Jul 17, 2012 • By

Did something fall off a UFO?

Sometimes inspiration comes from things you’d least expect.

For example, junked tractors and broken balers are behind John Newman’s “Torus Orbicularis major.”

Torus what?

That’s the name for one of the sculptures on the land that is home to our headquarters in Minneapolis.

General Mills commissioned most of the outdoor artwork in the 1980s when a massive road project required us to make some adjustments to our property to account for it.

Don McNeil, art curator at General Mills, worked with the artists from the very beginning.

He recalls how Newman, from New York, formulated Torus Orbicularis major, which now sits in the southeast corner of our campus, visible from I-394.

“The thing he saw that he really liked was driving through the rural areas of the Midwest and seeing these old rusted pieces of farm machinery they park up on tops of hills that they have no use for again and just kind of park up there,” says Don. “They become kind of ghostly, eerie things. He decided he really liked that. I said, ‘John, no. We don’t want an old rusty truck!’”

Newman created the sculpture for us in 1988. Don presumes the sculpture’s name has something to do with torque and the orbital bone. He doubts even Newman can really explain the piece’s title.

The sculpture is two parts, concave and convex, propped up against each other.

“The great part about this piece and this site is this kind of oddity. It looks out of place. That lends to this whole kind of ambiguous meaning, feeling for it.”

As he explains in this video interview, Don says some people even think it looks like something that fell off a UFO.

“This is an object. And it looks like it should be something,” Don reflects. “Half the people that look at it think it’s something organic, like a shell or a flower. The other half think it’s mechanical, like a turbine or a fan or something.”

The sculpture was fabricated in upstate New York, and Newman faced some challenges putting it together.

He actually created a smaller version first to help him figure out how to build it. Call it “Torus Orbicularis minor,” if you will.

“It was kind of interesting to watch him grapple with this idea of scale,” Don says. “Coming from the inside to the outside, it’s a really important part of the equation. This is a big thing, but if you put it in the middle of a football field, it would become a tiny thing.”

Newman, who had never done anything large-scale before, went on to create many outdoor sculptures across the U.S.

Editor’s note: This is the second post in a series about the outdoor art at our headquarters in Minnesota. The first post was “What is that statue?” The third was “A welcoming wall of stone.” The fourth was “Table top.” And, the fifth was “A big bowl of Cheerios.”