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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

More art can provide Brandeis with an identity

Published: February 7, 2014
Section: Opinions, Top Stories

I stumbled upon a story about a life-like statue of a man dressed only in a pair of tighty whitey underwear that was recently erected on the Wellesley College campus. It has faced a fair bit of protest, with a number of students demanding that it be removed. To be honest, from looking at a picture of the statue, I can see why it would be met with so much distaste. It would certainly make someone walking to class feel a little odd if they were confronted by a bald, underwear-clad man with his eyes closed and arms stretched outward as if reaching for something. It would be particularly odd for this to take place at Wellesley—a women’s college. Nevertheless, learning about this statue got me thinking about how the Brandeis campus could greatly benefit from additional pieces of art and sculpture, though maybe wearing a bit more clothing.

Whether it be sculptures, fountains or murals, art adds character to a scene. When one looks up Brandeis online, one will likely find a picture of Usen Castle. The reason for this is clear: the Castle is easily the most distinctive building we’ve got. Most of the buildings on our campus could easily be located on other campuses, whether it be the library, the SCC or the Mandel Center for the Humanities. The Castle, however, proudly screams “Brandeis.” We could use more distinctive features.

There are a number of sites that would be perfect for something Brandeisian, like a 4-foot, bronze Pikachu statue holding a “Say No to Keystone Pipeline” sign, a mural of students sledding down the library hill on stolen trays from Sherman or a golden, ornate Manischewitz fountain (although the last one might get a little bit expensive). I recall visiting a friend at the University of Pennsylvania once and hearing him praise his school for having so many small pieces of art peppered throughout the campus. We should try to achieve a similar standard. Having little pieces of art throughout Brandeis could be a relatively inexpensive way to create a general picture of the university that would not be easily replicated elsewhere.This image would stick out in the minds of not only students and alumni, but also in prospective students’. People touring Brandeis would gain the type of deeper understanding of the school through seeing the types of art commissioned by the university or created by the student body, and get to know the community more with a greater connection with something so intimate.

We already have this to a certain degree. In the past year there have been art projects integrated into nature such as an exhibit of scattered chairs wrapped around trees and trees with “scarves” on them. These were terrific and intriguing, yet I would like to see more permanent pieces of art. I do think that having students themselves create some of these new features is a good idea, as it would provide a direct view into the personalities and passions of people who actually go to Brandeis. Plus, it is an easy way to integrate a classroom grade into a permanent fixture of the school. If these art students are already going to make a sculpture for a project, might as well put it to good use in a way everyone can enjoy.

Creating a more distinctive campus through the use of artwork is not only good for being able to give people a clearer understanding of Brandeis today, but could also serve as a sort of “time capsule” for the future. While being able to tell a story about a university is great, it is only improved by still having the artifact from that time. For example, one of the famous episodes in Brandeis’s history is the occupation of Ford Hall. That story loses some of its flavor, though, due to the fact that the hall no longer exists. Having long-lasting pieces of art could give people in the future views of what Brandeis was like and what was important to the student body in years prior.

It does not need to be a man in his underwear—and in fact the reactions of many students at Wellesley suggest that maybe that wouldn’t be the best idea. Yet this campus could certainly use some more statues and other pieces of art from the artists who aren’t afraid to get weird in the quest to reflect the spirit of Brandeis.