A Rockport developer has saved a Harvard Square sculpture from demolition, and the artwork will have a new home on the town’s waterfront in Pigeon Cove sometime next year.
Dimitri Hadzi (1921-2006), a Harvard art professor and sculptor, created the 20-foot-tall “Omphalos,” made from red and gray granite. Its new base will be made from Rockport granite, said Michael Rauseo, the new owner and redeveloper of the Cape Ann Tool Company site — and the new owner of the sculpture, which had been the property of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority.
The sculpture was given to the MBTA by a Rhode Island woman in the early 1980s, when the Red Line was being extended from Harvard to Alewife, and it was erected on the bricked pedestrian island in the center of the bustling Cambridge square. The title of the artwork translates to “navel,” meaning center point.
Rauseo said Thursday he had contacted the MBTA after he read about the plight of the artwork in a Boston newspaper. The article indicated that the crumbling sculpture would be demolished because the MBTA could not pay to fix it — and if the transit authority could not give the artwork away.
“With our very limited financial resources, the MBTA could not commit the funds necessary to restore the sculpture,” said Joe Pesaturo, a MBTA spokesman.
A public art foundation in Newport News, Va., had offered to save the artwork, but the sculptor’s widow hoped that it would find a new location in the commonwealth, closer to home.
“I told the MBTA that we had a new home, and they were fantastic about it,” said Rauseo. “They had inquiries from other places, but I think we were the only spot in Massachusetts interested in taking it.”
Rauseo said the sculpture is in fairly good condition, except for a piece that had fallen off about a year ago. A fence was installed around it after that; and most recently, jersey barriers went up as the sculpture was prepared for its removal from Cambridge.
That missing piece will be replaced by a group that worked with Hadzi on his other works, said Rauseo. There also are clips that hold the piece together, and those too will be repaired.
“Rockport is a perfect fit. It has a rich and vibrant artist community, and I think it would very much welcome this vibrant sculpture,” he said. “We have a harbor walk component of the Pigeon Cove development, and we’re going to place it along that harbor walk.
“It will be visible from Granite Street (Route 127),” he said. “It will be a very nice addition. Maybe more public art will surface in Rockport — that wouldn’t be so bad.”
Hadzi, the sculptor, earned a reputation for his “monumental, abstract or semi-abstract sculpture.”
“His work, tall and imposing, gives hints of figuration, incorporating long, columnar forms that can suggest the limbs of people or animals. It was praised by critics for its impeccable craftsmanship, energy and carefully calibrated interplay of solid form with open space,” Margalit Fox of the New York Times wrote after his death in 2006.
The sculptor was born in Greenwich Village on March 21, 1921, to parents who had emigrated from Greece. He grew up in Brooklyn, but his father, a furrier, lost his business after the stock market crash of 1929, and the family was plunged into poverty, according to the Harvard University Gazette.
“As a boy Hadzi displayed a talent for art, but studied chemistry at Brooklyn Technical High School and worked in a research lab after graduation,” the Gazette reported. “His interest in art continued, however, and after serving in the Air Force during World War II, he and a friend hitchhiked from California to New York, visiting art museums along the way. On a lark, Hadzi took the entrance exam to Cooper Union and was admitted. After graduating with honors in 1950, he studied in Athens and Rome, making his home in Italy for the next 25 years.”
In 1975, Hadzi first came to Harvard as a visiting lecturer. He eventually settled in Cambridge, where he became a professor emeritus and professor of visual and environmental studies at Harvard. He retired in 1989, after which he worked in his studio until his death.
He created some epic pieces. Among his many public works is one titled “K. 458 The Hunt,” and it remains on display in the lobby of Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in New York City. The title is a reference to Mozart’s “String Quartet in B flat, K. 458.”
He was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and a member of the National Academy of Design. His work is in the collections of many major museums, including the Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum, the Guggenheim Museum, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Gail McCarthy can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3445, or at email@example.com.