Adonai was one of a few sculptures Liberman made using six-foot-long gas storage tanks. “I use cheap materials for economic reasons,” he noted. “But also, there’s an odd, maybe a romantic longing to contact the earth. I like rust. I like earth. I like rocks. The quality of a primitive forge anchors a modern mind to the earth.” The work was one of the last major sculptures acquired for the collection by Ralph E. Ogden, Storm King’s co-founder, who enjoyed solving the installation challenges it presented. Over time, the rusted steel gas storage tanks physically deteriorated, and the massive sculpture was refabricated in 2000. While suggesting a number of visual analogies, from fallen columns to trees, Liberman cited his inspiration in the renowned medieval cathedral Chartres:
I had gone to Chartres. I was trying to analyze why cathedrals started with the basic portal. So I started with the basic portal, the two vertical cylinders of Adonai. Then there’s a nave. If you look at the long horizontal cylinder of Adonai, that’s my imaginary nave. The flat circle of the cylinder, which is frontal, is held by the two uprights. You build your own imaginary cathedral.
Liberman chose an unexpected title—Adonai, the Hebrew word for god—for this cathedral-inspired work. Many of his other sculptures, such as Adam and Iliad at Storm King, bear similar biblical and mythical references. When asked years later about his interest in heroic titles, Liberman claimed his close friend Barnett Newman, the artist, had been influential in this regard, but that he had come to dislike titles. “They mean nothing to me,” he stated, “and today everybody wants titles. It’s like attaching a wooden handle to something that hopefully cannot be pinned down.”