Location: #2 Segerstrom Hall
Soaring through the facade of the Segerstrom Center for the Arts’ Segerstrom Hall, is Fire Bird, a major architectural sculpture of enormous scale created by renowned sculptor Richard Lippold. Made of red, gold and silver aluminum and steel, Fire Bird’s vibrant colors relate to the warm tonalities of the Center’s Napoleon red granite exterior, while its polished metal surfaces contrast with the granite’s rugged texture. The great glass wall that encloses the lobby areas permits a visual continuity between the inside and outside of the building, while the balconies on each level allow patrons to experience the sculpture at close proximity.
The Segerstrom family commissioned Lippold to create this piece: an iridescent sculpture of enormous scale that graces the main hall of the Orange County Performing Arts Center. The sculpture’s dimensions are 60 feet high, 120 feet wide and 100 feet deep. The installation of the piece was placed in The Center in October 1986. The materials are gold, red, and silver-colored stainless steel and aluminum. The work is architecturally integrated into both the exterior and interior design of the center. The title Fire Bird was attributed to the sculptor by the late Renee Segerstrom because of its abstract resemblance to a soaring, delicate bird and her love of Stravinsky’s ballet The Firebird. Lippold suggested that the title be rendered as two words to avoid confusion with the musical composition. ‘The red elements are rather birdlike but I didn’t set out to make a bird or insect. I’m more interested in what [the sculpture] says to the architectural space and the meanings within itself-the rhythms and colors,” says Lippold. He initially thought that he would create a sculpture in the middle of the arch in front of the performing arts center but this imposing form bears no direct relation to the space of the interior. Lippold decided to use as the focal point of the sculpture the triangular enclosure of the Arts Center’s main staircase. The two “wings” of the piece “embrace the sides of that staircase” and shift into the two parts of the lobby. One of the striking aspects of the sculpture is the way the central “nose” element (where the branching tube and triangle pieces meet) appears to pierce the glass entrance of the building. Another striking aspect of the work.is its use of permanently colored stainless
steel, the intermediate branches have a gold finish, and the four lowest branches gleam in a metallic red. The red wings are meant to harmonize with the pinkish granite on both the exterior and interior of the building. Lippold says, “This sculpture realizes a long-time desire on my part to create a work which relates to both the interior and exterior of the building. The Orange County Performing Arts Center provided the ideal type of structure for this purpose. The great glass curtain wall which encloses the lobby areas not only permits a visual continuity between the interior and exterior spaces, but actually allows for the experience of moving from one to the other by means of a balcony at every leveL”
- Fire Bird was funded entirely by private support.
- Commissions like this are the fruits of a quietly distinguished career during which, even as a self-proclaimed “loner,” Lippold has enjoyed the company of many of the leaders of the American arts but unlike the success orientated young artists of that time, he spent his early career mostly trying to figure out just what he was meant to do. .
Richard Lippold: (1915 -2002) Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Richard Lippold was an American sculptor, known for his geometric constructions using wire as a medium. He worked as an industrial designer from 1937 to 1941. As a sculptor, he achieved startling effects in intricately arranged, precisely engineered constructions of suspended wire and sheet metal. Often large and always lyrical, his work explores abstract spatial relationships and includes the play of light as an integral part of the sculptures. Lippold held teaching positions in various schools and colleges and was on the faculty of Hunter College, New York City (1952 -67). The diverse spectrum of his previous commissions represented works, expressing flight, things floating, soaring, and gliding in the conquest of space, which he considers the greatest achievement and challenge of this century. His works range from the tallest sculpture in the nation’s capital at the National Air and Space Museum for the Smithsonian Institute to a spectacular baldachino, a canopy-like structure over the altar of st. Mary’s Cathedral in San Francisco. Lippold says his work tends to be centered and symmetrical, “I think symmetry is a law of life.” Lippold frequently contrasts silver and gold in his sculptures. “I associate silver with masculine qualities and gold with softer, feminine qualities,” he said. ”Steel is new and gold is old.” Lippold dislikes being labeled as a member of the New York School or as in Abstract Expressionist (the two umbrella terms for such artists as Pollock, de Kooning and Gottlieb) because he doesn’t consider himself much of an expressionist, “I think there is a great deal of feeling in my work-I know there is, at least I put it there-but it is not as direct and emotional [as that of the Abstract Expressionists].”