WMU News

New, cutting-edge works featured on WMU Sculpture Tour

July 8, 1999

KALAMAZOO -- From a neon dancer to huge conceptual wooden and metal structures, new and sometimes provocative sculpture is finding a temporary home as part of Western Michigan University's Sculpture Tour.

Ten new pieces have joined two continuing works on the outdoor tour on the University's main campus. Of the 10, five were put in place last fall, while the other five were put on display in May and June. Several of the works come from the annual Pier Walk show on Navy Pier in Chicago.

"The idea is to maintain a sense of constant change," says Carol Rhodes, a WMU instructor of art and the sculpture tour coordinator. "We're one of the few places doing an exhibit like this."

One piece, sure to have already caught the eyes of many passing motorists, is the large wooden sculpture created by Minneapolis artist Mike Rathbun. The conceptual structure, visible from Stadium Drive, is anchored by two interlocking U-joints forming a tilted circle.

The universal joint, used in automobile drive shafts, is a recurring theme in some of Rathbun's work and symbolizes a transference of energy. Emanating from the sides of the intersecting U-joints are large wooden poles, one tipped with a structure resembling solar panels attached to satellites and the other the skeleton of a boat. Boats also are prevalent themes for Rathbun, who has built boats and sailed them across Lake Michigan and Lake Superior.

The piece is titled "N42°16.593' W85° 36.929'" for the longitude and latitude coordinates of the sculpture's position near Howard Street and Stadium Drive.

Much of Rathbun's approach to art is shaped by his belief that as physical beings, humans understand the spiritual through the physical, such as the sacred objects and ritual acts found in most cultures.

His art is part of a search for epiphanies or "moments when for reasons I cannot explain, I seem to be connected to something outside of myself," Rathbun says in his artist statement. "I experience a moment of clarity, clarity about what I don't know."

Rathbun's sculpture is joined by nine other new works plus two continued ones scattered across the main campus. Several pieces are standing near Sangren Hall and in an area near Rood Hall, Everett Tower and Haenicke Hall.

Sculptures surrounding Sangren Hall, home of the art department, include an installation piece by internationally acclaimed sculptor, painter and printmaker Robert Stackhouse of Kansas City, Mo. Last fall, art students and others interested in the unique project helped Stackhouse build the large sculpture made of wooden poles and planks and called "Michigan Swell."

"Some of the sculptors are very much interested in working with students," Rhodes says. "They like the collaboration. And this is a learning institution, so that's the whole idea behind it. We want people to get something out of it, especially the students."

Others who have assisted with building sculptures on the tour include high school students involved in the Education for the Fine Arts accelerated arts program. They helped sculptor Patrick Dougherty build a large hut-like structure out of hardwood saplings standing near Waldo Library. The sculpture is being continued on this year's tour.

There's also a strong local connection in the tour. Sculptures near Rood Hall include a huge, neatly bundled stack of wood called "Faggot" by Kalamazoo sculptor and WMU graduate Paul Flickinger, who serves as head of ceramics at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts. Simplicity is an essential element of Flickinger's work, which is inspired in part by early Japanese ceramics and contemporary Japanese sculpture. The piece's title has its origins in the Middle English term for a bundle.

People also can see a totem pole-like sculpture forged from blocks of solid steel by Seattle artist Bill Cooper, who earned bachelor's and master's degrees at WMU. Titled "Material Witness," Cooper's piece pays homage to his family and friends who worked in the factories of Southern Michigan and is displayed next to Sangren Hall.

Not all the sculptures are large and made of natural substances. A neon figure over the entrance to Brown Hall called "The Dance" shows a twirling, leotard-clad dancer and is best viewed at dusk, Rhodes says. The work is by Washington, D.C., artist Craig Kraft.

Other sculptures clustered around Sangren Hall include a 26-foot long steel and concrete boat sculpture by Wamego, Kan., artist Daniel Hunt called "Lake Effect;" an imposing horned figure clutching a rack of antlers by Lummi Island, Wash., artist Ann Morris called "Her Cry;" and an interlocking rock slab and metal sculpture by Toronto artist Carl Tacon called "Echo."

Other new sculpture includes Austin, Texas, artist Sam Spiczka's three-legged metal construction appropriately titled "Try-Pod" in front of Haenicke Hall and an eye-catching sculpture called "Northern Living" by Vancouver, British Columbia, artist Alex DeCosson. DeCosson's piece is made of various found objects including refrigerators and a canoe sawed in half and is in front of Rood Hall and Everett Tower.

Rounding out the tour is another continuing piece -- a massive paper, wood, wire and sod construction by Red Hook, N.Y., artist Steven Siegel. The piece is adjacent to the parking garage at Miller Auditorium.

Though scattered across campus, the pieces are within reasonable walking distance of each other. Students and the community at large are encouraged to take a stroll and check out the art.

The Sculpture Tour began in 1992 under the coordination of Phillip VanderWeg, professor of art and Sculpture Tour director, with strong support from former University President Diether H. Haenicke. That support has continued under President Elson S. Floyd, who succeeded Haenicke as University president in August.

Rhodes says the name "Sculpture Tour" is intended to have a dual meaning.

"The idea was that you would have sculptures here and sculptures elsewhere and that when they left here, they could go somewhere else and others could come here," Rhodes says. "So the idea of a tour was more than just walking around, but also that the pieces themselves went on tour."

A new Sculpture Tour catalog is being put together by WMU graphic art students and is due out in the fall. People who would like a brochure may call Rhodes at 387-2433. Information on the tour also will be available on the department's Web page at the University's Web site.

Media contact: Mark Schwerin, 616 387-8400, mark.schwerin@wmich.edu

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