Students walking on the south side of Kauke this year will be greeted by some new faces ó two, to be exact, plus a disembodied beard. ìOmnibus,” a new sculpture by Montana artist John Buck, was installed on the campus this July.
The sculpture, cast in bronze, depicts a globe adorned with a collection of iconic images ó a horse, a television and the Parthenon, to name but a few, not to mention the aforementioned facial hair.
The sculpture was financed by a gift from the Howland Memorial Fund, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing educational institutions with contemporary works of art. The Howland fund has been working with the College of Wooster for more than 30 years, and is responsible for much of the public art that can be seen on the campus.
In the summer of 2008, a committee consisting of President Grant Cornwell, Vice President for Development Sara Patton, College Art Museum curator Kitty Zurko and a representative from the Howland fund reviewed a number of proposals from different artists for a new sculpture to adorn the lawn of the recently renovated Kauke hall.
Eventually they selected Buck, a veteran artist whose work was already being displayed on campus. ìGreat Falls,” a large print in the second floor computer lab of Taylor hall, was commissioned in 1995, and ìFact and Fiction” and ìRadius” can be found in the entrance lobby of Severance Hall. Buck believes that the new sculpture encapsulates the essence of the liberal arts educational experience.
ìItís about seeking out and finding meanings in an assortment of objects,” he said, adding that he wants students to draw connections between the different icons based on their own diverse experiences. ìYou might not find something in all the images, but someone will.”
Among the images depicted on the globe are several significant to the college ó a thistle, an oak leaf and a pair of Scottish terriers. Buck says he was encouraged to provide these connections to the school and the campus community, but hopes they will aid students in creating their own interpretations of the piece.
As for the students, their reaction to the new artwork has been mixed. A random sampling of 12 students walking by the sculpture produced descriptions ranging from ìhideous” to ìbeautiful” and ìawesome.” The majority of students, however, seemed to agree with Eryn Killian í12, who described her reaction as ìmostly just puzzled.” Regardless of their feelings towards ìOmnibus,” almost every student felt compelled to compare it ó mostly favorably, but in one case unfavorably ó to its neighbor on the South quad, Mel Kendrickís ìDouble Core.”
ìDouble Core,” also a gift of the Howland Fund, was installed in 2006 and to say its reception from the student body was lukewarm would be putting it mildly. Student protests of the piece at the time ranged from eloquent editorials and massive facebook petitions to outright vandalism. The more crude expressions of protest aside, the most common objection to ìDouble Core” seems to be that it simply doesnít fit into the aesthetic of the rest of the campus.
It wasnít just students, either. One faculty member in Taylor, on hearing of the existence of a new sculpture on Kauke lawn, eagerly asked if it was replacing Double Core. Many students have objected not the sculpture itself, but to its placement on the quad
ìI like it, I just donít think it was in the right place,” said Brittany Lee í11 ìThe quad is so nice, I just feel it takes away from it.”
ìItís a beautiful sculpture,” said Jon Freund í10. ìI just wish they had put it somewhere else.”
Zurko says a number of factors went into the choice of location ó ìI was told that the piece was to be located south of Kauke, and my part in the location decision was to find the best spot for it relevant to the drip lines of the tree, site lines, underground utilities, sprinklers, etc.” she said. ìSculpture tends to work better in concert instead of going it solo, so the location of ìDouble Core” was also a consideration so they could be seen both separately and together.”
Only time will tell what kind of reception ìOmnibus” will receive. But, at least for Zurko, aesthetics is not the primary concern. She hopes the presence of works like ìDouble Core” and ìOmnibus” will help Wooster be part of a ìLarger, global conversation.” ìI applaud Wooster,” she said ìFor not taking the view that visual art is just about interior, or in this case exterior, design.”