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