By Gina Beach
Between Nelson Commons and Adams Hall on South Green, a new sculpture's platforms and nooks create an unusual resting place for passersby. The red brick formation rises 5 and a half feet high and stretches 46 and a half feet across.
"Brick -- I Want to Become Architecture" -- commissioned for Adams Hall, Ohio University's first new residence hall since 1972 -- was completed in August, just in time for the arrival of South Green's newest residents.
The piece is the work of Allan and Ellen Wexler of New York. The artists were hired by the university's Percent for Art Committee, the local connection to a national program that facilitates the creation of public art for new and renovated public buildings.
The choice of artists is not dependent on their ties to the university, but rather on their ability to contribute a meaningful piece of art that aligns with the program's mission.
"We give the artists as much liberty as possible," said Percent for Art Committee Chair Pam Callahan, an architect and Ohio University planner. "(But) we stress the need to create something that is durable and maintainable."
Noting the pervasiveness of red brick on campus, Ellen Wexler said she and her husband wanted to draw attention to the beauty of one of the world's oldest building materials, a new medium for them. "We wanted it to blend in," she said, "but we (also) wanted it to catch attention."
One feature of "Brick" is likely to do just that. The artists had a plaster cast made of Allan Wexler and used it to push the outline of his seated body into the bricks, creating a recess for others to sit.
"Your body goes into the architecture," Ellen Wexler said, comparing sitting in the artwork to moving in to Adams Hall. "You occupy the body of the artist."
The two were paid $78,425 for their work. Although state law requires that a percentage of a new building's cost be set aside for public art if a certain level of state funding is appropriated for construction, the Adams Hall project was covered by the university's Auxiliaries budget, which gets most of its funding from room and board fees.
In addition to the Wexlers' sculpture, the committee has commissioned eight pieces on campus, including Athens native Maya Lin's "Input" landscape sculpture in Bicentennial Park and alumna Jenny Holzer's "Truisms" table, benches and LED display in Gordy Hall.
"We are creating a body of work on campus that is renowned," Callahan said of the university's Percent for Art collection by nationally recognized artists.
The goals of the program are admirable, said College of Fine Arts Dean Charles McWeeny, who also serves on the Percent for Art Committee.
"Percent for Art provides a unique perspective for the public by bringing artworks outside the traditional context of a museum or gallery," McWeeny said. "This benefits our culture by fostering a sense of community, self worth, social interaction and a stronger social fabric."
No strangers to interactive public art, the Wexlers have been commissioned for various Percent for Art projects in New York City schools. They also recently finished a project at the Great Lakes Science Center in Cleveland. Titled "WindWorks," the piece is a walkway in the shape of the giant wind turbine that powers the science center.
For the Adams Hall project, the artists hired veteran Athens mason Don Hawk for the construction phase. He also helped with the 2002 Percent for Art piece "River Run," a bridge near the Life Sciences Building by artist Barbara Grygutis.
As the artists and masons worked, students staying in Adams Hall this summer shared their opinions.
"The material chosen is perfect," said Vichaya Mukdamanee, a Thai exchange student.
"I've never seen the way (artists) make sculptures," said freshman Ashlee Washington. "I can't wait to see the final (piece)."
A dedication ceremony for "Brick -- I Want to Become Architecture" will be scheduled this fall.
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