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It’s in the Genes

Today's guest blogger is Cindy Frey, Associate Director at the Columbus Visitors Center.

Members of the Miller family, in an act of incredible generosity, have donated their childhood home, along with an endowment, to the Indianapolis Museum of Art.  If one examines the extraordinary lives of Mr. and Mrs. Miller, it is easy to understand why the children chose to make this unique work of art, a heralded collaboration between Eero Saarinen, Alexander Girard and Daniel Urban Kiley, available for public enjoyment. It’s in the genes.

Time and time again, the Millers made generous gifts that would enhance the quality of life of the citizens of Columbus, Indiana. While their support of great architecture is widely known, their gifts of public art have made an equally profound impact on their hometown.

Henry Moore’s, "Large Arch," Columbus Indiana, 1971.

Mr. and Mrs. Miller were great fans of English sculptor Henry Moore (1889 – 1986) and his work was part of their personal art collection. In 1971, two years after I.M. Pei completed his Cleo Rogers Memorial Library, the Millers watched proudly as the five-and-a-half-ton Large Arch, by Moore, was lifted off a flatbed truck by a crane and set into place on the library’s plaza. It was commissioned and purchased by the Millers to provide a visual anchor to the plaza. Its organic form offers a perfect contrast to the geometric shapes of Pei’s library and Eliel Saarinen’s First Christian Church. Today, it is possibly the most photographed feature in all of Columbus.

Jean Tinguely and his work, "Chaos I" in Columbus, IN.

Chaos I is a 7-ton, kinetic sculpture by Swiss artist Jean Tinguely (1925-1991). The 30-foot high, motorized piece is the largest work by Tinguely in the United States. Since it successfully marries art and engineering, it is a fitting centerpiece for a city known for both its great architectural designs and its world-class manufacturing operations.
The architect of the original Commons Centre, Cesar Pelli, first suggested to J. Irwin Miller that a sculpture by Tinguely would be the perfect at the center of this facility that served as an urban park and a retail center in the heart of downtown. Pelli stated, “We would like a great magnet, a focal point such as the old town clock…a place for people to meet and greet one another.” The work was commissioned by Mr. and Mrs. J. Irwin Miller and Miller’s sister, Mrs. Robert Tangeman. Tinguely, a colorful character, took up residence in Columbus for nearly two years and completed the piece in 1974.

Jean Tinguely, "Chaos I," 1974.

For the past three years, it has occupied a climate-controlled box while the Commons was razed and rebuilt in the heart of downtown Columbus. The residents of Columbus are delighted at the return of this beloved sculpture. The sculpture returned to life when locals celebrated the grand opening of the new Commons on June 4 with a ceremonial flipping of the switch.

Dale Chihuly’s "Yellow Neon Chandelier and Persians"

Mrs. Miller was very involved in the operations of the Visitors Center, an organization that originated as the agency to host visitors and to provide tours of this growing architectural mecca. In 1995, Mr. and Mrs. Miller, Mrs. Robert Tangeman, and other local donors, funded the renovation and expansion of the center.


It was architect Kevin Roche who suggested that a work by glass artist Dale Chihuly would create the perfect focal point for the stairwell windows. The artist proposed a blue chandelier, but Mrs. Miller, who was known to have a great eye for color, was opposed to the idea. Blue light, she said, was not flattering to women. She requested the color yellow instead. The chandelier radiates gold light from its yellow neon center through 900 pieces of hand blown glass in four shades of yellow. The Persians, in sunny yellow and watery blue and green, cascade down the window. Today, visitors of all ages delight in these cheerful glass sculptures that greet them as they begin both city architecture tours and tours of the Miller House and Garden.

Bernar Venet’s "2 Arcs de 212.5°"

Bernar Venet’s "2 Arcs de 212.5°"

Positioned in front of the Commons is French artist Bernar Venet’s 2 Arcs de 212.5°, a red sculpture that is typical of his minimalist work in steel. It seems to balance precariously. This work, like his others, reflects his love of mathematics and his habit of investigating material, form, balance, and spatial perception. Mrs. Miller purchased the piece for her home, but gave it to the Columbus Area Arts Council in honor of the organization’s 25th anniversary in 1998. It was temporarily relocated during the Commons reconstruction but now is installed near the new main entrance of this sparkling downtown jewel.

Filed under: Local, Miller House, Road Trip

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