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La Grande Vitesse

La Grande Vitesse, often known as “the Calder,” has been a symbol of Grand Rapids since its installation in 1969, and an abstraction of it is incorporated in the city’s official emblem. It is a public sculpture by American artist Alexander Calder placed in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on the enormous concrete plaza encircling City Hall and the Kent County Building. The sculpture was the first public art project financed by the National Endowment for the Arts'(NEA) Art in Public Places program. The steel sculpture is 43 feet tall, 54 feet long, 30 feet broad, and weighs 42 tons. It was made in Tours, France, then installed on the plaza. Calder’s distinctive vivid red is used to paint it. The term translates to “great swiftness” in English, or “grand rapids” in French.  Calder constructed an 8-foot maquette in 1968 after obtaining architectural drawings and specified materials for the site’s development and began construction at the Biémont foundry in Tours, France later that year. The work was delivered in 27 sections, packaged in wooden crates, and put together on-site over five days. The NEA, local charitable foundations, regional companies, and individual residents all contributed to the $128,000 cost of commissioning, constructing, transporting, and installing the sculpture. Sarah “Sally” Seidman, the wife of former FDIC Chairman L. William Seidman, was characterized as “important” in bringing the artwork to Grand Rapids. A 1/23-scale replica of La Grande Vitesse, constructed with Calder’s agreement by the Keeler Brass Co. in 1976, is shown and installed at the base of the stabile itself. It was made by the firm run by Mike Keeler’s grandparents and great uncles in the late 1800s so that blind visitors to the place might “see” the sculpture in its entirety. It was donated by Mike and Mary Ann Keeler, initial contributors in the acquisition of the massive artwork. Calder’s concept for La Grande Vitesse was similar to that of other colossal sculptures he was commissioned to build at the time. In contrast to his mobiles, he named these pieces “stabiles.” Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, a Chicago architectural company, created the Civic Center where the sculpture is located.  The building and sculpture efforts were part of an effort to revitalize the downtown area. The location is officially known as Vandenberg Plaza in honor of Senator Arthur Vandenberg, although it is more often known as Calder Plaza. The sculpture is a popular meeting spot for locals and visitors alike, and it is the focal point of the city’s annual Festival of the Arts, which began a year after it was installed.

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