Bench and Table, 1988–1989
Cincinnati red granite, Bench: 87 x 18 x 19 inches; Table: 28 x 22 inches. Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2001.002
Location: Ross Commons Courtyard
Acclaimed for transforming the idea of public art, Scott Burton made functional sculptures that require a spectator’s presence to complete their purpose. Like conventional chairs and tables, Burton’s Bench and Table is designed not only for touch, but also use. Although originally intended to be subversive and challenge received notions about how art functions in relation to its audience, his minimal forms now seem familiar, even artful.
(Photo: Tad Merrick)
Burton was committed to making public art throughout his career, even though his first works were decidedly anti-establishment. Performances on New York City’s streets during the late 1960s evolved into “furniture tableaux” using chairs as surrogates for human forms. Not until 1977, however, did his unique synthesis of sculpture and furniture appear in New York galleries.
In the 1980s Burton adapted Minimalist forms to the needs of the corporate boardroom and public plaza. Although Bench and Table was not designed specifically for Middlebury College, both its form and function speak to the need for rest and repose, contemplation and conversation, amidst the bustling activity of a collegiate environment. While the title Bench and Table emphasizes the utilitarian properties of the sculpture, the minimal forms of the crescent bench and circular table are essentially poetic. Each component echoes the other’s shape and completes its form, just as the work requires a human presence to complete its function.
Smog, 1969–1970, fabricated 2000
7 x 80 x 60 feet
Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2000.013
Location: East lawn of McCardell Bicentennial Hall
Smog is the largest and most complex work by Tony Smith ever constructed. The artist was an exact contemporary of the Abstract Expressionist generation, but his art, unlike theirs, was never based on controlled accidents. He was trained as an architect and was well versed in mathematics and modular systems; his sculptures evolved over time from simple to increasingly complex geometric forms.
Smith died before Smog and other of his complex sculptures were fabricated in permanent materials. The sculpture is composed of octahedrons that create a lattice of positive and negative spaces. The cool metallic beauty and rhythm of its complex forms seem to have come into being by efflorescence, possessing both the logic of crystals and the passion of living forms.
Hieroglyphics for the Ear, 1997
Slate and steel, five stands, each 44 1/2 x 14 x 2 1/4 inches. Purchase of the Committee on Art in Public Places with funds provided by the Middlebury College Board of Trustees One Percent for Art Policy. 2001.003
Location: Along the path between Atwater dining hall and 275 Weybridge Street
The practice of letter cutting has played a large role in society and art throughout history, and is an activity that ties our modern civilization to its ancestral roots. Employing the same essential techniques that have spanned the centuries, London-based letter cutter Kate Owen incorporates the power of language with the permanence of stone carving, so that expressive words are grounded in firm substance.
Hieroglyphics for the Ear is a series of five slates, each with an onomatopoeic word carved on either side. Both the title and the inscriptions of the piece are taken from a Georg Christoph Licthenberg aphorism that declares, “words…which express sounds, are more than mere symbols; They are a kind of Hieroglyphics for the ear.” The inscribed words demand a twofold viewing experience: beyond the response that their literal meanings elicit, they exact a consideration of the aesthetic quality of their layout, letterform, and textural presence on the stone.
Hieroglyphics for the Ear is installed in a natural setting, on the pathway linking the Atwater Dining Hall with Nichols House, the residence of the Atwater Commons Faculty Heads.
In the fall of 1994 the President and Board of Trustees of Middlebury College adopted a “One Percent for Art” policy that was recommended by an ad-hoc Committee on Art in Public Places (CAPP).
This decision set aside one percent of the cost of any renovation or new construction at the college for the purchase, installation, maintenance, and interpretation of works of art publicly displayed on campus. With the adoption of this policy, which came within two years of the completion of the Center for the Arts and the Museum of Art, the Trustees formalized the existence of CAPP and signaled that the arts would come to play an increasingly important role in Middlebury’s institutional identity.
The Trustees’ charge to CAPP was clear: expand the educational mission of the Museum and the History of Art and Architecture and Studio Art programs by placing on campus compelling works of high quality; make works accessible to the non-specialist through interpretative materials; elicit gifts and loans that enhance the aesthetic and educational mission of the arts; involve a broad representation of the community in the selection, installation, and interpretation process; and ensure the security and care of these objects.
Since its inception, the committee—comprised of faculty, students, administrators, and trustees of the college—has diligently pursued its agenda, evaluating proposed gifts and prioritizing prospective sites for art projects. In addition, CAPP has established fiscal policies and future goals and informed and educated the community at large about the works of art on campus. As a result, the Middlebury community and visitors alike can now enjoy one of the most important campus-wide sculpture collections of any American liberal arts college.
Chair, Committee on Art in Public Places
Director, Middlebury College Museum of Art
Walter Cerf Distinguished College Professor