by Cynthia Price
Motu Viget is not the easiest thing to find, but generations of Grand Rapidians have managed, deriving aesthetic and recreational pleasure .
The sculpture sits on the grounds of the Gerald R. Ford Federal Building, just off the northwest corner of Calder Plaza, but it is tucked away and has often been foreshadowed by Calder’s famous La Grande Vitesse,
The creator of Motu Viget, Mark di Suvero, said at the time of its 1977 installation, “All of us are children at heart — or were children and have forgotten it. The child in us can respond to the piece.”
The City of Grand Rapids motto after which the sculpture is named. “Motu viget,” has been translated from the Latin variously as “strength and activity,” “strength in activity,” and “movement thrives.” The sculptor’s desire that the tire swing be actually used is in keeping with any of those meanings; statements at the time indicated that di Suvero liked for all his pieces to be interactive.
And used it has been, to a degree that has weakened it more than once. When the tire swing attachment fell off the sculpture in 2013, it caused minor injuries to two children using it.
It took two and a half years to get it back up.
That was largely due to everyone’s desire to make it safer, including di Suvero, represented by his nephew. Because the sculpture was on the grounds of the courthouse building, it fell to the General Services Administration (GSA) of the U.S Government to spearhead the tire swing’s restoration.
Even at the time of the original installation, there was controversy. Mark di Suvero’s 1974 commission from the GSA resulted from one of his pieces being shown at a local arts festival in 1974. Because GSA feared the piece he originally proposed would not withstand the wind (the original mock-up is part of the Smithsonian’s collection), he revised it significantly. But the GSA still rejected Motu Viget, fearing that such a radical revision would set a precedent. It took an outpouring of sentiment from the community before GSA?relented.
The recent attempt to hang the swing in a safer way entailed a wide range of collaborators at all levels, from elected officials to government agencies, including the National Parks Service, to a number of contractors and subcontractors who did the actual work.
McKay Lodge Fine Art Conservation Laboratory in Ohio contracted with local Busch Industries, which in turn contracted with Tracy Lorenz of Carbon Footprint Builders as a project manager. Lorenz got his former employer Tridonn Construction involved, and on March 29 a Tridonn employee put the swing back up.
Lorenz comments, “Any time you have something that moves out there in the general public there’s the potential for problems. But after Fishbeck Thompson Carr and Huber re-engineered it, we built it, we redid all the wire, all the connections. Basically we rebuilt everything except the tire itself.
“I was out there Saturday and kids were playing on it already. People really like it,” he adds.
Many of the movers and shakers responsible for expediting the restoration agree. In a letter to the GSA, United States Senator Gary Peters said, “The “Motu Viget” tire swing is a valued piece of the fabric of Grand Rapids. I urge you to work expeditiously to restore the swing with necessary safety enhancements so that it may once again be enjoyed by visitors to the Ford Federal Building.”
In a statement, he added, “Grand Rapids has a long tradition of supporting public art, and I’m proud I was able to work with Mayor Bliss and Downtown Grand Rapids Inc. to help restore this treasured and iconic symbol of the strength of the Grand Rapids community.”
Commented Kristopher Larsen, President and CEO of Downtown Grand Rapids Inc., “Recreation and fun are critical components of building an attractive and liveable Downtown neighborhood. Like the Van Andel Arena or the Grand Rapids Public Museum, assets such as the Motu Viget sculpture enable unique experiences and memories for people of the Grand Rapids region. We deeply appreciate Sen. Peter’s leadership and the GSA’s impressive responsiveness to restore this important piece of our urban playground.”
And Mayor Rosalynn Bliss said, “[W]e’re thrilled to see the Motu Viget sculpture back better and safer than ever. High-quality parks and public spaces bring people together. They’re a key factor in enhancing quality of life and supporting residential and job growth in our community.”
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