Public Art Arrives on Law School Campus

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Since the first time an early human placed his handprint on the wall of a cave, artists have been bedeviled by the question: “So what is it for?”

newartSculptor Jim Cole doesn’t have that problem. He has spent his career creating masses of stone and metal that look like they should be on display in an art museum – though they’re meant to be used as furniture.

His latest project, a group of sculptures titled “Separation of Powers,” is now a permanent part of the landscape at the Levin College of Law. Cole began installing the sculptures on the law school campus in mid-October. The artworks are meant to help define the law school’s main entrance and to provide seating for more than a dozen students between classes.

“I think people should be allowed to touch sculpture,” said Cole, who teaches furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design. “Lots of people have special little objects they feel very attached to, and texture is part of that bond. People should be allowed to bond with art in the same way.”

The sculptures are funded through the Art in State Buildings Program, which requires state agencies and public universities to set aside funds for public artwork whenever they embark on a new construction project. The law school has just completed a $25 million renovation project that modernized classrooms and greatly expanded the Lawton Chiles Legal Information Center, now the largest law library in the Southeast.

Associate Dean for Library and Technology Kathleen Price, who also teaches art law, served on the university-wide committee charged with purchasing art for the newly-renovated building. She said the group chose Cole, in part, because he suggested they survey Price’s art law students to determine what sort of art the student body wants.

“We asked the students if they wanted something with a legal motif and they emphatically said ‘no,’” Price said. “They seemed to want a place where they could retreat from the pressure of the classroom.”

Students also wanted the funds spent on something useful, Price said, and the committee wanted something that would help build a sense of community.

Cole seemed like the perfect fit. While some of his works have found their home in prominent museums (one is in the permanent collection of New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), most of his work was created for the outdoors, where people are allowed to approach and even sit on it.

“When I first got started in this business, there were a few artists I was just crazy about, like (abstract expressionist sculptor) David Smith,” he said. “This was work that I really wanted to get close to, and I used to get so upset that people weren’t allowed to (touch) it.”

Cole has installed two large pieces, titled “The Executive” and “The Legislator,” in the law school’s main entrance on the west side of campus. A larger piece, titled “The Jurist,” will be installed nearby in January.

A smaller piece is now on display in the lobby of the law library. Its location led library staff to whimsically dub it “The Lobbyist.”

All four pieces were named by law school staff. Cole says the title of a work doesn’t matter much to him: most of his pieces are named after the quarry where the rock for each sculpture was cut.

“We wanted to get some memorable names out there before the inevitable nicknaming began,” said Price.

UF students have a tradition of nicknaming landmarks after food. The sculpture officially titled “Alachua,” collection of bright yellow steel beams near Turlington Plaza was rechristened the “French Fries” by students shortly after it was erected in the 1980s. A spud-shaped geological formation on display in Turlington Plaza has long been known as “The Potato.” And the law school’s own signature sculpture, a collection of half-buried copper circles officially titled “Cause and Effect,” is better known to law students as “The Cheerios.”

Like the new sculptures, “The Cheerios” is an abstract work, with little obvious connection to the world of law – and it is proof that the law school can embrace such work. First introduced to the campus in 1987, the sculpture has become almost synonymous with the law school.

“There will probably be some debate about these sculptures at first,” Price said. “Debate is what we do at a law school. But over time, I suspect that even critics will find that this artwork has grown on them.”

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Published: November 3rd, 2005

Category: News