He is quite possibly the most impressive example of body building on Miami’s famed South Beach. An imposing six-foot-six and a crushing 475 pounds, the Wrestler stands silently, impassively—and imposingly—in the lobby of The Wolfsonian–Florida International University, Miami Beach’s wonderfully quirky and quietly astonishing museum (“the Wolf,” for short).
Head-to-toe aluminum, sculpted by an American in 1929, the Wrestler looms as a symbol of modernism and America’s burgeoning industrial strength. He is the metal with intellectual mettle.
I first encountered the big guy 10 years ago and was instantly intimidated. But I was also intrigued. Here was Greek Olympian and geeky robot all welded into one. When I encountered him again, about a year ago, I saw my chance to share his mysterious and shiny aura with our customers. Both Cathy Leff, the museum’s visionary director, and Micky Wolfson, who literally is The Wolfsonian (it’s his collection), were enthusiastic about Levenger’s creating the Wrestler in miniature, as a mighty bookend.
But….just what is this creature, and why does he exert such a power? In excerpts of the interview that Mim Harrison, editor of Levenger Press, conducted with them, Cathy and Micky tell you the story of the Wrestler and the Wolf:
Levenger: What does the Wrestler symbolize for you?
Micky: It’s an example of American futurism due to a combination of artistry, engineering and a new material—aluminum.
Levenger: What drew you to the sculpture in terms of acquisition?
Micky: My colleague, Lea Nickless, fell into the Wrestler’s arms at the Modernism show held in New York’s Seventh Regiment Armory and was attracted by its power. This was in November 1990. By the following February, The Wolfsonian was the new owner of the Wrestler.
Levenger: Why is he a good fit for The Wolfsonian?
Cathy: He embodies many of the themes addressed by our collection. He was exhibited at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics, and worlds’ fairs and expositions are well represented in The Wolfsonian collection. They were national and international encounters that brought together peoples and nations, and through these events, you got a pretty good sense of who had the political and economic power, where innovation was coming from, what new ideas might transform our world.
Levenger: Why does he resonate so strongly?
Cathy: The Wrestler is an expression of the promise of the machine age, a new material—aluminum—and the rising interest in sports and physical culture. So this lightweight heavyweight is emblematic of the time in which he was created and exhibited. Now he has amassed a new following as an icon at our museum—very fitting in the context of The Wolfsonian’s own interests and South Beach’s fascination with body culture.
Levenger: Is he man…or machine?
Levenger: Lots of objects in The Wolfsonian are from times past—the candlestick phone, the propaganda posters. And yet the museum has a very modern vibe. How do the two work together?
Cathy: While our collection mostly dates from the late nineteenth to mid-twentieth century, we try to look at objects through the lens of contemporary culture. We are interested in promoting the study and appreciation of the persuasive power of art and design. So, while the objects and images in our collection derive from a certain period of time, the issues and concerns they address hopefully resonate with audiences today.
We live in a time when the ability to disseminate objects and images makes it important for us to understand that design both shapes and reflects all aspects of everyday life.
Levenger: The Wolfsonian’s sobriquet is “museum of thinkism.” How do you want people to think about art when they view the collection?
Cathy: We merely want people to come prepared to think—about the objects that surround them, where they were made and how they were used, the powers or agendas that motivated their design, and how they played a role in changing society’s values and behavior.
Levenger: How have some visitors felt when they’ve met the Wrestler?
Micky: Pinned down.
Levenger: If the Wrestler asked you out on a date, Cathy, would you go?
Cathy: Why not! If he were capable of asking, I would definitely be capable of going. We already have intimate relationships with our machines—so this would not be so novel. And he is quite the hulk, no?
And now to you, dear reader: what object or design has influenced the way that you think about the world? I’d love to hear. Just click on the Comments link below with your submission. (If you’re reading this as an email, click here and you'll connect to Comments).