Abstractionist’s final painting finds a home at the city’s new downtown public library.

By DAN MACDONALD
The Florida Times-Union, Thursday, January 12, 2006

Jacksonville’s new Main Library has added a rarity to its collection: the last commissioned painting by the late abstractionist Al Held.
An installation crew worked late into the night Wednesday to hoist the untitled 9 1/2-by-60-foot work 25 feet above the fourth floor main reading room. It was one of four Held originals commissioned by the city’s Art in Public Places Commission but was the only one completed before Held’s death last July.

The Jacksonville Library Foundation used private funds to purchase the $112,500 piece and pay for the cost of installation. Officials at the library, which opened in November, plan to leave the other three spaces blank so as to not to conflict with Held’s distinct style.

It was the dimension of the space that intrigued the artist, said Jacqueline Holmes, consultant to the commission. “We didn’t feel we would be able to get him to do it. But he was intrigued by the space. We are very fortunate,” she said, adding that other Held works sell for upward of a half million dollars.

Holmes described the work as an “intricate combination of three-dimensional geometric shapes floating in the imaginary space, which is Held’s trademark magic.” She thinks it will appeal to Jacksonville tastes. “You’ll feel like you can walk right into the painting. It covers the full color spectrum.”

Held’s work is in the permanent collections in New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His other public artworks include the 100-foot-long Metropolitan Transit Authority mosaic for the subway station beneath the CitiCorp headquarters in New York. His last work, a series of stained glass windows for the federal courthouse in Orlando, will be installed this year.

Being the home of Held’s last painting will make the Jacksonville library a destination for students of Held’s work, Holmes said.

Mara Held, the artist’s daughter, was present for the installation. While it was sad for her to see the last of her father’s paintings, she said the piece reflected an optimistic period in his work.

“Al was a courageous artist who was pushing and developing and evolving and changing,” she said. “This painting was a step in that development.”