In the northeast corner of Red Square is what appears to be a giant box with holes in it. During the spring and summer, you'll often find students playing hacky sack or using the sculpture for shade. It's one of many pieces of art in Western's impressive outdoor sculpture collection.
Skyviewing Sculpture was constructed in 1969 by renowned landscape architect Isamu Noguchi.
Noguchi was a Japanese-American sculptor whose career spanned over six decades and included works in Japan, Mexico and various cities throughout the United States.
Resting on three brick stands, Skyviewing Sculpture conveys deliberate balance and weightlessness despite its large scale. The open bottom invites visitors to rest inside and reflect as they gaze upon the ever-shifting sky.
According to Sarah Clark-Langager, Director of the Western Gallery, artists like Noguchi are carefully chosen to contribute their work. Clark-Langager, who is also the curator of the Outdoor Gallery, admits that getting the chance to add art to Western's Outdoor collection is no easy task. The assignment may be straightforward, but creating a piece of art within a budget is something not every sculptor is able to do.
“Artistic excellence comes first,” Clark-Langager said. “We make sure to choose an artist with a good proposal. There has never been an artist that failed at their task.”
Funding for public art projects comes from an art allowance established by the Washington State Art Commission (WSAC). When a new building is constructed, one-half of one percent of the money is reserved to pay for outdoor art projects.
Once the money is collected, a jury of pre-selected art evaluators, called the Outdoor Sculpture Advisory Board, consults each other and the Western community before compiling a list of about 25 to 30 potential artists that they believe will make a fitting contribution.
“That doesn't mean they have to have worked for a long time, but they must be a skilled artist,” Clark-Langager said.
After reviewing their initial list, the group narrows the number of artists down to a handful of individuals they plan on exploring more closely, Clark-Langager said. The jury then begins asking more in-depth questions to get a better feel about what direction the artist might take.
“Will this work fit? Is the artist prepared? Will it mesh with the collection? These are all things we consider,” she said.
Once a sculptor is selected, the jury gives the artist relative freedom to design the work of their choice. The jury rarely disagrees with an artist's inspiration.
Clark-Langager believes that each artist has added their own flavor to the local and student culture. She feels confident that future artists will continue to create profound art in whatever space they're provided.
“It's the artist's ability to respond to the campus and the community that has made Western such a respected location for outdoor art,” Clark-Langager said.
Here's a little information about the various sculptures lining our campus.
India – Anthony Caro (1976)
Between the back of the Humanities building and Old Main Theater sits a 7 foot tall group of stones that seems to hover in the middle of a brick pathway. This is Anthony Caro's India.
Caro designed India to be viewed from multiple sides. The unique shape of the leaning structures offers a different perspective when seen from different angles. Part of the sculpture's quality is its ability to blend in with the surrounding brick despite its steel elements.
As a testament to Indian architecture, Caro created a free-flowing piece of art that represents the numerous deities in the Hindu religion. The piece was donated to Western from another collection. The Outdoor Gallery accepts donated art, but only if they feel that it will enhance the collection.
“When someone makes a proposal to give us art, we take a look at it and decide if it will work or not,” Clark-Langager said.
For Handel – Mark di Suvero (1975)
Coming in at a whopping 27 feet tall, For Handel is the mammoth red structure that towers outside the PAC. Di Suvero constructed the magnificent steel structure as a tribute to German composer George Frederic Handel. The rivets and cables that connect the red steel pieces appear to come from an industrial age distant from our own. The mass of steel seems to stand on its own, defying gravity.
From the base of the sculpture, viewers can see sunlight reflected in the fire engine-red structure on a sunny day. At the north end of the PAC plaza is a majestic view of the Bellingham bay. One can only imagine the view from the top.
Sophomore Whitney Stefani is reminded of construction work whenever she sees For Handel. Though For Handel admittedly does not appeal to her tastes, she recognizes the skill of the piece along with it's the majestic size.
“It's not my interpretation of beautiful art, but it's definitely a landmark around Western,” Stefani said.
Feats of Strength – Tom Otterness (1999)
Outside of Parks Hall a group of little green creatures are forever in the process of hauling rocks. Some carry the stones on their back while another green man rests on a ledge.
Made of bronze, the eight green men and women evoke a sense of whimsical struggle and hard work many students can relate to. The small size of each statue – they each stand only about 15 inches tall – symbolizes each student's part in the grand scale of a large university setting.
Senior Alex Gordon feels that “the green men” lighten the mood on campus for anyone passing by.
“In all honesty, they're my favorite thing about the campus,” said Gordon. “They're just odd, kind of out of place. I enjoy the balance of work and play; it's unique.”