A Very Public Art Gallery: The UW Campus

AS Perspectives / Summer 1998

UW students interested in viewing art in public places don’t have far to look. There’s plenty of public art right on campus.

One of the UW’s oldest artworks is a statue of George Washington—located west of Red Square—that was created by Loredo Taft for the Alaskan-Yukon Pacific Exposition. Nearby is Broken Obelisk, a sculpture by Barnett Newman, given to the UW by the Virginia Wright Foundation in 1973.

  A "grotesque" from the north side of Smith Hall.

Several buildings are adorned with architectural ornaments worthy of attention. Kurt Kiefer, UW campus art administrator, points to Smith Hall’s grotesques—created by Dudley Pratt in the 1930s—as “exemplary examples” of ornamentation.

Kiefer’s own favorite public art on campus is a set of bus shelters by artists Suzanne Hellmuth and Jock Reynolds, on Stevens Way near Anderson Hall. The shelters were designed “to serve as a formal gateway to two collections of plants—the Medicinal Herb Garden and the campus collection of tree specimens,” explains Kiefer, who adds that the artists “wanted to make places that people really wanted to be.”

There’s also art in interior public spaces. The lobby of Meany Hall houses several treasures, including a mural by Jacob Lawrence and a glass artwork by Dale Chihuly that spans a 60-foot wall. Hundreds of pieces by current and former art students are displayed in buildings around campus through the School of Art’s Art on Loan Program.

Many recent installations have been funded by the State of Washington through an ordinance that requires state construction projects—including projects at the UW—to set aside one half of one percent of their total budget for art. The UW Public Art Commission selects projects and artists for the University, with Kiefer serving as its staff.

Everything That Rises by Martin Puryear.  

Not all of the UW’s projects have received unanimous praise— at least at first. When Martin Puryear’s sculpture, Everything That Rises, was installed outside the Physics/Astronomy Building in 1997, some likened it to a massive bowling pin or peanut. Kiefer says such reactions are to be expected with public art, particularly when artists take risks.

“The thing that seems to disturb people the most is simplicity,” says Kiefer. “A lot of people, when they see something simple, think that the artist is trying to pull the wool over their eyes. In fact, some artists choose to make things simple for a reason. They want to create something that makes people slow down. If an artwork makes people stop for a minute, then it’s done its job.”

Got questions about the art on campus? Email the public art office at campusrt@ u.washington.edu.

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