Richard Rhodes’ untitled “stone wave” sculpture sits at the heart of the museum and is made of 650 stones in a 1,650-square-foot enclosure. The primary stones are 24 inches square and weigh about 250 pounds. The stones are 500-year-old pavers that come from a village slated to be engulfed by the Three Gorges Dam reservoir in China. The sculpture was originally assembled in China and each stone was marked for reassembly in Tacoma. The team of installers had to fit all material and supplies into the central courtyard space through a small door in the glass walls. Workers squeezed between the windows and the waves to fit the stones in place. Each stone had to be placed within 1/8 inch of its calculated position in order for the whole pattern to work.
Rhodes calls the shape a hyperbolic paraboloid, with only one of the four corners at a right angle. It was designed to look like water in a fishbowl that had been jostled and frozen forever in mid-slosh. The stones rest on foam pedestals attached to foam risers that are higher at the corners. The design of the supporting structure creates a void between the stones and gives the illusion that they are floating. The foundation is a plain concrete floor above the museum’s parking lot. The base is covered in a waterproofing membrane and the honeycomb of support beneath the stones facilitates drainage.
The space has a certain serenity as the wave seems to go on for eternity, reflected in the mirrored walls. The sculpture brings a strong water motif into the heart of the building, much like Puget Sound and the region’s rainy season is at Tacoma’s heart.
To learn more about Richard Rhodes, visit Rhodesworks Design Studio.
Playing on the Wave
In recent years, Tacoma Art Museum has begun to experiment with the wave, with full support and encouragement from Rhodes. Dale Chihuly’s Ma Chihuly’s Floats—multi-colored Niijima Floats that are now part of the museum’s permanent collection—drift across the wave during the warm summer months. In 2007, local artist trio SuttonBeresCuller lowered a sailboat into the courtyard to create Ship in a Bottle as part of the 8th Northwest Biennial.