Last Tuesday, members of the Yale community noticed that Cross Campus had acquired a new resident.
The sculpture, Max Ernst’s “Habakuk,” was installed outside of William L. Harkness Hall early last week in honor of University President Peter Salovey’s inauguration. The small dedication ceremony for the sculpture — which Jeffrey H. Loria ’62 donated to the Yale University Art Gallery in 2005 — took place on Cross Campus late yesterday afternoon. Yale College Dean Mary Miller described the statue’s historical significance, noting that Ernst created it in 1930s Germany, and Salovey explained the biblical origins of the statue’s name. Loria and his wife also attended the ceremony, along with roughly 20 other members of the Yale community.
“This is the single most humbling gift that I could’ve imagined,” Salovey said during the ceremony. “It’ll be here with my name on it for the next 312 years.”
The sculpture, which was cast in bronze in 1970, is nearly 15 feet tall and weighs nearly 5,000 pounds, according to the Gallery’s catalogue. Miller said that Loria’s gift is one of the four bronze castings made of Ernst’s original 1933 “Habakuk.”
Ernst’s “Habakuk” is named after a prophet in the Hebrew Bible. Salovey began the ceremony by reading from the short Book of Habakkuk, in which God reveals the end of the world and the prophet responds with a pledge to uphold his faith. Salovey said that the statue reminds us to “stand by our righteousness,” whether religious or otherwise. Miller explained that Ernst made the sculpture in Germany during Adolf Hitler’s rise to power. She called it one of his most political works of art.
Loria said that ever since he donated the sculpture to the YUAG in 2005, he and the Gallery have been waiting for the appropriate occasion to install it on campus. The inauguration of the University’s 23rd President last month was just that occasion, he said. Loria has donated a number of other works of art to the University, including a 30-foot Roy Lichtenstein sculpture that was installed on Science Hill in 1994 in honor of former President Richard Levin’s inauguration.
“I collect a lot of sculptures,” Loria said. “Giving them to Yale is one of the things I like to do.”
YUAG Assistant Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art Cathleen Chaffee said that the sculpture is an avian figure, adding that Ernst, a 20th-century German artist prominent in the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, was fascinated with birds.
Chaffee said that the Gallery, the University administration and the Yale Office of Facilities discussed many potential locations for “Habakuk’s” installation. Roughly 40 locations were considered, Miller said.
Miller said she thinks the final location is perfect not only because it makes the sculpture highly visible, but also because it puts it into meaningful conversation with the architecture of Cross Campus. “Habakuk,” which was made in 1933, stands between Berkeley College, which was built in 1934; Calhoun College, which was built in 1933; and WLH, which was built in 1927, Miller explained.
“We see the high modernism of that moment with Yale’s faux past,” Miller said, adding that in the 1930s Yale was trying to construct a history for itself by creating “faux gothic” buildings.
The sculpture was moved to Cross Campus from a West Campus storage facility last Tuesday.