At 50, Calder sculpture set for a makeover

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PRESS RELEASE — One of Grand Rapids’ most photographed landmarks is undergoing a makeover. Workers today began prepping the site around the iconic La Grande Vitesse – affectionately known as “the Calder” – with fencing and scaffolding to begin a two-month restoration of the 50-year-old stabile.

The sculpture sits on downtown’s Calder Plaza and is 43 feet tall, 54 feet long and 30 feet wide and weighs 42 tons. At 50, it’s getting its first complete makeover. 

As part of the restoration, crews will remove more than 20 layers of paint down to the bare metal, tighten the stabile’s bolts, secure welding where needed and paint the sculpture with a fresh coat of the artist’s signature “Calder Red” paint. The restoration process – paint removal and primer coat – is expected to take 30 days and the painting another 30 days. The targeted completion date is Sept. 30.

La Grande Vitesse is a rough French translation of “grand rapids.” Grand Rapidians generally refer to the sculpture as “the Calder” in honor of the artist who created it: Alexander Calder, widely considered one of the most important American sculptors of the 20th century.

The City of Grand Rapids is funding the $300,000 project and working with key partners: the Calder Foundation, Dave Cole Decorators, Dixon Engineering and Mack Art Conservation. Calder Plaza will remain open to the public during the project.

“We know there’s a lot of love for the Calder stabile in our community,” said Kyle Johnson, assistant project manager in the City’s Engineering Department. “It’s important we take care of this treasured landmark so we can continue to enjoy it and share it with future generations.”

In 1967, the City commissioned Calder to create a piece as part of its urban renewal initiative. It was the first public art work to be funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. True to Grand Rapids’ public-private collaborative ways, private funds were raised to cover the balance.

The finished piece was dedicated on June 14, 1969, on the public plaza surrounded by the new City Hall and Kent County Administration Building. The space quickly became known as Calder Plaza and the sculpture became a symbol of the city’s artistic spirit.

In the past 50 years, La Grande Vitesse has sparked interest in other art activities around the city and spurred the development of new art, theater and symphony facilities. It’s the centerpiece of Grand Rapids’ annual Festival of the Arts – held every year since 1970. The sculpture’s likeness shows up throughout the city, from official stationery to street signs to City-owned vehicles. 

Grand Rapids is celebrating the sculpture’s golden anniversary by reimagining Calder Plaza. In 2017, the City and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. launched a collaborative community process aimed at making the space around La Grande Vitesse even more inviting and comfortable for people to use every day. 

Phase 1 of the project, which includes the construction of a new café and stage/pavilion, is set to occur in 2020. Future phases may add a splash pad water feature, new landscaping, access ramps, staircases and a pedestrian bridge – all designed to renew Calder Plaza’s prominence as the city’s town square.

Track the project’s progress on the City’s FacebookTwitter and Instagram.

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