Arthur Kraft 1954 “This Week Magazine” Article Announcing New Detroit Northland Shopping Center Super-Sculptures

The Milwaukee Journal article by Emily Genauer – September 5, 1954

Super-Sculpture – A Detroit shopping center sets a surprising art style.

Twenty-five years ago a U.S. Customs official provoked a furor by ruling that modernist Constantin Brancusi’s “Bird In Space,” a piece of bronze vaguely resembling a five-foot-long cigar, was not art and so had to pay a tariff.

Since that famous ruling (subsequently reversed), what has happened to popular art taste in America constitutes a revolution. A good illustration of the surprising sophistication the U.S. public has developed is shown on this page. The huge Northland Shopping Center, outside Detroit, designed to serve 15 million people a year with the latest in marketing conveniences, might seem the last place in the world for modernist sculpture. But 13 examples of this most rarefied art form, mostly the bristling, praying-mantis barbed –wire type, have been strewn through the 161 acres of shops, gardens and plazas.

A 12-inch replica of a 24-foot-tall work has become a best selling souvenir item. A restaurant uses photographs of the sculpture on its menus. Shoppers identify various areas of the center with its art. “Meet me at the Peacock Terrace,” they say. (The peacock, by Arthur Kraft, is a network of bronze rods welded together with an acetylene torch.)

Peacock sculpture by Arthur Kraft
Peacock Terrace, Northland Shopping Center 1950's

The art was the idea of architect Victor Gruen. He says the public’s warm response is due to the fact that the sculpture injects “an emotion element” into the gigantic $20,000.000 project. The one condition Gruen laid on the six artists, chiefly of the Midwest, commissioned to execute models for the project, was that their work be light and airy. He needed pieces, he told them, that would be modern, “but fun to look at.”

His orders have been followed to the letter. Not even Gruen could have foreseen the trouble mothers would have dragging children off a big stone bear by Marshall Fredericks (see cover). Chances are even that the crusty customs official of 1929 would enjoy this art.

“The Cat that Swallowed the Canary” by Arthur Kraft and Gwen Lux
This sculpture is now part of the Detroit Institute of Arts Museum collection since 1988.

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One thought on “Arthur Kraft 1954 “This Week Magazine” Article Announcing New Detroit Northland Shopping Center Super-Sculptures

  1. Claire Nowak-Boyd says:

    I work for the City of Southfield, MI.

    Our Public Arts Commission has Arthur Kraft’s Peacock, together with the other art from Northland Mall. The Commission is raising funds to restore the art and display it publicly in Southfield.

    One of our Commissioners directed me to your website to learn about Mr. Kraft. Those sculptures looked very familiar, and I remembered them from when I lived in Skokie as a teen. But not just the penguins! I checked streetview, and it looks like a Kraft walrus landed nearby at another residential building:,-87.7497783,3a,34.1y,294.57h,84.5t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sEZIbG4hymZ802QX-JI2V2A!2e0!5s20161001T000000!7i13312!8i6656!6m1!1e1

    Thanks for the informative blog!

    Claire Nowak-Boyd
    Detroit, MI

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