Alexander Calder’s Whirling ear vandalized in Brussels (2000)

R. J. Preece
artdesigncafé - art | 1 June 2010
This announcement first appeared in Sculpture magazine, 19(10), page 17 in 2000.

Originally commissioned for the Brussels 1958 World’s Fair, Alexander Calder’s Whirling ear (1958) had been locked in the basement of the city’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts for over 30 years. In June 2000, the 6.3-meter-high work finally saw the light of day when it was re-sited in the middle of a fountain in front of the Palais des Congres on the city’s Mont des Arts, a street lined with cultural institutions. But by summer’s end, Ear became yet another victim of the city’s graffiti.

"It’s a sad thing— and it’s shocking," said press spokesperson Sophie van Vliet, about the spray paint. "But unfortunately we’re not surprised that it happened. Graffiti happens everywhere in town—the library was just recently cleaned. We don’t think it was an act of aggression on the artwork [specifically]."

Plans for restoration? "It will be restored by the City of Brussels in the near future." Despite the sculpture’s defacing, the site continues to be a popular meeting place, especially at lunch time.

Originally located on the Brussels World’s Fair grounds, Whirling ear was commissioned by the American government and installed between the US and USSR pavilions— positioned to "put the two sides together". Alexander Calder made this work simultaneously with two others: one for New York’s Kennedy Airport and the other for UNESCO in Paris.

Whirling ear was donated to the Belgian government and became part of the museum’s collection. The piece was held in the basement for a number of years due to space constraints.

After several years of planning with the city council, the museum was able to site Whirling ear at its current location, selected in part for the several vantage points from which the sculpture can be viewed and its proximity to the art museum.