The iconic Columbus sculpture, Chaos I, is rising from a stoic silence of disrepair.

Its return to active use, at least monthly during the new Chaotic Tuesday campaign, last week left children squealing, shouting and circling round its whimsical pulleys and levers and parts until some little ones grew dizzy with laughter.

These informal gatherings at The Commons are generating new admirers for world-renowned Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely’s 30-foot, three-ton piece, installed 41 years ago.

“Yeaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh!” said several youngsters, though their exuberance was drowned out by the loud, Dr. Seuss-like banging and clanging of Chaos’ steel balls that rolled up, up, and — CRASH! — all the way down through guiding metal rails near the bottom of the work.

Story continues below gallery

“Every time that I’ve been here when it has been turned on, kids always scream and yell,” said Richard McCoy, the Columbus Design Landmarks consultant who helped protect the piece beginning in 2009 while the current Commons was being built around it. “It’s magic. It’s absolutely magic.”

McCoy has worked with The Commons’ Shanda Sasse and Columbus booster and architectural advocate Ricky Berkey to create the free Chaotic Tuesdays from 5 to 6:30 p.m. the fourth Tuesday of each month through August.

It was their idea to turn on and revive the electric-but-frequently-frozen sculpture monthly for people to enjoy it as they did years ago — and as Tinguely intended.

McCoy distributed fact sheets to about 100 people at the most recent gathering, the second in the series, and Berkey and Sasse circulated among passersby and others offering information and stories about the iconic work birthed in 1974 from Kroot Corp. scrap metal.

Trafalgar’s Jeanette Albertson saw the piece for the first time in decades with her 7- and 2-year-old grandchildren.

“I like the balls that roll around and around,” Albertson said. “And I’m so glad we’re here. Kids don’t get to see this kind of mechanical stuff much anymore.”

Ivie Branham never had seen anything like it before.

“I love it when the balls drop back down,” Branham said.

Stepmom Sheana Butz grinned as she saw Branham’s animation.

“It’s very loud,” Butz said. “They love that.”

Seymour’s Joe Turner and family were across the street at the kidscommons children’s museum when they decided to stop by The Commons. They never had seen the piece before. But Turner, a former machinist, grew immediately fascinated that his wheels began turning as he theorized how the artist linked every belt and bamboozle.

“It reminds me of steampunk stuff,” Turner said, referring to the fashion movement linked to 19th century industrial steam-powered machinery. “I can understand when I look at it what’s going on, how it’s moving, how it’s clicking, what’s making things go back and forth, and what’s making the auger at the top turn.”

But, lo and behold, not even a detailed Turner could figure how an old work boot sat on a cart that wheeled toward the piece’s outer edge. But he seemed to realize that art often presents more wonder than answers.

Longtime arts and foundation leader Sherry Stark beamed as she watched tykes scurry and shriek all around the work. Some even plopped on their tummies on the edge of Chaos’ moat and then slyly dipped their hands in the shallow, penny-speckled water at the base.

Stark said she couldn’t help but think of late wealthy industrialist J. Irwin Miller, his late philanthropist wife Xenia, and his late sister Clementine Tangeman, who gifted the piece to Columbus.

“I almost can picture,” Stark said, “Mr. Miller, Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Tangeman just sitting back — and smiling at all this.”

Chaos I bulleted background
  • Caesar Pelli, architect of the original Commons built in 1973, wanted a public sculpture to anchor his building.
  • Pelli picked Swiss sculptor Jean Tinguely to create a piece.
  • Philanthropists J. Irwin and Xenia Miller, plus Miller’s sister, Clementine Tangeman, made Chaos I their gift to Columbus in 1974.
  • The piece was protected in a wooden case in its place during the demolition of the original Commons in 2008.
  • It sprang back to life in June 2011.

The next Chaotic Tuesday

When: 5 to 6:30 p.m. April 28

Where: The Commons

Cost: Free

Information: 812-376-2681 or thecommonscolumbus.com

Author photo
Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.