Theodore Roszak, Bi-Polar in Red, 1940. Metal, plastic, and wood, 54 3/16 × 8 5/8 × 8 5/8 in. (137.6 × 21.9 × 21.9 cm) overall with base. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; purchase with funds from the Burroughs Wellcome Purchase Fund and the National Endowment for the Arts 79.6a-c
NARRATOR: Does this look to you like a piece of abstract sculpture or like an odd sort of machine? In a way, it’s both. The artist, Theodore Rozak, called it Bi-Polar in Red. Basically the work is made of two red cones; notice how the upper one is balancing upside down on the lower one. The cones may express the idea of bipolarity, which the artist wanted you to take in a very general way. He once said, “It’s the same phenomenon as north pole vs. south pole, male vs. female, the bipolarity of magnetic fields in space.”
But what do you make of those whimsical bits of metal and plastic attached to the top cone? They don’t really do anything yet—like props in a science-fiction movie, they pretend to be functional. In fact, Rozak was a fan of sci-fi films; he loved the Buck Roger series. When he created this sculpture in 1940, he was enthusiastic about industrial machinery and its promise of a sleek, streamlined future. A work of art, he felt, could embrace technology and evoke the future just like a real machine.