John David Mooney

Image of John David Mooney's Crystara sculpture hanging in Crerar Library's atrium

Commissioned 1984
Installed 1984

Aluminum and Waterford crystal
Height: 360 in (914.4 cm)
Length: 144 in (365.8 cm)
Weight: 2,100 lbs (952.6 kg)

Located at the John Crerar Library
5730 S Ellis Ave

Artist Profile





Upon entering the John Crerar Library, John David Mooney’s monumental sculpture Crystara (1984) looms overhead, filling the space of the three–and–a–half–story atrium both physically and optically. Suspended from six wires, Crystara is comprised of a thirty–foot–long aluminum frame fabricated at the Watson Steel Center in Muncie, Indiana and a series of hexagonal, crystal crossbars handcrafted in Waterford, Ireland, the longest of which spans twelve feet.

Commissioned by the University of Chicago during the construction of the John Crerar Library, Crystara is inextricably tied to the library building’s architecture; it is Mooney’s answer to the University’s request for a sculpture that would light the atrium at night and propel visitors forward through the space. The title Crystara evinces Mooney’s interest in the University’s involvement with his artistic process—it arose out of a series of collaborative discussions between Mooney and the University’s Committee on Social Thought. The title also points to the key role that the crystal components play in achieving Mooney’s aims for the sculpture: its interaction with and refraction of light. Crystara builds upon Mooney’s earlier explorations of the relationship between art and science through his experimental and research–based practices as well as the utilization of light as an artistic medium. Yet Crystara stands apart from much of Mooney’s earlier site–specific works in the way that its material components remain tied to the sites in which they were produced—sites of physical labor and experimentation that exist beyond the walls of the library building and beyond the walls of the artist’s studio. Embedded in its site in the library building yet simultaneously indexing those alternate sites of material production, Crystara complicates notions of site specificity.


Written by Maggie Borowitz, a PhD student in Art History


Related Links

News article on Crystara's removal during renovations

Archival Materials

Chicago Tribune ad for Marshall Field's sale of signed “John David Mooney Vase by Waterford Crystal”

Source: Proquest Historical Newspapers, Chicago Tribune

Photograph of the sculpture with crystal refraction

Source: John David Mooney Foundation

Photograph of the details on the crystal sections

Source: John David Mooney Foundation

Photograph of the sculpture being removed during library renovations

Source: Smart Museum archive


Crimp, Douglas. “Redefining Site Specificity,” in Richard Serra, ed. Hal Foster and Gordon Hughes (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2000)

Interview with John David Mooney, 11 May 2016

University of Chicago Library, John Crerar Library, Records, Box 14, Folder 3, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.

Further Reading

Tina Hunt and Audrey Whitty, “The Industrial Design of Waterford Glass, 1947 –c.1965,” in Glassmaking in Ireland: From the Medieval to the Contemporary, ed. John M. Hearne (Dublin; Portland, OR: Irish Academic Press, 2010), 215-228

The John Crerar Library (Chicago: The John Crerar Foundation, 1984)