art review: UM artists create a subpar installation, but it’s a stellar makeout spot

Last Friday, 6:30 p.m., on the Palm Court of the Memorial Building, there appeared to be a turn-of-the-century hippie commune, candles flaring around the palm trees and multi-colored Day Glo-type hammocks hovering above the grass. People were mingling, drooping languidly on the swinging bed-seats, pondering sparking a spliff or wondering what architects Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt really had in mind.

Others-students, teachers, and unknown observers-gathered around a piece called “The Wishing Tree.” Pennies and a few lucky dimes litter the ground beneath a tree stripped of its leaves, cold and barren, aside from the fake vivid red carnations that have been twisted to the ends of the branches with some kind of twine. Looking closer, a few phony little painted birds are ensnared within the branches and 10 candles as well as one larger spotlight illuminate the whole work.

When realizing that this wishing tree gives the impression of looking at it from below, it starts to dawn on you why the installations are titled The Sky Above Us.

Running into Roberto Behar, he asks me if I made a wish at “The Wishing Tree.” If I were as enthusiastic as this man that my wish would come true, I would have dumped buckets of pennies below the tree. It just seems to me that the tree is a giant contradiction, if it is art. It appears dead, yet has this bright red flowering all over it. Perhaps the tree is just bleeding a painful red out through these unnaturally occurring flowers. Or, even more, it may just be a tongue-in-cheek, ironic installation beckoning students and others to make a wish, to fancy the idea that you’ll get an A on the next test or that the sexy frat boy in your class will give it to you good at next weekend’s party (I’m being sardonic myself here), but the tree itself is corny and may be mocking people for doing what it invites everyone to do.

When I ask an architecture student what he thinks is going on, he tells me that the art is the 16 hammocks dangling around. Art? I was looking forward to taking a nap there after I looked at the actual art. The student then explains to me that these hammocks are conceptual, using changing space as the backdrop for the concept. What I’m hoping though is that the artists have set up these hammocks to comment on the fact that this school is more of a Club Med resort than a rigorous, intellectual academic institution.

The hammocks will be here until the 27th of November and chances are that a line will form full of people that have no idea that there is art going on here-they just want to swing in a hammock. People hanging around may not be aware that they are sitting on art, but they are altering the original space in the Palm Court. Then again, Unicco workers adding stone benches around campus are also changing the aesthetic and architectural space. Maybe we all need to plant a tree or install loveseats along the water so we can leave our mark and modify our surroundings as well.

Rachael Henrichsen can be reached at