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Daniel Libeskind Takes Sculptures on a Musical Journey

By Tsipi Inberg Ben-Haim

It used to be enough to install a sculpture exhibition in a gallery and invite the public to enjoy and purchase the works. For Daniella Luxembourg and the Luxembourg and Dayan Gallery, it’s not enough anymore.  

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Daniella thought it would be interesting to exhibit works by “heroes of abstraction” such as Giacometti and Pierre Matisse. But she did not stop there. After organizing the group of sculptors, she thought that she really needed to include Daniel Libeskind to express abstraction that exists in a figurative way. “In order to put the sculpture into light, and to have a certain tension, and to explain what is unexplainable in words but is immediately grasped by emotion, you need everything that Daniel has,” she explained. Daniel accepted without hesitation and saw an opportunity to incorporate his first profession, music, into the exhibition Figures Toward Abstraction, which is spread over the three floors of this chic gallery owned by Daniella Luxembourg and Amalia Dayan (Exhibition continuous until July 1, 2017, located on 64 E 77th Street in New York City).  


Left, Objet désagréable a jeter, by Alberto Giacometti, conceived 1931, cast 1979. Right, Figure, dite cubiste I, by Alberto Giacometti, conceived c1926, cast 1962-3


After being contacted by Daniella, Libeskind thought about how to create an appropriate ambiance that would truly express abstraction of daily life. He said, “My first thought was a poem of Rilke around 1910 I think it was written. It’s a meditation of the torso of Apollo that he saw. And the poem is very beautiful. In it, he meditates on the fact that not only is it an experience to be seen by Apollo, not just seeing Apollo, but it is also, therefore, a radical transformation of life, one’s own life. He ends the poem by saying change your life, and I think these sculptors here really do change our lives and in retrospect, we can say that they are part of the transformation of society, of technology.”

The challenge was how to place the sculptures throughout not only to display them but have them interact with each other, creating a feeling that a conversation is ongoing between them. This attitude created a very special atmosphere within the gallery space. Giving it on one hand a togetherness of diverse members of the family coming to converse under the same roof and on the other hand each keeping their royal pride and independence.


Dreiklang, by Rudolf Belling, conceived 1919 (cast at a later date). Photography: Andrew Romer. Courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan


What connects them in a very unusual way is an architectural musical structure on the walls that Daniel Libeskind can interpret into notes, thereby connecting from one floor to the other and taking in a very abstract way the sculptures on a musical journey they have never been before. This transformation from a quiet observation of a beautiful still work of art suddenly becomes an experience to treasure. For Daniel Libeskind too, this kind of collaboration is the first experience he went to with an open mind yet with some apprehension.


Le rêve (Le baiser), by Julio González, conceived 1934, cast 1980. Photography: Andrew Romer. Courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan


So what are the black lines on the walls? Daniel explained, “They are from my drawings. I created a series of drawings before I built any buildings based on music, being a musician first. And I call them Chamber Worlds. And they were a series of fourteen horizontal drawings and fourteen vertical drawings which are systematically transforming itself from very, very large shapes to very, very narrow shapes both vertically and horizontally. And I used one of these lines in this exhibition to create a continual sense of space of where the sculptures really are placed and sort of giving them an embodiment in this beautiful gallery.”

Daniel Libeskind feels very connected to these figurative abstraction sculptures simply because he believes that all architecture is figurative. He further elaborated, “I mean home is a figure. It’s an abstraction. A place is a figure. It’s an abstraction. So I think architecture has kind of an echo in the work of these artists…were also a creator of space that architects themselves were inspired by. Whether it’s a piece or Gonzalez or Giacometti, their influence has long been talked about in art but they had a huge influence on architecture. So yes I would say the same issue of figurative abstraction could be seen in the city itself in the metropolis.”



Daniel Libeskind became very well known after designing the Jewish Museum in Berlin that opened on 9/11, and coincidentally enough he won the competition a few years later to design the Freedom Tower in New York City in memory of 9/11.

His design of the Jewish Museum in Berlin brings to mind the inclusion of Rudolf Belling’s work in the exhibition. As one in the audience brought up the work of Belling in the show, the person contends that the work has something to say about the relationship between abstraction and Jewish thinking. Regarding Belling, Daniel Libeskind said, “Belling was German, he was not Jewish; his wife was Jewish. He was a great artist and architect and his piece here is just one of the most brilliant pieces. I felt it should be alone in that space because it has a scale really beyond almost anything one can experience.”



The sculptures in the show look like they enjoy their freedom in the space, not necessarily facing front or back. The figures kind of face outwardly towards the line across the space, which has been intentionally situated in such a way by the curators. All the works are available for sale. Some came from the Tisch collection while some are from Swiss collections or foundations and museums. According to Daniella Luxembourg, it’s very hard to obtain these masterpieces. Luxembourg said, “Our program is a secondary market. We always have to beg for works. We are like international beggars.”

Has anything changed for Daniel Libeskind designing and building in these turbulent times? What are his thoughts on the role of art and architecture under the difficult political atmosphere we in the United States and the rest of the world are in? He responds, “Well I can only answer as an architect, that architecture is political because politaire means the public, the citizens. The word idiot in Greek means the private person.


Figure, dite cubiste I, by Alberto Giacometti, conceived c1926, cast 1962-3. Photography: Andrew Romer. Courtesy of Luxembourg & Dayan


“That’s what it means. It doesn’t mean someone is stupid. It just means someone is private, so by nature of architecture, and this is what again someone pointed out to me, because a friend said to me I can write any text I want and publish it because I have a small publisher in Paris or I can put it on the internet, but you need a commission even to build a small building, and it really struck me that everything I do has to do with legality,” Daniel Libeskind said, “An artist has the freedom to really do something really in a direction that is totally outside the realm of legal written permission. In a democracy, in a dictatorship, you need legal permission to produce anything but it’s an interesting question because certainly art too is part of the life and is responsive.”

In spite that it was a one-of-a-kind experience for him, he feels very much at home with the sculptures in the gallery. He has not really ever worked in collaboration with a sculptor before, but he doesn’t rule the possibility out. After all, he says, “Buildings are like sculptures with plumbing!”



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