Art Arrives on Campus
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?”
Sculptor 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.”