The meaning behind campus art

Brian Thornton

The conical sculpture of newspapers and sod outside the Art Building named “Tilt 2005” is slowly, imperceptibly vanishing. The decomposition of the yellowing paper will eventually return the piece of art to the earth – and that’s just what artist Steven Siegel intended.

Highly visible art projects on the Kent State campus have a history of making social statements, said Christine Havice, director of the School of Art.

In January 1970, the school brought Robert Smithson to campus as an artist-in-residence. During his week-long visit, he took interest in an old shed on South Campus that sat just east of where the Liquid Crystals Materials Science Building is today. He envisioned a piece about entropy – the forces acting opposite of creation, Havice said.

“Partially Buried Woodshed,” the project born out of that vision, became reality when Smithson directed 20 loads of dirt be piled onto the shed, snapping the building’s main beam and sending it into a perpetual state of breakdown.

Today, all that remains is a lush grove of trees and bushes. But the legacy of “Partially Buried Woodshed” lived on beyond its lifetime.

“Works in the public eye acquire, in time, other levels of meaning,” Havice said.

In fact, the events of May 4, 1970, just three months after the creation of Smithson’s art, permanently linked the project with that infamous day in Kent State’s history, she said.

Sculptures such as “Partially Buried Woodshed” come to campus via two routes, said Thomas Euclide, director of the Office of the University Architect. The Percent for Art program provides for public art with any university construction project that receives $4 million in state funding. Other pieces are donated to the school.

Such donations include “The Kent Four,” the red-metal sculpture created by Alastair Granville-Jackson in 1971 as tribute to the students who were killed on May 4. Another is “Walking Together,” produced by David E. Davis in 1972. Both pieces sit outside the Art Building.

Gifts of art carry financial responsibilities, however.

“It’s all expensive,” Havice said. “To preserve something, there’s a certain level of expertise.”

Temperature, humidity and light affect materials in the art, she said. People often don’t realize the expense involved, and the School of Art doesn’t have a maintenance budget, she said.

The works are important, she said, because they bring attention to the artists and the school.

Four of the most visible art projects on campus will soon have new signs identifying the pieces and their creators, Euclide said. A company is working on laying out signs for “Tilt 2005,” “Walking Together,” “The Kent Four” and the remains of Smithson’s “Partially Buried Woodshed.” Once the architect’s office approves the text, it will take about four weeks to cast and install the signs.

Euclide said he would like to see more artwork displayed around the campus. His office developed plans for a sculpture garden outside of the Art Building, and he envisions rotating art along the Esplanade.

“I would like to see more of that – showcasing student and faculty artwork,” he said.

Both projects require funding, Euclide said. For now, plans for more public art remain in the idea stage.

“Goals or dreams,” he said. “It’s more of a dream.”

Contact features correspondent Brian Thornton at [email protected].