Cheekwood Prime Matter, 1997-98
Bronze, copper, stainless steel, and mechanical components
Museum purchase through funds provided by Ann & Monroe Carell, Jr.
With its two tall bronze columns and large metal crosspiece, Eric Orr’s Cheekwood Prime Matter functions as a monumental gateway, inviting viewers to walk through its frame. The glimmering water running down the structure’s ribbed sides and a cloud of mist percolating from its top, transforms the metal sculpture into a primordial threshold, drawing attention to the earth below, the atmosphere around, and the water which flows through both. Early in his career, Orr became associated with Light and Space, a group of mostly West Coast artists, including James Turrell, who focused on perceptual experience and viewer participation. He gravitated to the elements of matter and natural phenomena, with air, fire, water, and properties of metal becoming both the material and subject of his work.
Cheekwood Prime Matter is one of several complex, technologically-ambitious works Eric Orr realized that incorporated fire, water, and vapor clouds, all with “Prime Matter” in their titles. Versions appeared in Birmingham, Denver, and even Lund in Sweden, but the first was temporarily installed in front of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 1981 for the exhibition Museum as Site. Orr recreated LA Prime Matter a decade later for the plaza at the corner of Wilshire Boulevard. and Figueroa Street. Consisting of two thirty-two-foot-high bronze towers atop a large black pedestal, the work shoots gas flames up the sides of the work for a few minutes every hour. Cheekwood Prime Matter also has a fire component, but due to its placement in a wooded area, this feature is not currently operational.