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Discovered Recording Will Help Build Picasso Sculpture - Virtually

A recording from 1972 has been uncovered in the University of South Florida Libraries Special Collections.

With the help of this recording, the USF Center for Visualization and Applied Spatial Technologies (CVAST) is building a virtual gallery that will bring Pablo Picasso’s vision of a 102-foot tall sculpture to life.

The 44-year-old ¼ inch reel-to-reel audio tape captured famed sculptor Carl Nesjar discussing his collaboration with Pablo Picasso, which would have resulted in the world’s tallest sculpture being built on USF’s Tampa campus. The recording also features Nesjar sharing anecdotes about Picasso’s life, as well as highlights from a 1971 press conference with Nesjar.

The Norwegian sculptor was Picasso's chosen fabricator, taking his drawings and scale models and giving them physical form as immense public sculptures. He aided in the construction of the artist’s “Bust of Sylvette” at the New York University campus and "Head of a Woman" at Princeton University.

In 1971, Picasso donated a small-scale model of “Bust of a Woman” to the Tampa campus. USF would have been the third university to host a massive Picasso statue, with “Bust of a Woman” being the largest of the three.

On April 9, 1973, the day after Picasso’s death, construction of the sculpture was approved by the State Board of Regents. However, the board did not provide the funding for the $10 million project, and a lack of public donations halted it. Nesjar died on May 23, 2015, at the age of 94.

Now, 45 years later, CVAST archaeologist and art historian Kamila Oles and landscape archaeologist Lukasz Banaszek hope to realize Picasso’s dream of the world’s largest concrete sculpture through a virtual reality gallery.

According to Oles, finding the recording was an exciting beginning to the project.

“It was an amazing adventure for me,” Oles said. “It was like a time machine because it was awesome to hear amazing stories about Picasso, about how the project was planned to be and planned to look like. Thanks to those recordings, we could recreate an entire story.”

In addition to the recording of Nesjar, Oles found photographs and sketches that conveyed Picasso’s vision of the sculpture, surrounded by an art center designed by world famous architect Paul Rudolph.

Credit Kamila Oles / USF CVAST
“Bust of a Woman” delivered by scanning in point clouds.

By combining that material with 3D scans of “Bust of a Woman,” Oles and her colleagues are creating an online display where art enthusiasts can see what could have been.

“We have created a virtual model that allows users to view and interact with the ‘Bust of a Woman’ in a digital space,” Oles said. “So, actually, the digital representation of the model is dedicated to all people who are interested in arts, culture, architecture.”

The sculpture, which was expected to have a height of 102 feet and a base width of 50 feet, was the last important project approved by Picasso before he died. Now, through the virtual gallery, Oles notes art fans and researchers worldwide will have the ability to study “Bust of Woman” and Rudolph’s art and visitor center.

“Since good quality acquired data will be made pretty accessible to audiences around the globe,” Oles said, “virtual reality will be a platform where people will be able to take a virtual walk through campus and through the art and visitor center. They will be able to admire Picasso’s sculpture and the entire complex.”

Oles believes that if this project had become reality in 1971, it would have been a staple in art history attracting guests from all over the world.

“That would have been really awesome,” Oles said. “Especially here in Tampa, we would have had a very unique situation of a collaboration between two artists - Pablo Picasso and Paul Rudolph. That would have been very unique in art history.”

However, Oles believes creating the project digitally will make it more available to anyone, without needing to travel to Tampa.

“This is why we created this virtual reality - to access our data and to make this virtual reality to audiences around the world so people don’t have to come here,” Oles said.

In addition to the virtual gallery, Oles and her colleagues plan to publish a book detailing how the project came to fruition, how certain technologies were used and how USF was chosen as the site for the “Bust of a Woman” sculpture. The open-access eBook is expected to be published sometime this year. 

Credit Kamila Oles / USF CVAST
What might have been - an augmented version of the Picasso sculpture, along with the Art & Visitor Center, is seen on the contemporary USF campus.

Andrea Martin is a WUSF/USF Zimmerman School digital news reporter for spring 2018.
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