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January 25, 2012

Chevrolet Centennial Artwork: The mind behind the metal head

  • An interview with Christian Gonzenbach, creator of the Chevrolet Centennial Artwork

The Chevrolet Centennial Artwork was commissioned by Chevrolet to pay tribute to famous Swiss-born race-driver and engineer Louis Chevrolet, who co-founded the car brand in Detroit over 100 years ago. Once completed, the work of art will be Switzerland’s largest steel bust with a projected height of five meters. The interview below takes a look at the man behind the giant metal head, Swiss artist Christian Gonzenbach.
What inspires you as an artist?

The real world inspires me and I am very interested in science and physics, and, in particular, in surfaces, furs, skins. I try to take a fresh look at existing things, but I am not particularly interested in inventing a completely new form in the classic sense. Louis Chevrolet really existed and this is one of the reasons why this project captivated my imagination. He has his very own life story and I have the opportunity to tell it to you in my way. Most objects I create are distortions of reality and the exhibits I like are those where I have to change the way I look at things. I cannot change the world but just the way I and others perceive it. And that’s what I want to contribute and offer as an artist.

Are there specific aspects of the life of Louis Chevrolet that inspired you?

It is his life that I find fascinating. Louis Chevrolet in many ways embodies the American dream: He left Europe when he was 20, was a very skilled mechanic, became a race driver, engineer and designer and co-founded a motor company. Later in his life, he lost everything. For my part, I never imagined becoming an artist when I was a kid. I doubt Louis saw himself as a racing champion during his own childhood. Chevrolet had almost certainly never seen a car. But now his name is so closely linked to the automotive world. Louis Chevrolet was an inventor and among the first to produce certain aluminium pieces to save weight. This idea of continuous research is something I can easily identify with.

Why did you choose to create an inverted bust of Louis Chevrolet?

Classical busts have existed around the globe, for hundreds of years. In most instances, they were made to idealize and glorify certain people. This was not my intention and I decided to follow my own approach. I took a specific object which already existed in reality – in this case the portrait of Louis Chevrolet – and modified its shape to feature an abstract and radically different topology. When we take a closer look at the bust, however, we see the symmetry and recognize the hair, scarf and racing goggles. My piece is not immediately readable, it is a mysterious object that constantly eludes the common eye. This makes it a very contemporary version of a bust.

What does the Chevrolet Centennial Artwork mean to you?

The sculpture will be installed in a public square. As such, it is on an entirely different scale compared to the ones I was working on before. The monumental, rock-like size of the sculpture, the material which it is made of, and the integration of this piece into an urban context are all formidable challenges that make the project inherently fascinating.

Why turn sculptures inside out? What is the purpose of this process?

The questions I ask myself are: How can I create something new? How can our reality be expanded? What happens if I turn something inside out? The best way of finding an answer to those questions is to try it out. My aim is not to express myself through my artwork, but to find new ways of looking at the existing world, because "the world is not enough". I try to invent processes that allow me to look beyond the known and what already exists, thereby enabling people to approach reality in a different way.

The monument you are creating is produced in Taiwan. Tell us why you decided to venture so far, knowing that the piece will be set up in Switzerland.

For my project with Chevrolet and the city of La Chaux-de-Fonds, I collaborate with both local and international businesses. The sculpture will be made in Taipei, by a company specialized in casting and forming stainless steel. I wanted the shape of this massive metal bust to reflect my own artistic handwriting, and I realized that I had to think out of the box in finding the manufacturing expertise. The company I selected has the specific know-how to give the bust its unique, sculptural appearance.

What are the different steps of execution?

The exploration phase involved historical photographs, silicone and clay models, and computer aided design. The foundry in Taiwan later produced a life-sized prototype and will cast, at temperatures around 1620 degrees Celsius, 71 pieces of 20 mm stainless steel measuring about 1 x 1 m each. These elements will be assembled, ground, mirror polished and finally welded together. Once in La Chaux-de-Fonds, the sculpture will be placed on a concrete base.

From a technical point of view, what do you see as the main challenges?

To give the surface the desired fluid, reflective appearance will be demanding, since we don't have a smooth, perfectly calm surface, unlike for instance the piece "Cloud Gate" from Anish Kapoor in the Millenium Park in Chicago. The Chevrolet Centennial Artwork has crinkles and edges, and accomplishing the task will require a very high level of precision and great sensitivity on my part during the finalization of the work.

Why did you choose concrete for the base?

Concrete is a contemporary material and the technology used in its production fascinates me. The material creates the appearance of an artificially manufactured rock. This entails the aspect of reconstruction of something that already exists, but in another form.

* * *
The Chevrolet Centennial artwork is to become one of the main tourist attractions of La Chaux-de-Fonds, a UNESCO world heritage site and Swiss watchmaking metropolis, and native city of novelist Blaise Cendrars and renowned architect and designer Le Corbusier.
For more information on the artwork, please visit the Chevrolet Centennial Artwork microsite.

About Chevrolet

Chevrolet is General Motors' largest global brand with annual sales of almost five million vehicles in more than 140 countries. It is the fourth biggest global car brand in terms of sales and also one of the fastest growing brands in the world. Chevrolet cars combine bold design, performance, innovation and practicality. They provide outstanding value for money. Established in the U.S. by Swiss émigré Louis Chevrolet in 1911, the brand celebrated its centenary in 2011. The brand was re-launched in Europe in 2005. It is represented with a total of 2,500 sales and service outlets in Western and Central Europe. The European Chevrolet line-up includes the Spark city car, the small Aveo sedan and hatchback, the compact Cruze sedan, hatchback and station wagon, the Orlando family van, the Captiva SUV, the Malibu mid-size sedan, the legendary Camaro and Corvette sports cars and the extended-range Volt electric car. In 2013, Chevrolet is launching the all-new Trax small SUV and the all-new Corvette Stingray. More information on Chevrolet can be found at or


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