During the 1990s, and few years before, Highstein shifted his focus from a constructivist/additive process to one of removal. In his earlier works, like Black Sphere, the tension between space and mass was created by adding materials to a hollow cast. The change in material—from cement and steel to stone and marble—allowed Highstein to make subtle changes to the material’s form. By cutting away at the marble’s surface, Highstein changes the viewer’s perception of mass, working towards a contrast of experience and knowledge. Our perception of the piece is in direct opposition to our knowledge of the material. The marble becomes lighter, more fluid, and less dense, yet it still exists as two tons of heavy stone.
After its production in Portugal, Truncated Pyramid was quickly brought to the University of Chicago’s campus through the Rhona Hoffman Gallery. The work was gifted to the museum on behalf of the Smart Family, in memory and honor of Dana Feitler, a former student of the University of Chicago and the daughter of Joan and Bob Feitler. Teri Edelstein and other members of the Smart Museum staff presented Bob and Joan Feitler, members of the Smart Family Foundation, with several works of art to choose from. Their admiration of the carved marble piece was apparent and was funded by a grant on behalf of the Smart Family Foundation. Mrs. Feitler was drawn to the piece because of its beauty. She said that “[it] evokes a calmness and strong statement that was appropriate.”
Truncated Pyramid arrived at the Sculpture Garden in May of 1992. The installation of the sculpture was met with strict instructions about the direction and placement on the site. The work was to completely interact with nature, so the concrete foundation and base support for the piece had to be completely invisible. Highstein ordered that the work appear as though it was resting on the grass. These instructions highlight Highstein’s engagement with the discourse of experience versus knowledge. As an audience member approaches the work we perceive the piece as interacting with its surroundings in a natural way because it is not sitting on a base or propped up to represent it as separate from the landscape around it. The knowledge of the piece as an artwork is completely consumed by its interaction with nature. By resting on the grass in an organic way, the marble sculpture is experienced in the natural context of its materials—outside and interacting with the natural world.
The Smart Museum held a reception to celebrate the installation of the work, which Jene Highstein attended to speak about the piece. The installation of the sculpture was accompanied by an exhibition of a series of Highstein’s large–scale drawings in the Smart Museum, which were on display from June to August of 1992. Highstein’s large–scale drawings accompany most of his sculpture pieces, and were produced with same conception of space in mind as his sculptures were. The drawings were made by hanging the paper on a wall to immediately relate the drawing to space and the human scale. Both the drawings and Truncated Pyramid express changes to a surface (either paper or marble) that transform the material and the viewer’s experience of the work.