Carlos Rolón has transformed the lobby of the Chase Tower into an enormous art installation.

Photo by Adam Ryan Morris

The rain clouds that had been hanging over the city for months parted on June 7 for Sculpture Milwaukee’s opening day celebration, allowing sunlight to slant across 22 artworks installed along Wisconsin Avenue, and a 23rd positioned in front of the city’s newly opened arts hotel, Saint Kate.

The weeks leading up to the event, though, were some of the wettest Wisconsin has seen in years. And Sculpture Milwaukee co-curator Marilu Knode had to battle the elements to see the artworks installed in time. “We couldn’t bring in the cranes when it was raining,” she says. “And the wind was terrible.”

The most difficult work to install was, unsurprisingly, the largest. To create Gild the Lily (Caribbean Hybrid I, II, III), the Chicago-based artist Carlos Rolón and a team of helpers covered three sides of the Chase Tower’s lobby with vinyl decals depicting colorful flora. One of them stayed up until 2 a.m. on at least one occasion, waiting for the wind to die down enough for him to safely climb into a cherry picker. But the weather finally behaved, and Rolón is happy with the resulting work, which currently towers over the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue and Water Street.

Rolón has known Knode for about 20 years. The two of them worked together closely for the better part of a year to realize the work, which he created specifically for Sculpture Milwaukee.

Carlos Rolón hand-painted all of the flora in his installation, then had the images transferred to vinyl.

At first Rolón wanted to create an enormous stand-alone sculpture for the exhibition. Then he thought about wrapping the skywalk that connects Chase Tower to the Marriott across the Milwaukee River, but he realized that he’d have to find a way to install the work from a barge in the middle of the river, which seemed daunting, to say the least. So he and Knode kept looking and thinking.

“We walked across the street, and I think we had a lightbulb moment,” Rolón remembers. “I said, ‘What if we covered the building?’ That’s when we got really excited.”

Sculpture Milwaukee, now in its third year, remains on view through Oct. 27.


Did you know?

TWO OF THE first sculptors to become famous for creating site-specific installations were Christo Javache and Jeanne-Claude de Guillebon (both born in 1935). The married couple raised millions of dollars to temporarily “wrap” famous landmarks, like the Reichstag, with fabric. For their most protracted project, The Gates, Central Park, New York, 1979–2005, they spent decades trying to convince a succession of New York City mayors to let them install 7,503 fabric gates throughout Central Park. Michael Bloomberg finally gave them the chance.


“Outside the Box” appears in the August 2019 issue of Milwaukee Magazine.

Find it on newsstands beginning August 1, or buy a copy at milwaukeemag.com/shop.

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