Queen's University Site Art - Articles - Part 4

Photo of the sculpture called Pyramidal Structure - Sakkarah
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Without the graffiti, this actually looks pretty good.
Photo by Andrew Norman

Understanding outdoor sculpture on campus:

Part 1:  the big white frame
Part 2:  the donut on the pole
Part 3:  the squiggle on the wall
Part 4:  the big orange triangle
Part 5:  big weird rocks
Part 6:  the biosci box

Understanding outdoor sculpture on campus
Part 4 of a 6 part series: the big orange triangle

By Catherine Hale, Contributor
Queen's University - The Journal
Tuesday September 30, 2003 - Issue 11, Volume 131

When confronted by “the big orange triangle” on your trips across campus, it is important to note that its current location, on the plaza west of Jeffery Hall, is not the location for which it was intended. The sculpture was actually designed for the sunken courtyard on the east side of Jeffery Hall, but was removed in 1998 when the area needed repairs.

Why is the location important? What we refer to as “the big orange triangle” is a sculpture that embodies the intersection of two forms; the pyramid and the sphere. The use of the pyramidal shape was a particular choice made by the artist because it does not suffer distortion when viewed from above. This way, the viewer could enjoy the sculpture from ground level or from the benches looking down on it.

One interpretation of “the big orange triangle” is that it is a purely formalist sculpture. Formalism is a theory of art that emphasizes the form or structural qualities of a work over its content or context. According to this theory, the most important aspect of a piece is the way that it organizes the elements of art using the principles of design. When this sculpture was commissioned in 1971, formalism was considered one of the most powerful critical approaches. When analyzed with respect to formalism, “the big orange triangle” can be appreciated for the way that the pyramid and sphere forms respond to each other, creating a visual rhythm.

Not satisfied? For those of you who crave content and context in your understanding of art, don’t worry, there is another interpretation.

The actual title of “the big orange triangle” is Pyramidal Structure - Sakkarah, and it was designed by Victory Tolgesy, a Hungarian-born Canadian artist who passed away in 1980. An alternative interpretation of this work requires that we pay specific attention to the second half of the title. The first part, “Pyramidal Structure” can easily imply a formalist interpretation, but what is “Sakkarah?”

As it turns out, Sakkarah is the name of the site in Egypt on which the first monumental tomb, or pyramid, was built. It has been suggested that Pyramidal Structure - Sakkarah is representative of peace. The most obvious reason for this symbolism is the fact that Sakkarah was to serve as the royal cemetery for the Old Kingdom. Further reasoning for this connection is the idea that in order to build the pyramids, Egypt had to be at peace with its closest neighbours. Because the building of the pyramids required massive manpower, workers from across the land united to accomplish this great task. Through the creation of the pyramids, the provinces joined together to form the world’s first nation-state.

Then why the inclusion of the sphere? It might be intended to reinforce notions of unity, completeness and integrity that are central to the building of the pyramids and the achievement of peace.

Regardless of which interpretation you prefer, there is a direct link to the folks at the department of mathematics and statistics who were responsible for commissioning Pyramidal Structure - Sakkarah. As a purely formalist sculpture, the work explores geometric shapes. As a symbol of peace, the sculpture recalls the building of the pyramids, which relied on a sophisticated understanding of mathematical concepts.

Is the recipe for peace rooted in mathematical equations, or should we simply enjoy the aesthetic qualities of geometric forms? I’ll let you be the judge.


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