by Jonathan P. Binstock, Ph.D.
Mary W. and Donald R. Clark Director

March 16th, only days after MAG closed to the public because of COVID-19 and only days before all non-essential staff would be required to work from home, our curatorial and facilities teams installed Cloud Prototype No. 2 by the Chicago-based artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle. The plan to mount the work was set forth back in summer 2018, when philanthropists and art patrons Pamela and Bob Goergen—Bob is also former Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the University of Rochester—pledged the sculpture as a generous gift to MAG.

Two photographs. On the left, a man stands next to and under Cloud Prototype No. 2, a shining silver organic sculpture suspended in a white gallery space. On the right is a selfie taken by Jonathan Binstock with harry Gordon in the Vanden Brul Pavilion, with the sculpture suspended in the background.
Left: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle, Cloud Prototype No. 2, 2006, fiberglass and titanium-alloy foil, 57-1/2 x 96-5/8 x 60-1/2 inches. Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester, Gift of Robert B. and Pamela M. Goergen; right: Jonathan Binstock with art installer Harry Gordon

Specialized—and very difficult to schedule because they are in such demand—art handlers were secured to truck the work from Connecticut, install after arrival in Rochester, and then return east, to New Jersey. The moment of installation was a highly coordinated affair, and it had been on the books for months. You can imagine how grateful and relieved the team was when we successfully suspended Cloud Prototype No. 2 from the still-gleaming-like-new skylight latticework of our Vanden Brul Pavilion.

The striking titanium leaf-clad Cloud Prototype No. 2 derives from a digital rendering of an actual cumulonimbus formation, a type of storm cloud. On the one hand it brims with ominous portent; on the other, it is spellbindingly beautiful. It is as much a symbol of everything we cannot control—from the forces of nature to, in its evocation of neural gray matter, the workings of our own minds—as it is of those powers we can control, like thermonuclear explosions and their resulting mushroom clouds.

And there are many other references to draw. In 2003, when the MacArthur Fellowship winning-artist premiered his “Cloud Prototype” series, New York Times art critic Ken Johnson called the example on view at Max Protetch Gallery “possibly the most beautiful object to be found in a contemporary art gallery in New York right now.” In 2003 the architectural style of the celebrated Frank Gehry was in full bloom. Many immediately made the connection between Manglano-Ovalle’s clouds and the architect’s wavy titanium-paneled buildings, which were being unveiled that year in multiple locations, at Case Western Reserve, Bard College, and in Los Angeles with the new Walt Disney Concert Hall. (The iconic example of this Gehry style is, of course, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, which opened in 1997.) Manglano-Ovalle’s clouds are a corollary to Gehry’s architecture, in that they not only deliver on the promise of technology, but also critique that promise, couching humankind’s continuing advances in the context of a world that is nonetheless always out of our control.

Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle holds a long metal sculpture, looking pensively away from the camera.
Chicago-based artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle

As we look for a silver lining in this unsettling time, know that a deeper understanding is always on offer through the contemplation of art, in all of its beauty and grotesquerie, its intelligence and, dare I say, ineptitude. Art embraces the struggle, sometimes successful, sometimes not so much, to make sense of ourselves and the world around us. The point is that we try. Artists as visionaries, innovators, and makers; and, for those of us who do not make, we are nonetheless essential to realizing the potential of art, in our efforts to look, listen, and otherwise absorb the expressions of others.

Even in these uncertain times, MAG remains dedicated to stewarding the most important expressions of humankind’s greatest aspirations of permanence and relevance. Look for us on social media during this period of self-isolation and quarantine. Stay engaged. We are still working hard to be the center of the conversation on art and creativity in Rochester. By continuing to share our experiences of art, art will continue to connect us. And as soon as it is safe to do so, we will warmly welcome you back to MAG and to our Vanden Brul Pavilion, where we can experience the real things, the art and each other, together.