Buorgeois Sculpture gives WCMA new look

If you’ve ventured west of Goodrich Hall since returning to campus, you may have noticed the huge mounds of dirt and backhoes in front of Lawrence Hall. This landscaping project is part of what the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) calls “a monumental outdoor sculpture project by internationally acclaimed artist Louise Bourgeois.” The sculpture dedication, which coincides with Convocation weekend, will occur after a symposium entitled “In The Public Eye: Celebrating 75 Years of Art and Learning at the Williams College Museum of Art” on Oct. 5 and 6. The ceremony will take place on Saturday, Oct. 6, at 11:45 a.m.

When complete, the new front lawn will feature multiple pairs of eyes, some cast in bronze and others carved in Nubian granite, designed with the intention of bringing life to the lawn and guiding visitors to the entrance of the museum, the courtyard of which will be redesigned as well. The sculptures will range from three to seven feet high and some will double as benches.

According to a WCMA press release, “With its varied textures and hues, the sculpture will relate differently to the changing light of each season, constantly revealing new aspects of character with every visit. At night, integrated light beams will provide yet another opportunity to experience the work anew. Bourgeois’ piece will generate a mesmerizing experience as well as an engaging work of art with both aesthetic and intellectual appeal.” To incorporate the project into the surrounding architecture and landscaping, Bourgeois coordinated her designs with Peter Meyer, a landscape architect from the Office of Dan Kiley.

At the symposium on Friday, Oct. 5, artists, curators, gallery directors and professors of art will examine this project in the context of Bourgeois’ work. Scheduled to speak are Robert Storr, senior curator in the department of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art, Richard Andrews, director of the Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington, Alex Potts, professor of modern sculpture and chair of the history of art department at the University of Reading, U.K., and Ursula Von Rydingsvard, an internationally acclaimed sculptor whose monumental bronze piece, “Large Bowl, 1997,” you may have noticed by the south side of the science center.

A panel discussion between these guests, moderated by Linda Shearer, director of the WCMA, will follow their individual talks. The symposium will focus on Bourgeois, who turns 90 this year, and, according to the Albright-Knox Gallery website, is “celebrated for her emotionally and psychologically charged works drawing from autobiographical sources.” It will address questions related to the place of public art in the world today, specifically issues related to art on college campuses.

The artistic bent of the weekend’s activities will carry over to Saturday’s convocation, which will include the awarding of honorary degrees to William H. Pierson, Jr., Massachusetts Professor of Art Emeritus, and Whitney S. Stoddard ’35, Amos Lawrence Professor of Art Emeritus. Earl A. Powell III ’66, director of the National Gallery of Art, will then deliver a message to seniors and the Williams community. The program then will move from Chapin to the WCMA front lawn for the dedication of the sculpture, followed by a public reception at 4 p.m., which will include discussions and tours of Bourgeois’ sculptures.

According to a WCMA press release, Bourgeois has received such prestigious awards and commissions as the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Sculpture Center, Washington D.C. in 1991, the French Ministry of Culture’s Grand Prix National de Sculpture in 1993, and the National Medal of Arts in 1997, presented by Bill Clinton. The British Museum in London, the Metropolitan Museum in New York, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris all feature her works in their displays.

Because of her long and varied career, critics and audiences have used many different labels in an attempt to categorize her work. Bourgeois began with roots in the Surrealism movement of the 1930s, but presented some of her first work, carved wooden sculptures, in the context of Abstract Expressionism in the late 1940s and 1950s. However, by the mid-1960s, Bourgeois was associated with the feminist movement and then the women’s art movement of the 1970s. In the 1980s, Bourgeois’ position in the artistic world was secured as her work became increasingly expressionist, psychological, and figurative.

Bourgeois has used eyes as the central image of sculptures repeatedly, as in a six-foot tall 1982 marble piece called Eyes at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and a 1984 piece called Nature Study: Eyes. Speaking about this piece, the Albright-Knox Art Gallery writes, “[Bourgeois] believes eyes are extremely significant. As she said, ‘It has to do. . .with the power of communication established by the eyes, very specially in the case of flirtatious eyes. You might say that there is an eye language that has nothing to do with body language. . .it has to do with a language of sympathy. . ..It is completely mysterious and completely reliable. . ..It’s terribly important since most communication is completely untrue.’”

Eye language is entirely separate from body language or verbal expression because it is so honest and difficult to control. In Eyes, the white marble “eyeballs” are not connected to the pink slab on which they rest. If the work were lifted, they would roll away. For the artist, this refers to the potential of losing control of one’s emotions when communicating through eye contact. A loss of control could lead a person to become trapped, just as the white eyeballs are trapped in the pink marble “face.”

This sculpture project will undoubtedly raise campus awareness of the place of the college museum, as it literally redesigns the face of the campus during its 75th anniversary season. Furthermore, the sculpture’s location along Route 2 will undoubtedly cause heads to turn as drivers pass. Hopefully, the drivers will keep their eyes on the road and not on the eyes in order to avoid hitting students.