Campus statues have troubled history

If you’ve ever wandered through the College campus, chances are you’ve noticed the array of random statuary that decorates the College’s grounds. From the jagged, blocky statues that are sprinkled across the field above Mission Park to the famous eyeballs outside of the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA), the campus landscape populated by many three-dimensional artistic installments. As a school where art history is one of the specialties, and where three art museums are very nearby, it is no surprise that the College has been able to accumulate so many fascinating pieces of sculpture. But what about those statues that can no longer be seen?

Over the years, Williams has been host to more than just the pieces that currently dot the campus. The College has seen a variety of other statues, and those statues have seen some interesting circumstances. In fact, the reason students can no longer experience these bygone pieces is that several of them were vandalized and subsequently removed from campus.

Professor Eugene J. Johnson of the art history department and Vivian L. Patterson, Curator of Collections at the WCMA provided some information on several of the now-removed pieces of statue, each of which has its own story.

The first notable case of vandalism involved a series of statues by the important American sculptor Herbert Ferber. In 1975, Ferber loaned the College six sculptures, which were installed as a group in front of the just-built Sawyer Library. Three years later, in 1978, the statues were damaged at least twice and were consequently removed to storage for repair. Four of the pieces were returned to the artist, and the two that remained (“Caligraph L C” and “Reverse Curve”) as gifts to the College were never reinstalled on the main campus, although one was eventually placed outside of Lawrence Hall.

In 1993 artist David Hammons installed a giant, fan-adorned boulder on Chapin Lawn. The project was entitled “Rock Fan” and caused considerable controversy, which was arguably what the artist intended for the “preppy, white” population of the campus. Though causing confusion and provoking animosity, the students thoroughly assimilated the sculpture by painting it bright purple over Homecoming weekend. The curator of the exhibit, Deborah Rothschild, had to track the artist down in Rome to inform him of the event. He was apparently unfazed.

A less traditional tale of “vandalism” (and one that received considerable press at the time) occurred in 1983, when the work of sculptor Alice Aycock was destroyed, not by students, but by the College’s own department of Buildings and Grounds. Specifically, the piece – a bomb-shelter-like construct of earthwork, cement and wood that had been installed when Aycock was artist-in-residence during 1974 – was accidentally bulldozed during the construction of a storage unit for the College. The sculpture, titled “The Williams College Project,” was installed in a field and meant to be left for awhile. Hay and long grass (some of which had been planted by the artist) had grown up around the piece and no signs or plaques of any sort designated it as a piece of art.

“The Williams College Project” was at various times mistaken for a well cover, an abandoned student project, or simply a pile of dirt, and the B&G crew demolished it without a second thought. The Record was the first to cover the story, and the event became somewhat famous after coverage by the New York Times and the NBC Nightly News.

This “vandalism,” while provoking a small amount of outrage and regret among those in charge of the exhibit, was mainly viewed with humor and followed by several wry discussions of the appreciation of art. The College apologized to Aycock, who was quoted as saying “I’m in shock,” and was somewhat upset, although she did express an interest in creating future pieces for Williams.

In light of the recent acts of drunken vandalism, this slightly historical recap of previous vandalism issues seems appropriate. In a college as renowned as Williams with so many connections to the artistic world, the College will have access to fascinating art. However, with attention-grabbing installations comes a chance of their destruction as well. Art seems to enjoy a special, if precarious place here.

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