Summer Night Tree by Louise Nevelson
Jackson, MI 49201
Louise Nevelson created many outdoor sculptures late in her life and is considered to be one of the most important figures in 20th-Century American Sculpture. Summer Night Tree is a 30-foot tall Cor-Ten steel compilation of geometric forms. Nevelson created the artwork specifically for this site and considered the combination of square and art to be "a marriage that's going to work". This abstract public sculpture was not met with unanimous popular approval when installed in 1978. Even to this day, with the demolition of the defunct Riverwalk Plaza Hotel, there has been much discussion about moving the sculpture, but still it stands in Downtown Jackson.
Summer Night Tree, by Louise Nevelson, painted Cor-Ten steel, 1978
Abstract and non-representational art may have been commonly installed in public places across the United States by 1978. Still Nevelson's Summer Night Tree was met with opposition when it arrived in Michigan. Letters to the Jackson Citizen-Patriot derided the appearance of the tall, dark artwork so prominently placed in an important urban plaza. Writers objected to the size, shape, and color of the sculpture, as well as to its abstract style. Some citizens complained about the $152,000 price tag, although $50,000 was provided by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The remaining money was raised in Jackson through private contributions, and those who helped finance the sculpture certainly celebrated the dedication of this fine abstract sculpture by the renowned artist.
Summer Night Tree is not the first monumental public work by Nevelson, an accomplished artist since the 1950s. However, it is her first public sculpture in the Mid-West and the first of two installed in Michigan. The second, Triology, was installed in Southfield, Michigan the same year. Once commissioned to make a sculpture for Jackson, Nevelson visited the site to develop her concept. She then returned to her New York City studio for a year-long effort to realize her design. The piece was designed specifically for the site at One Jackson Square and Nevelson was very pleased with the installation.
However in 1988 Nevelson had died, the Inn on Jackson Square closed and Summer Night Tree began to fade away on a largely unused plaza. In January 1993, Jackson Community College suggested that the sculpture be refurbished and moved to campus. The public debate finally it was agreed that the sculpture should stay in its intended location and a local painting company, Tingley Bros. Painting, Inc. painted Summer Night Tree for free. However, it is only a matter of years that it will need to be painted again.