Sculptor’s sweeping vision highlights Beijing Olympic setting

BRUSSELS, Belgium — After two days spent covering the Brussels Antiques & Fine Arts Fair, held Jan. 23 to Feb. 1, a group of American writers welcomed the chance to take a break from the cobblestone canyons of the city. Our destination was the rural suburbs of Brussels and the home/studio of sculptor Olivier Strebelle.

For a writer from the Midwest, who left behind sub-zero temperatures and knee-deep snow, the Strebelle residence offered a welcome dose of greenery. Dense foliage framed the sculptor’s home and outdoor installations, and visitors were treated to hazy sunshine and temps in the 40s.

Strebelle, 82, is a national treasure. He has been a prolific artist for more than 60 years, and his works are found in private collections and public settings around the world. His style has evolved from robust, organic abstract forms to the sinuous lines seen in his masterwork, Athletes’ Alley, on the site of the Beijing Olympic Games.

At more than 340 feet long and 65 feet high, the sculpture is made up of five modules of interlaced stainless steel tubes. Seen from the side, it appears to be a collection of graceful yet fragmented shapes. But viewed from a designated point, the composition reveals five figures carrying the Olympic rings.

The project to build Athletes’ Alley was initiated when Juan Antonio Samaranch was still the president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), but it wasn’t until June of 2006 that Strebelle was declared the winner from among 1,790 entrants in an art competition to find a sculpture that best captured the spirit of the Beijing Olympics.

The winning design was the eighth one submitted by Strebelle to the organizers of the contest. He told the visiting writers that this may have played in his favor, given the fact that the number eight is considered particularly lucky in China.

“I create perspectives,” Strebelle told us. “The work itself is a spatial puzzle and it’s a sculpture that withholds a secret, which is the fact that it looks abstract from every angle except for one, which reveals its figurative nature.”

Strebelle’s other public sculptures in North America include “Anthropomotion,” for the Montréal World Fair (1966); “L’Endormie” and “L’Epanouie” (1976) and “The Lions” (1986), commissioned by architect John Portman of Atlanta.

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