By: Landon Groves
When the selection process for Western’s next outdoor sculpture began, Western Gallery Director and Outdoor Sculpture Curator Hafthor Yngvason already had an artist in mind.
Almost two years later, his first choice, artist Sarah Sze, is beginning project development.
“Sze was clearly the artist that everyone wanted,” Yngvason said. “She really is one of the most fantastic artists of her generation.”
Funding for the project comes from the Sam Carver Gymnasium renovation budget, in accordance with the Washington State Arts Commission’s Arts in Public Places program. The statewide program requires 0.5 percent of construction costs to go toward the acquisition, placement and stewardship of artwork in state-funded building projects.
The sculpture will be created from a single boulder, split in half to reveal a geode-like sunrise made from opaque glass rods. It will sit partially submerged in the lawn outside Old Main to maintain the illusion that it has always been there.
“[The sculpture] will explore the the fragility of time passing, and our desire for weight and permanence in the face of both overwhelming natural forces and the ubiquitous images that surround us daily,” Sze wrote in her art proposal.
Even with the funds from a huge project like Carver Gym’s renovation, the university still didn’t have the money to commission a major artist like Sze, Yngvason said. But Western’s existing sculpture collection prompted Sze to work for less than her usual fee.
“Not enough people know that we have one of the best university collections of campus sculptures in the country,” Yngvason said. “I keep telling them, ‘We have an ivy league collection.’”
Sze toured Western’s campus in November 2016 to look at the existing collection, most of which were commissioned and built by her peers. Matt Hammatt, a local collector and member of the selection jury, was in attendance.
Hammatt said that Sze was impressed with the collection and honored to be considered a part of it, and that whatever she came up with would be a reaction to what was already there.
“She wants to look backward and forward with respect to art history,” Hammatt said. “The stone points back to the history of outdoor sculpture, while the photographic image points forward, taking sculpture in a new direction.”
The artist selection process began in January of 2016, when Yngvason assembled a jury of art professors, local collectors and university officials to sift through numerous artists eligible for the project. From the beginning, Yngvason said it was clear that Sze was the artist that everyone wanted.
Julia Sapin, art department chair and art history professor, was also on the jury that reviewed Sze’s proposal.
“[Sze’s work] is very detail oriented, but the overall image is compelling in and of itself,” Sapin said. “You can look at it from an overarching perspective, or you can look at the details and find those very interesting. I like that balance in her work.”
An installation date has yet to be set for the sculpture, but Yngvason said it could be spring 2018.