Sitting at the corner of Richard Arrington Jr. Boulevard and Reverend Abraham Woods Jr. Boulevard, artist Betty Gold’s massive red sculpture Kaikoo II has become a fixture of the Birmingham Museum of Art since its installation in 1986. After a crane lowered sections of the 4,000 pound steel work into place, the artist and her team welded the segments together. The sixteen-foot sculpture was modeled after a foot-wide maquette, or small model. Object donors Charles and Judy Elliott commissioned the large work based on the model’s dynamic visual contrast to the white, rigid architecture of the Museum.
When visualizing future sculptures, Gold (American, born 1935) first creates maquettes out of cut pieces of rigid paper. Maquettes allow artists to work quickly with smaller pieces and to consider many ideas before committing more time and materials to larger works. The artist builds her forms by pivoting pieces around a center point and imagining the final sculpture’s relationship to its surroundings. Slightly larger steel models are then made from the designs of promising paper maquettes. In conjunction with the display of Kaikoo II, Gold exhibited 17 of these steel prototypes at the Museum in spring of 1986. These models represent Gold’s Kaikoo series, a body of work inspired by her 1984 trip to Honolulu, Hawaii. “Kaikoo” comes from a Hawaiian word meaning high tide.
Betty Gold’s practice bears the influences of the abstract, gravity-defying works of British artists in the 1960s. Now called “New Generation” sculptors after the title of an exhibition series in London in the early 1960s, these artists welded brightly-colored abstract forms out of steel beams and sheet metal. Anthony Caro (British, 1924-2013) taught many of these young artists and spearheaded this movement exploring industrial materials, large scale, and geometric precision.
Gold is among the women artists who worked tirelessly to receive equal commissions in the male-dominated field of public sculpture in 20th century. She, alongside artists like Beverly Pepper (American, born 1922), helped lay the foundation for a positive reception of monumental sculpture by women artists. Works by both Beverly Pepper and Anthony Caro can be seen at the BMA in the Museum’s upper Sculpture Plaza.