its shining arch rising 63 feet above the ground, the Labor Legacy Landmark,
"Transcending," draws attention to itself as one of the newest
additions to the Detroit skyline. The piece, commissioned by the Michigan
Labor Legacy Project and funded solely through donations from union
members without the aid of public or corporate money, is designed to
celebrate the history and contributions of labor. The only such monument
in the United States, the Labor Legacy Landmark is the work of local
sculptors David Barr and Sergio De Giusti.
Barr, a teacher of sculpture and an internationally acclaimed artist,
created the "Four Corners Project," in which he placed four
carved marble tetrahedrons at equidistant sites around the globe, in
effect creating the largest sculpture ever made. The Italian-born De
Giusti is best known for his representative relief works, on display
at public institutions throughout the state and around the world. One
of De Giusti's works,a nine-foot bronze freestanding relief, is prominently
displayed at the main plaza of the Blue Cross Blue Shield Building.
Barr, whose work is primarily abstract and symbolic, sought out the
collaboration with De Giusti in order to add a more intimate dimension
to the project. Both men envisioned something other than the funereal,
European tradition of famous leaders commemorated by solemn statues.
Instead, they set out to create a space - an environment where viewers
can enjoy art as they come to understand and appreciate the struggles
From afar, (the piece can be seen from Canada) the work's great stainless
steel arch is its most visible aspect. The notched, rounded arch resembles
the ubiquitous symbol of labor - the gear and serves as a testament
to labor's spirit of exuberance and defiance.
"Transcending's" circular form also stands in contrast to
the city's grid-like design as a symbol of inclusion. The bottom of
the gear appears to merge into the earth. Barr says, "The world
drives industry and labor, and industry and labor drive the world."
The arch rests on a circular, raised dais, and is partially encircled
by seven granite boulders all split symmetrically in two. According
to De Giusti "Stones have a great presence and have always been
used to commemorate events. They are markers of a people and a generation."
Brought from Vermont, the stones suggest a strong linkage to the past
and their permanence creates a link towards our future.
The boulders' polished surfaces are adorned with De Giusti's bronze
reliefs which depict the sacrifices and achievements of labor. His method
of presenting objects pushing through and receding into the flat surface
of the relief, suggests the embedding of fossils in stone. In direct
sunlight, the bronze shines like a geode from within the split rock.
piece also includes a twisting marble path. A tile at the beginning
of the path is engraved with the words, "Labor's achievements are
America's strength," and subsequent tiles enumerate those achievements
- "Free public education," "Human rights," "Equality
for women." Other tiles feature historical labor-related quotes
such as "Without struggle there is no progress" (attributed
to Frederick Douglas), and Martin Luther King's words, "The arc
of history bends toward justice."
De Giusti's reliefs line the path at it spirals inward. At the spiral's
center are two boulders - one displaying chains and the other displaying
hands - directly below the apex of Barr's arch. A look straight upwards
reveals that the arch is divided by a narrow gap at the top. This separation
symbolizes how far labor has come and how far it still has to go. At
night the arch is made whole by lights projecting from the two disconnected
the piece was still in the proposal stage, then-Mayor Dennis Archer
told the Detroit Free Press, "What the labor movement is doing
is reminding everybody who builds buildings that public art also has
a place in the betterment of a city." In "Transcending"
Barr and De Giusti have created not only an important piece of art but
also a significant historical and educational setting designed to connect
viewers to the past and inspire them to affect their future. - Nick