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Poet's Walk: Corporate Head

Terry Allen | Los Angeles

Image of Corporate Head installation Image of Corporate Head installation


Ernst & Young Plaza
725 S. Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90017

About the work

The 1980s was known as a decade in which the pursuit of money was the measure of the common good. Generous tax benefits for the upper class, the elimination of certain government programs, deregulation of the Savings and Loan industry, and the quadrupling the national debt helped define the era. Against this backdrop Corporate Head was created, taking aim at the values and ethics of the Reagan-Bush years. Though relatively small in size, it raises larger issues with its critique of corporate mentality and emphasis on profit at all costs.

Artist Terry Allen created a life-sized bronze sculpture of a man dressed in a business suit and carrying a briefcase in his left hand. The businessman is leaning over, bowing and burying his head into the building’s physical foundation, symbolizing his allegiance to the corporate structure. The person is separate from the office building only from the neck down, indicating he has mentally been consumed by the interests of the establishment.

Allen insisted the work be placed at the front of the building where it would be highly visible and accented by the building’s address and name-plate.  Combined with poetry by Philip Levine (which the viewer can read by adopting the posture of the statue), Corporate Head is a portrait of the viewer, whom Allen sees as the everyday man that often carries the burden of certain economic pressures and questionable interests.

The poem by Levine, also titled Corporate Head, reads:

They said I had a head for business
They said to get ahead
I had to lose my head.
They said be concrete
& I became
They said,
go, my son,
divide, conquer.
I did my best.

Terry Allen was born in Wichita, Kansas in 1943 and raised in Lubbock, Texas. Influenced by country western music and rock and roll, Allen knew from an early age that he wanted to work in the arts and, in the mid-1960s, traveled to Los Angeles to study at Chouinard Art Institute where he earned his BFA. He then developed a storyline and cast of characters that morphed into a major body of visual art including musical and theatrical performances, sculpture, painting, drawing, video, and installations. Allen’s multimedia windows into the human condition have won him a Guggenheim Fellowship and three grants from the National Endowment for the Arts. He currently resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his wife.