|New Sculpture Garden Enriches Campus Art Collection
August 13, 2007
by Rachel Andoga
In addition to the 465 first-year students, three other important figures are beginning their Davidson careers this year.
During the past few weeks, the college has installed three sculptures in the grassy, shaded center oval of Richardson Plaza in front of the E.H. Little Library. They represent the first fruits of an institutional outdoor sculpture collection that will enhance the teaching of art and complement the natural beauty of the campus. Members of the college community and general public are invited to a celebration of the new sculpture garden on Wednesday, September 12 from 4-5:30 p.m.
| "You" by Antony Gormley|
The new sculpture garden will act as an extension of the college’s permanent art collection of 2,800 pieces of art, which are now stored in the lower level of the Belk Visual Arts Center and parts of which are displayed throughout campus via the “Art in Offices” program.
The three pieces—William Tucker’s Homage to Rodin (1999), Antony Gormley’s You (2005), and Untitled (1995) by Joel Shapiro—were very carefully selected. Professor Cort Savage described the attempt to find “the right piece at the right time” as “a complicated little dance” of negotiating the goals of the sculpture program with what was available on the market, and the consideration of donors.
“Imagine you’re going to start a library, and you’re about to buy your first three books,” he said. “What do you choose? That’s a big decision to make. We didn’t make our choices lightly.”
Gormley’s You was a gift of President Emeritus Robert ’69 and Ruth Anne Vagt in honor of their daughters Ashley Vagt Buford ’94 and Lindsey Vagt ’01. The purchase of Shapiro’s Untitled was made possible through a gift by the artist and Trustee Katherine Belk-Cook. Homage to Rodin was a gift to the college by the Class of 1993, and was installed for the past eight years at a nearby location on campus.
There was also a focus on selecting distinctly “Davidsonian” pieces. Savage said, “It’s not just about putting pretty things all over the campus. It’s about finding art work that has a strong visual presence, and layers of philosophical and pedagogical content that relates to the discerning, intelligent, and curious nature of student life and the demeanor on campus.”
The search committee insisted on a museum-quality collection of sculpture that matched the aesthetic and philosophical standard of Rodin’s sculpture Jean d’Aire (1886), which has been on display in the atrium of the Katherine and Tom Belk Visual Arts Center since the building opened in 1993. “The Rodin was the starting point, where we asked, ‘this is where our bar is, now, how do we match and surpass it?’” said Brad Thomas, director of the Van Every/Smith Galleries and curator of exhibitions. That sculpture depicts a community leader’s heroic, but resistant, self-sacrifice during the 100 Years War.
|The bronze nude of Rodin's Jean d'Aire was a gift of the Pepper Family in 1993.|
“The idea reflected in Jean d’Aire is the possibility that you may be asked to make a sacrifice for the greater good of the community, is a value that Davidson emphasizes. It fits.” said Savage. “When looking for other sculptures, we were looking for that same sensibility.”
Professor of Art History Larry Ligo wrote a detailed discussion of the piece on the Art Department website.
The selections also create an academically valid collection of “teachable” art. Gormley’s You bridges the gap between Rodin’s Jean d’Aire in the late 19th century and the more complex, abstract nature of Tucker’s Homage to Rodin. “The Gormley is still very obviously a figure, but you can see it morphing into something more figurative,” explained Savage.
To contrast the “quieter,” more contemplative pieces by Tucker and Gormley, Shapiro’s Untitled represents a “more spatially dynamic piece,” said Thomas. “Shapiro piece is a very gestural and expressive figure. From one angle it looks like a dancer, and from another it looks like a figure tumbling toward you. And then you move again, it becomes a figure flung backwards with its arms over its head.”
The location of the sculptures within the space establishes a dialogue between the works and their surroundings. “The pieces play off of each other,” Savage said. The relocation of Tucker’s Homage to Rodin gives it the context it lacked as an isolated piece in its former location.
Savage hopes that Davidson’s public art collection will eventually gain a reputation that will make Davidson a destination for art lovers. “We want people to come to this campus for no other reason than to see our collection,” he said. “That’s the quality of collection we aim to build.”
Thomas will eventually implement a viewer education system similar to the "Art on Call" program at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, where patrons receive recorded information on specific works by calling a number on their cell phones and entering the extension number associated with the work. The result will allow patrons to create their own guided tour, complete with comments by a famed curator, scholar, specialist, or artist.
“As we look forward, we envision the sculpture garden as the epicenter of something far reaching and integrated with the educational mission of Davidson College,” said Thomas.
Davidson is a highly selective independent liberal arts college for 1,700 students. Since its establishment in 1837 by Presbyterians, the college has graduated 23 Rhodes Scholars and is consistently ranked among the top liberal arts colleges in the country by “U.S. News and World Report” magazine.
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