CMC Public Arts Initiative Unveils Plans at Ath Panel

Claremont McKenna College is making big moves to bring art to its campus. 

CMC hosted the first of a two-part panel discussion about the relationship between art, architecture and campus on Sept. 30 at the Athenaeum. The symposium, which was sponsored by CMC’s Public Art Committee and the Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, was devised to formally launch CMC’s public art initiative and generate discussion about the role of art on campus.

The panel was comprised of four speakers: Miwon Kwon, a professor of art history at University of California, Los Angeles; Jorge Pardo, a sculptor; Oscar Tuezon, an artist and architect; and Rochelle Steiner, a writer, curator, public art producer and former dean of University of Southern California's Roski School of Fine Arts. Each speaker brought his or her own expertise to the discussion and offered insights into the function of public art.

Several of the speakers raised conceivable issues with public art, in particular decrying its potentially elitist nature.

“The problem with most public art is that it’s tragically conceptual,” said Pardo in his speech.

Kwon echoed these sentiments in her discussion of public art at UCLA and University of California, San Diego.

“Art is typically associated with the haves and the rich,” she said. “And when it’s put in a public place, it’s seen as a top-down gift and that can create animosity.”

However, Kwon also spoke to the value of art on campus, both in terms of aesthetic beauty and in “elevating art as a necessity for education.”

Indeed, the public art initiative marks a significant development for CMC’s relationship with the arts. CMC does not currently have an art department, nor has it announced plans to create one, but the public art initiative certainly indicates that the college sees art as an important component of the educational experience. While the exact extent of the art initiative and its implications have not yet been revealed, Kaiser announced the upcoming installment of two public sculptures on campus.

The first of these was designed by the late Chris Burden PO '69 as a sister installation to what is perhaps his most recognizable work, “Urban Lights,” a collection of lampposts displayed at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. The commissioned piece, entitled “Meet Me in the Middle”, will feature two concentric circles of Los Angeles park benches and will reside outside CMC’s newly-constructed Roberts Pavilion beginning in May 2016.

The second installation is a sculpture in the style of a totem pole designed by Ellsworth Kelly, an American painter and sculptor whose works have notably appeared in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The sculpture is set to be completed in the quadrangle between Phillips Hall and Appleby Hall within two years.

Lawrence Beall CM ’16, a student and an artist, expressed excitement at the expansion of the college’s arts culture, but also spoke of his hope that there would be more to come beyond the Athenaeum announcement.

“There’re going to be sculpture pieces that we’re going to be able to interact with, but it doesn’t really say anything about how the institution as a whole will be operating differently or allowing students to really pursue art in their education,” said Beall.

Further details about new arts developments at CMC will likely be revealed in the Oct. 1 Board of Trustees dinner and in the second portion of the panel at the Athenaeum on Nov. 4.

“I’m definitely looking forward to it,” CMC literature professor Kathryn Stergiopoulos said. “I wonder if they’ll have more surprises. This is certainly an exciting thing to have happening at the college.”

“The social possibility of art in a public landscape is really the new next frontier,” said Kwon in her discussion.

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