Spaceport America is the first of its kind — a place where the New Space Age is being launched, where average people will fly into space, where commercial developers are beginning a space-based industry. It is, therefore, a likely place for a new artwork.
Earlier this year, a sculpture, entitled Genesis, was installed in the roundabout on the driveway to the Spaceport. The steel and glass sculpture sits just east of the juncture of the ancient El Camino Real de Tierra Adentro and the road over which rockets and astronauts travel.
The sculpture was created by Tucson artist Otto Rigan, the result of a competition among 222 artists. The New Mexico Cultural Affairs Department called for proposals in 2012 and awarded the project, funded by the Art in Public Places Program, to Rigan on December 14, 2012.
“Spaceport America is just the next part of the history of transportation here,” Rigan says. A panel in the Spaceport’s Gateway Gallery informs visitors, the name, “Genesis was chosen as it speaks of new beginnings. This Spaceport is the first edifice marking where the New Space Age begins. Where all people will be able to enjoy space travel as we do air travel — Spaceport America offers an invitation to space to everyone.”
Genesis is a steel arc that — like two arm — stretches toward the heavens. The arc is 40 feet long and 23 feet high and was constructed of cold-rolled steel. “Because working with a steel fabrication that weighs two and a half tons is really hard work,” Rigan says, “I appreciated the assistance of Chris Duran, an artist friend who lives in Phoenix.”
The sculpture was then coated with a finish of water and chloride that will patina over time. “Eventually it will become a rich brown with orange and black overtones,” Rigan adds, “matching the color scheme of the Gateway to Space terminal.”
What makes Genesis unique is its collection of cast-glass pieces embedded in the top surface. Rigan used a strip of the night sky chart as the pattern for the glass inlays. “I simplified it and turned it into a model I could use on the inside of the sculpture,” he says. “If you just use a random pattern rather than actual star locations it would look strange … unreal.”
The glass pieces were cast at Blenko Glass in Milton, West Virginia, where hot glass was ladled into iron molds. “That created an organic, handmade look with purposeful imperfections built in,” Rigan says. The blanks were water-jet cut into three sizes, hand-silvered, polished, and wrapped in a protective aluminum coating to insulate the mirror from exposure to moisture.
“The mirrored glass is passively lit by the changing light of the environment,” he says. “Now, regardless of the time of day, you can see the sky reflected in the glass … including starlight and moon glow.”
Otto Rigan, who makes his home in Tucson, Arizona, spent his formative years in Roswell. He went on to study art at California State University in Turlock and California College of Arts and Crafts before heading to Florence, Italy. There he continued his studies at Academia di Belle Arti. Later, he worked at Her Magesty’s Theater in London. He is the author of four books on contemporary glass and alternative architecture. His list of commissions points to an artist who has made important contributions to the world of architectural art.