One of Birmingham’s most visually arresting landmarks is being commemorated and celebrated at the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Callahan Eye Hospital on University Boulevard.
“Complex Vision,” a highly valued work of art by Israeli sculptor and experimental artist Yaacov Agam, was dedicated and installed on the side of UAB’s Callahan Eye Hospital 30 years ago. Now, as Callahan celebrates its 50th anniversary this month, “Complex Vision” is getting some attention too, as time and sunlight have dimmed its once bright colors. Plans are being made now to restore it to its former glory.
Callahan President and CEO Brian Spraberry says that ophthalmologist Alston Callahan, for whom the hospital was named, was a patron of the arts. He became interested in Agam’s art and commissioned him to create the piece for the hospital.
“Many patients come into our facility with cloudy vision or a lower visual acuity, and shapes, colors and field of vision are impaired because of their disease,” said Spraberry.
He says Dr. Callahan wanted patients to have the pleasant experience of seeing very colorful fine art as they were leaving the facility.
Callahan knew this new style of “kinetic” art, a visual that seems to move as the individual moves, would be well-suited to the eye hospital, and he commissioned Agam, says Sandra Blackwood, MPA, executive director of the International Retinal Research Foundation.
The 30-by-30-foot sculpture is the largest outdoor structure Agam has created, and was made possible by Marvin and Ruth Engel of Birmingham, who dedicated the structure in 1976 in honor of their parents.
“The structure shows four distinct views as one walks or drives past it, giving the sensation of movement,” Blackwood said. “What other type of art could better convey the marvelous sense of sight?”
After 30 years, restoration of Agam’s “Complex Vision” is being explored. When the piece was created, there were no UV-rated paints or other types of ultraviolet protection, and the sculpture has faded because of prolonged exposure to the sun. The metal has oxidized, and colors have faded and worn off in some places. Callahan has reached out to one of Agam’s approved technicians to restore the artwork, and they are in the process of receiving an estimate for the restoration. Spraberry says the value of “Complex Vision” was estimated two years ago at $11.9 million.
“We believe that this is a special piece of art that the city of Birmingham should celebrate,” Spraberry said. “The challenge will be refurbishing it in a way that not only retains its artistic value but also is approved by the artist. We are looking for philanthropic donors who are interested in helping bring this piece to its previous glory. It would be wonderful if we could do this project next year.”