Behind the Scenes, Getty Center, J. Paul Getty Museum, Sculpture and Decorative Arts

The Making of Charles Ray’s “Boy with Frog”

Boy with Frog (detail) / Charles Ray

Boy with Frog (detail), Charles Ray (American, born 1953), 2009. Painted fiberglass, 96 1/16 x 29 1/2 x 41 5/16 in. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery. © Charles Ray

Peering up at a giant sculpture, I often wonder: How do artists construct such massive creations? Here’s a peek at the journey, from artist’s conception to the Getty Center’s doorstep, of the larger-than-life Boy with Frog, which was installed yesterday on the museum stairs. On view through January 2012, Boy with Frog continues a series of temporary installations that have focused on contemporary art and its relationship to the Museum’s mission.

Before this powerful, inquisitive youth could plant his fiberglass feet on the travertine, Ray and expert art fabricators spent years constructing and assembling the figure to get every detail just right, from the boy’s toenails to the warts on the bullfrog.

Boy with Frog in white wrappers during installation yesterday on the museum stairs at the Getty Center

Boy with Frog in white wrappers during installation yesterday on the museum stairs at the Getty Center

One day a few years ago, the artist came to his friend Mark Rossi, the founder of Handmade, a facility of art fabricators, and told him he wanted to create a sculpture of a boy holding a frog.

Once the artist had the photographs he wanted of a boy holding a live amphibian, the images were scanned and a 3-D digital model was created. Ray then became a bit like a Renaissance sculptor wielding a carving tool—except, instead of a chisel, his team used modeling software to refine designs for the sculpture. The software uses a haptic interface that provides feedback via touch, and is so precise it’s also used in dental reconstruction and virtual surgery.

The next step? This digital model was used to create scale versions of the sculpture in urethane foam. Further iterations of Boy with Frog were made in different sizes and materials over the years to help Ray decide on scale and myriad other artistic details. When the artist was ready to create the final sculpture, Ray again worked with Rossi and his team of skilled fabricators. They made molds of the final pattern to create the two main components of the sculpture: fiberglass and steel.

Gerard Collier, a fabricator at Handmade, assembles the arm on one of the patterns for Boy with Frog

Gerard Collier, a fabricator at Handmade, assembles the arm on one of the patterns for Boy with Frog

One way to understand the Boy with Frog’s construction is from the outside looking in: Below a layer of white paint is a quarter-inch-thick layer of fiberglass, which overlays a stainless steel armature. This armature runs the full extent of the sculpture—all the way from the frog to the bottoms of each of the boy’s feet.

Artist Charles Ray checks the angle of Boy with Frog during its installation at the Getty Center

Artist Charles Ray checks the angle of Boy with Frog during its installation at the Getty Center

Boy with Frog as installed on the museum stairs

Boy with Frog as installed on the museum stairs

The particular fiberglass version of Boy with Frog installed at the Getty Center was completed in 2008 and, until recently, was a popular outdoor installation at François Pinault’s Punta della Dogana museum in Venice, Italy. A final version of the sculpture identical in scale to the one here—except cast in stainless steel—has taken the place of its predecessor in Venice.

Besides where they live and what they are made out of, what other major difference is there between the pair? Heft. The steel sculpture is 475 pounds, 300 pounds heavier than its twin.

Rossi said he’s honored to have worked on a sculpture on display at the Getty: “To be associated in some small way with that is wonderful.”

Boy with Frog - detail of frog / Charles Ray

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14 Comments

  1. Posted July 26, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Permalink

    Wish he was holding the frog in a more humane way, like under its front legs.

    • Bob
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 5:34 pm | Permalink

      Really? This entire article and that is your comment? I have news for you. That is not a real frog.

      • Ami Lohigh
        Posted August 8, 2014 at 2:50 am | Permalink

        Really? Ever hear that life imitates art?

    • Manney Wingers
      Posted August 8, 2014 at 12:51 am | Permalink

      I agree with you, Richard, as many other people do!

    • john
      Posted September 10, 2014 at 2:10 pm | Permalink

      That would destroy the whole point if the piece. It is not an idealisation of beauty and niceness. To wish that it be made “nicer” is to deny the art of it.

  2. Robert Thain
    Posted July 27, 2011 at 1:54 am | Permalink

    Richard, It’s a shame boys aren’t a little more humane. Or maybe all the boys I have known have just been horrors, never deliberately cruel, but horrors none the less.

  3. glen barrie
    Posted September 18, 2011 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    I traveled from Orange County to view the statue. It is magnificent. My complaint is on how the statue was displayed. I understand the need for security, and realize the risk factors given the nature of fiberglass. None the less. I was extremely disappointed that I was not afforded a closer view of this work. The railing kept every one at a fifty foot distance at least from the sides, and a much further viewing distance from the front. This is not the way to display a great work of art.
    I inquired at the desk if I might be able to get closer to take a few close up photographs, and was politely brushed off. The work is beautiful, but the display could have been more thoughtfully presented.

    • Bob
      Posted May 4, 2013 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

      Yeah, the railing keeps you about 9 feet away. The person saying you are 50 feet away has no idea what they are talking about. I guess some people can find something to complain about anywhere…

  4. Jessica Portner
    Posted September 19, 2011 at 4:40 pm | Permalink

    Hi Glen, Thank you for coming to see “Boy with Frog” and for your comments on the sculpture. I wonder if you could clarify your point on the viewing distance – when you said the railing was 50 feet from the side did you mean to say 10 feet or so?

  5. ADR
    Posted May 3, 2012 at 4:51 pm | Permalink

    “Fabrication”…copying…hum…humm…How about some sculptors that took the time to learn how to model and draw,and not only that but have the touch the expresivity,real artists,eh ?

  6. Little boy Ernst
    Posted May 2, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

    I am a 7 year old boy and I say, poor froggy! But I still like the art!

  7. hopponit
    Posted May 7, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Permalink

    Nice. I find it strange that I think the sculpture looks pretty good when it’s wrapped in paper to. Kind of looks like that was just another treatment for it instead of just an accidental effect. By the way the one in fiberglass is nice but you mentioned that the other copy is in stainless steel, I wonder how it would look as polished stainless and the other one wrapped in paper next to it for a contrast.

  8. bkk
    Posted August 6, 2013 at 7:10 am | Permalink

    I’m sorry to say I don’t find this appealing at all. It looks like a cheap reproduction of a much finer piece of art. The is no depth to the sculpture at all. Maybe is was meant to be seen from far away.

    I agree with the comment about the wrapping paper, at least it makes it a more interesting piece of art.

  9. sculptor K
    Posted January 8, 2014 at 3:14 pm | Permalink

    “Like a renaissance sculptor, but instead of a chisel..” Sorry, tech geeks. Using a 3D printer doesn’t make you an artist. Next time, just go get a hunk of marble and give it a shot…heck, you might just surprise yourself!

One Trackback

  • [...] the Getty’s Iris blog, Jessica Portner explains how the Charles Ray now on view at the Getty was fabricated. (Notably absent from the pictures: The Martin Puryear that the Ray is presumably staring down. [...]

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