Creator of French Fries has a new work of art on campus


The final beam is put into position during the installation of the metal sculpture Big Max outside the Harn Museum of Art on Tuesday.

Matt Stamey/Gainesville Sun
Published: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, February 11, 2014 at 7:07 p.m.

Big Max weighs about 30,000 pounds and is impossible to overlook at its new permanent home outside the University of Florida's Harn Museum.

The three pieces of steel bolted together to resemble a fallen cross or an X, depending on the angle from which it's viewed, was made by John Raymond Henry — who also made the iconic "French Fries" sculpture at UF.

So what is this new, three-legged sculpture?

"It's what it is," Henry said. "We build culture around things, and artists' responsibilities are to contribute to that culture and give culture new legs to stand on."

Henry was inspired to sculpt Big Max by fellow artist Max Barrett. Barrett weighed just 1 pounds when he was born 24 years ago, but today he's a healthy artist living in Los Angeles. So Henry's red behemoth Big Max is a contrast to Barrett's diminutive beginning.

Big Max has three long legs — 65 feet, 38 feet and 33 feet. It is anchored at three points and bolted together at two points.

The pieces were delivered on a long trailer and erected with the help of a crane. It took a deft hand on the joystick to get the pieces in place and aligned to enable the bolting — a process that took several hours.

Big Max has been exhibited in several Florida cities, including Tampa and Boca Raton, but will now stay on a grass lawn between the three pillars of UF's cultural plaza — the Harn, the Florida Museum of Natural History and the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The sculpture was donated to the Harn by Earl and Christy Powell.

Earl Powell is a former UF trustee and founding partner of Trivest Partners, a private equity investment firm in Miami. The couple has donated to UF academic programs as well.

Kerry Oliver-Smith, the Harn Museum's curator of contemporary art, said that while the sculpture is heavy, it conveys lightness and flight.

"It's uplifting in a lovely way," she said. "It really brings all of the institutions here together."

Passers-by stopped to gaze at the piece as the installation was almost complete.

"It's big. It's huge," said UF student Jack Russell. "I don't appreciate art enough. I get caught up in life sometimes, but this one you can't miss."

For Pam Hightower, who works at the nearby Southwest Recreation Center, Big Max called to mind the French Fries, a yellow sculpture close to Century Tower that resembles a collection of fries.

"I think it's cool that it brings something on the edge of campus and connects it to the French Fries," she said. "I would imagine everybody will know about this one because they connect so well."

Passers-by and Harn staff alike are sure the sculpture will acquire its own nickname — maybe the sweet potato fries because of the red color, Big Mac instead of Max or the falling cross.

Nicknames for his work are fine with Henry, whose official name for the French Fries is "Alachua."

"It doesn't bother me at all," he said. "You can have a contest for determining what nickname it's going to have."

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