The University of Texas campus contains a large community. For those who don’t have a direct connection to this part of town, it can be daunting to navigate or even considered an area to avoid. For art lovers, this is a huge mistake.
UT features a wonderful art museum along with recognizable sculptures and incredible contemporary public art to engage students and the public. UT’s public art program, Landmarks, is to thank for curating James Turrell’s Skyspace and numerous other pieces that provide distinguishable visual markers on the large campus.
Though Landmarks provides an accessible map and monthly tours, I asked their External Affairs Coordinator, Nick Nobel, to introduce the Austinot community to six of UT’s notable landmarks.
Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Austin
Since the start of its 3-week installation process in January 2015, Nancy Rubins’ Monochrome for Austin has gained a lot of attention for its awesome presence. With 70 boats tied together in a structural wonder, this is UT’s tallest public art piece.
Rubins sent in plans with dimensions, noting practical insights like how far above the street the structure needed to reach for fire trucks to get through, and a small model was made beforehand. Other than those plans, the piece was made largely on site with Rubins directing her crew via walkie-talkie. When walkie-talkies failed, she yelled from across the street to determine the exact placement of each canoe.
The boats are not exactly close to their home in the water, but one can still recall the peacefulness of their floating, which directly contrasts the anxiety some people feel while looking at the sculpture’s small base. The mixture of new and old canoes mimics the surrounding area of UT where cranes sweep into view over the sculpture while constructing new buildings.
Michael Ray Charles, (Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations
When there is a new construction project on campus, Landmarks looks at the potential space and commissions an artist who will enhance the location. Michael Ray Charles was commissioned to make a piece for the Gordon-White Building and the captivating piece was installed in May 2015.
Suspended in the atrium of the building that holds Black and Latino Studies, (Forever Free) Ideas, Languages and Conversations floats. The piece is made of hundreds of wooden crutches, many bound together by 26 spokes, one for each letter of the alphabet. The ends of a few of the crutches almost touch the wall, which can create a sense of tension. Through his piece, Charles acknowledges the hardships of minorities in academic institutions while celebrating how communication can move progress forward.
As Charles keeps history in mind, so does the building itself. One wall of the atrium was once an exterior wall of an older building. The windows have been closed, but a streetlamp and evidence of a drain remain.
Sol LeWitt, Circle with Towers and Wall Drawing #520
People are allowed to sit on the concrete blocks that make up this piece, so it acts as a social gathering place as well as a work of art. Circle with Towers was originally constructed in Madison Square Park, New York in 2005. After it was taken down, UT was able to purchase the plans. Local masons and artists then put the piece together per LeWitt’s instructions.
In the 1960s, LeWitt helped to develop the conceptual art movement by providing guidelines rather taking an active role in building his structures. “I have always called my three-dimensional work ‘structures,’ because my thinking derives from the history of architecture rather than that of sculpture,” LeWitt stated. “An architect doesn’t go off with his shovel and dig his foundation and lay every brick. He’s still an artist.”
Circle with Towers sits at the entrance of the Gates Dell Complex, which holds the Department of Computer Science. Inside the building is a mural by LeWitt. Over three walls, Wall Drawing #520 has been painted by artists reading from LeWitt’s instructions. It fits seamlessly within the space, so much so that it might go unnoticed at first. But it’s an important piece of art that places concept at the forefront.
Casey Reas, A Mathematical Theory of Communication
Installed in 2014 and recently selected as an outstanding public art project by the Public Art Network, Casey Reas’ mural also resides in the Gates Dell Complex. Though it covers two walls separated by the building’s lobby, the piece is considered one mural.
In addition to being visually exciting, Reas’ piece represents the next step in contemporary art beyond LeWitt’s murals, while coinciding with the technology taught within the building.
To sum up his process, Reas used a program he co-developed to make a visual representation of television waves. He picked through patterns and made instructions for the computer program to create desired effects. Like LeWitt, Reas is using instruction. But instead of using a crew, he is using technology to allow his work to be made anywhere in the world.
Mark di Suvero, Clock Knot
Since Clock Knot can be seen from busy E Dean Keeton Street, it’s a very visible landmark on campus for the engineering buildings. The brutalist architecture of these edifices is both complimented and challenged by di Suvero’s work.
The industrial look of the piece addresses engineering, but the strange angles and uneven circular space are more artistic than practical. The playful name of the sculpture speaks to the perspective one gets while walking around it. From one angle it looks like a clock face, while another shows a knot.
This sculpture was one of Landmarks’ earlier purchases. The painted steel stands 41’ tall, though it feels much taller on its home at the top of a hill.
Break Through the UT Barrier
I’ve only given you a small taste of each of these pieces. The Landmarks website does an excellent job of providing in depth information about each work and artist.
To see these pubic art pieces in person, join a Landmarks tour or use this interactive map for a self-guided tour. Private tours are available for groups, while public tours take place on the first Sunday of each month.
Since there are over 30 pieces in the collection spread out throughout the campus, the hour-long tour changes each month with themes to highlight certain pieces. June’s tour focused on construction, while July’s tour will concern purpose and intent of color. In August, they’re planning on avoiding the heat by taking a look at the collection within Bass Concert Hall.
Thanks to the passion of employees like Nick, Landmarks is skillfully developing Austin’s art thumbprint. Keep an eye out for future projects like Marc Quinn’s Spiral of the Galaxy and get out there to explore UT’s art scene!
@madameklm wants to know:
Do you have a favorite public art piece on UT campus?