V. Les sculptures du Museum of History and Technology

Source : transcription du 5e entretien de Myriam Freilicher avec Frank Taylor, 20 mars 1974, S.I.A., record unit 9512, pp. 125-128.

TAYLOR : In designing the building and then in seeking the appropriation for the building, it’s customary to make provisions for sculpture, in this case, exterior sculpture. We had a very substantial reservation for sculpture, and we wanted the nicest kind of exterior sculpture. At this time, there were two themes in the world, one was the emerging nations, the creation of new nations, and the other was the beginnings of space exploration and getting beyond the earth, and I thought something at each end of the building, on these subjects would be nice to sort of date the building with modern sculpture. […]
FREILICHER : So that was when, just to give us an idea ?
TAYLOR : Oh, that must have been probably about ‘63 or ’62, somewhere in there. I’m just responding to your question about Dr. Carmichael, and this is evidence of his trend of thinking about design. I don’t mean that he was old-fashioned, but he was conservative. And so, when we began to talk about sculpture, and the architect who as the man who had the more modern attitude toward [the Museum of History and Technology building] and then had seen his really modern design sort of watered down to a compromise between the two designs, thought, well, he would come back strong with modern sculpture. And so, he talked to Dr. Carmichael about this, and Dr. Carmichael didn’t want it. And so then, Dr. Carmichael wanted our exhibits designer, and he was always looking at me, “Well, come up with something as nice as the globe which stands outside of the League of Nations building in Geneva.” Well, this, I thought, was too detailed and too finicky in scale in a way for what we wanted, and I didn’t care too much for it. Then he thought, “Well, let’s get some enlargements of some old scientific instruments, something like that would set the tone for the building, introduce people to the contents of the building.” Oh, this is possible, it might have been done. We thought for awhile of doing this in a number of niches around the building, having something… maybe in bas-relief or some shallow three-dimensional objects which would indicate that it was a history of science and history of technology building – just taking some instrument like an astrolabe and enlarging it and making a sculpture out of it.
So, we went through this exercise, and we finally came down to something called a shepherd’s dial. […] So we had made a drawing and Mr. Benjamin [W.] Lawless, who was one of the key designers in this whole project, made a drawing showing the front of the building and this shepherd’s dial, enlarged to something, maybe, twenty feet high, and I thought it looked like the very dickens, but Mr. Carmichael said, “Well, this is safe, you know, it would be a safe thing to have.” So the architect sort of revolted about this and finally…
FREILICHER : Who was the architect ? Have we named him ?
TAYLOR : This is Walter [O.] Cain, Walter Cain kept coming back to Dr. Carmichael with drawings showing the kind of sculpture we have there now, the [Jose de] Rivera sculpture, which is now called
Infinity. But Walter kept coming back with renderings of the south elevation showing one or two of these, and Dr. Carmichael, angered sometimes, kept chasing him out of the office, insisting he did not want that sort of thing.[…] And so, finally, Dr. Carmichael said, well, he would stop all this nonsense by putting it up to the Board of Regents, knowing that they would probably be a little conservative, too. So he put it up to the Board of Regents, and the board decided, “Let us name a couple of men to a committee to come up with an idea for it.” So they named John Nicholas Brown and Mr. William A. M. Burden, both of whom were collectors of art, and Mr. Burden had been with the Museum of Modern Art as its president, I think, of the board of trustees at one time, at least a trustee. And I remember they walked out of the meeting, and Dr. Brown turned back and sort of laughed and said, “Don’t be surprised at what we come back with”. [Laughter] They came back with Walter Cain’s drawings, [laughter] and that was the end of that.
So, that is a little vignette of the way Dr. Carmichael reacted with the architect. They were very friendly, and they both admired each other, and it was not at all, in any way, strained except that Dr. Carmichael was not inclined to pioneer in the area that were the least bit controversial.