Richard Jolley Sculpture Gives New Life to Knoxville Museum of Art
The saying “all good things are worth waiting for” has proved true for Knoxville.
Richard Jolley’s massive sculpture “Cycle of Life: Within the Power of Dreams and the Wonder of Infinity” was unveiled in May.
The Knoxville Museum of Art had been closed for almost a year for a $6 million museum and campus renovation. During that time, Knoxvillians were abuzz with talk of the million-dollar sculpture that was being installed in the museum’s Great Hall. The internationally-respected artist and his studio assistants labored for five years on the masterwork.
With a flourish of activities, the steel and dark glass sculpture made its debut.
Weighing more than seven tons, the sculpture sweeps across the white wall, then flows outward across the high ceiling. A constellation of colorful glass orbs and strands of pale blue spheres float in the open space.
Viewers direct their eyes to the 20-foot-tall figures of a man and a woman and the extraordinary flock of blown-glass birds flying in tight formation from poplar trees. A large head of a man called “Contemplation” encourages the viewer to likewise look back on the experiences of life.
On the day of my visit, visitors were commenting on the sculpture’s exuberance. “Cycle of Life” is destined to become the KMA’s signature piece and enhance Jolley’s already impressive list of achievements. He has many exhibitions to his credit, including those at the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Carnegie Museum of Art, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston.
Jolley has close connections to Tennessee as he spent childhood years in Oak Ridge and began art training at Tusculum College in Greeneville. He earned a BFA degree at George Peabody College in Nashville, which is now part of Vanderbilt University. His studio in Knoxville opened in 1975 and quickly became known for innovation and creativity.
In 2002, KMA opened the first major retrospective of Jolley’s work; this exhibition traveled to 14 museums in five years. He became the youngest visual artist to receive the Tennessee Governor’s Distinguished Artist Award in 2007.
The museum seems to have undergone rebirth. The 53,200-square-foot building was cleaned inside and out. A sculpture garden was created, while the third-floor terrace disappeared. The pink marble and glass structure designed by internationally-known architect Edward Larrabee Barnes once again radiates its beauty across World’s Fair Park in downtown Knoxville.
Visitors also will want to see the exhibition “Higher Ground: A Century of Visual Arts in East Tennessee.” Art works are from the KMA permanent collection and on loan from private and public collections. The exhibitions “Facets of Modern and Contemporary Glass” will be on view through July 27. Eighteen modern and contemporary glass artists contributed works to this exhibition.
The “Cycle of Life” sculpture will reign over the museum’s lively Alive After Five gatherings held in the Great Hall. Six of these live music events are scheduled on Friday nights in June and July.