Sculptures shape landscape aesthetics

In the last 10 years, curious-looking works of art have been sprouting up on campus.

Whether their aesthetic merit is appreciated or not, no one can deny that they appear expensive. This then begs the question, how much of students’ tuition dollars are actually funding these sculptures?

Technically, none. All sculptures are donated.

However, it’s not that simple. Time and money goes into maintaining this outdoor sculpture garden.

From working with the donor to picking a sculpture’s spot on campus and determining how often it should be re-painted, Brian Dursum, director of the Lowe Art Museum, is at the helm.

“Even though the artworks are donated, we still have to transport the piece, engineer a site-specific base, and plan regular upkeep to maintain it properly,” he said. “It ends up costing a lot of money. That’s why we no longer accept borrowed pieces.”

Currently there are 31 pieces exhibited throughout the 239 acres of the Coral Gables campus.

From the geometric steel giants dispersed around the University Green, to the marble Chinese lion-dogs near the School of Business and the inconspicuous limestone statue of a crouched human on the far northwest corner of Lake Osceola, the collection consists of diverse works, featuring local, national and international artists, whose expertise ranges from the more well-known to those that are emerging.

In 2001, President Donna E. Shalala arrived with experience from Hunter College and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, schools with impressive outdoor sculpture portfolios. Shalala was more artistically-conscious than her predecessors.

“Shalala arrived and saw these sculptures and thought it could be more interesting to spread them out away from the museum,” Dursum said.

The oldest sculptures were acquired in 1970 as part of the Esso collection from Latin America. The whimsical, corroded-green bronze of the windswept woman is now outside the Memorial Classroom Building. The other, more abstract and angular sculpture, is made of porous stone and tucked away in the Physics Quadrangle.

Today, more than two dozen sculptures have been added around campus. Each sculpture is strategically positioned in optimal public places, to not only benefit students, but also allow art aficionados in the community the chance to partake in it, too.

Collection highlights include the jagged circle of steel outside the McArthur Building and the equally enormous rectangular steel frame on the Green, both by Joel Perlman. According to his website, the majority of Perlman’s works cost more than $25,000.

On any given afternoon, on the hill leading from the Rock to Merrick, there will usually be a student sitting on the black “Barbell”, a work of art-turned-bench by Tony Rosenthal. With class notes spread out, or maybe just sitting in the shade during a break, these students are oblivious that they are resting on possibly the priciest seat on campus.

“I’m not sure whether I’m allowed to sit on it or not. I see people on it a lot though,” junior Bessie Nolan said as she walked past it. “Is it a bench or is it art? I don’t know.”