This exhibition presents the room-sized wall relief Constellations II by Alsatian artist and poet Hans Arp (1886–1966); it is the work’s first public viewing in 15 years. Commissioned for the Harvard Graduate Center by Harvard architecture professor and Bauhaus founding director Walter Gropius, the relief’s 13 panels were first installed in 1950 on facing walls of a popular dining room in Harkness Commons (now the Caspersen Center). Arp described its biomorphic shapes as primal forms inspired by nature, a connection made clear in the title of the work, which evokes a grouping of stars in the night sky. Constellations II inaugurated a new chapter in Arp’s postwar practice. It was his first large-scale, site-specific artwork and led to others, including a metal relief for the UNESCO headquarters in Paris.
By 1958, heavy use of the Harkness dining room had caused damage to the relief, prompting a new placement of the work above table height. Subsequent painting campaigns transformed the panels’ stained redwood finish to gray-blue, then to white, and back to natural. With the cooperation of Harvard Law School, which transferred the relief to the Harvard Art Museums in 2017, the Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies undertook a yearlong conservation initiative to restore the work to its original finish.
The presentation of Constellations II coincides with The Bauhaus and Harvard, the museums’ Spring 2019 special exhibition mounted in conjunction with the 100th anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus. The exhibition features nearly 200 objects from the Busch-Reisinger Museum’s historic Bauhaus collection.