs each and flank a large central chandelier which has 54 light bulbs, not to mention hundreds of individual cut Swarovski crystal elements. As you can imagine, they are bright!
Usually when University Museums facilitates a public art project, a group of faculty, staff, and students who will use the new or renovated spaces are brought together to create a public art statement then select the proposal they think is best suited for the space. With this being a University Museums renovation project, it was upon our staff to decide what was the best choice for the space. After some discussion, our Director, Lynette Pohlman, and I honed in on the idea of chandeliers hanging in the atrium. Not only would we have a new glass wall where the expansive atrium of the Scheman Building would be easily visible from the gallery space, but we agreed that chandeliers would further the encyclopedic glass collection, which had no examples of chandeliers (lots of lamps though!).
The glass collection began, like much of the Museum’s decorative arts collection, with Ann and Henry Brunnier. Throughout their international travels, Ann passionately collected a diverse range of art and decorative arts. From ancient and Roman glass, to stipple engraved English goblets, and American art glass, she collected it all. The collection Ann and Henry built and generously donated remains the core of what University Museums uses to tell the history of art and cultures from around the world.
When Director Pohlman first proposed the idea of a chandelier, I already envisioned exactly what I thought would be a “perfect fit” for the space and our collection, the Met Chandelier created by the Austrian glass firm J. & L. Lobmeyr. Founded in Vienna in 1823, the firm is still owned by the same family, today run by the 6th generation of that family. Known for high quality glassware and lighting, the company has always worked with important designers and architects to develop unique objects. Many of these creations have come to epitomize the creativity and beauty found throughout Austrian decorative arts history.
The Met Chandelier is named so because the very first examples were given by Austria in 1966 as a gift to the United States in thanks for post-WWII recovery aid and placed in the then newly constructed Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York City. Those original chandeliers continue to amaze opera goers and tourists from around the world. Designed between 1963 and 1966 by Hans Harald Rath, at the time the 4th generation of the family to own and manage the Lobmeyr firm, the starburst design was inspired by images of distant galaxies. The so-called “sputnik” style was very much part of Mid-century Modern design, as new knowledge of space was now readily available to the public. Each chandelier is made with hundreds of cut Swarovski crystals that twinkle and refract the light beautifully. Like when they were first made, every chandelier also continues to be handmade and installed by highly skilled and trained Lobmeyr craftsmen.
The Iowa State Center was envisioned to be the destination for culture and the arts at Iowa State. The complex was conceived of and designed in the same mid-century 1960s period of the chandeliers, although the Scheman Building would not be finished until 1975 and was the last to be completed. The architecture of each building is a reflection of the Brutalist design style used in that period, full of hard concrete walls and warm cedar ceilings. The addition of the Met Chandeliers perfectly fits into the time period and style of the architecture, both softening and complementing the gray concrete of the atrium and building. The chandeliers are meant to impress visitors with their brilliance, but they also are an important addition to the University Museum’s permanent collection. They help to strengthen the glass collection, while also bringing context to the architecture of the building and the history of the Iowa State Center. I certainly hope that one day soon they will be turned back on waiting to dazzle you on your next visit to the Brunnier!
Met Chandeliers, designed 1963–1966, made 2019
First public presentation, 1966
Designer: Hans Harald Rath (Austrian, 1904–1968)
Manufacturer: Lobmeyr Werkstätten (Austrian, 1823–present)
Aluminum, brass, steel, Swarovski pearls
Commissioned by the University Museums. Acquisition made possible by the Joyce Tomlinson Brewer Fund for Art Acquisition. In the Art on Campus Collection, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. U2019.150-152
Bottom image by Paul Gates Photography.