Big bear barely Brunonian

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Sculpture newly installed on Brown Campus. (Providence Journal)

Just off the Main Green at Brown, a mounted Marcus Aurelius presides over Lincoln Field, now called Simmons Field after the university’s most recent former president. Or at least the Roman general used to preside. And Ruth Simmons is now dissed. On Sunday I opened the Providence Journal to find a photo of the above abomination squatting on the quadrangle green.

The story in the Journal reads:

The teddy bear sits now behind a chain-link fence, an installation in progress that left passersby wondering Sunday whether people might eventually cozy up to a bear that doesn’t seem cuddly despite its plush appearance. Chipped black buttons for eyes adorn the 23-foot-tall sculpture that’s bisected with an oversized black desk lamp, awaiting its light bulb.

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Marcus Aurelius (twitter.com)

Giant bear sculpture at Brown University has its friends, foes,” by Kate Bramson, reports that the sculpture is a baby-blue copy of artist Urs Fischer’s other work. His most celebrated bear is yellow, purchased at auction from Christie’s for $6.8 million by a member of the Qatar royal family, who had it installed at the airport in Doha. Yeah, yeah. We all missed our calling. The one at Brown is owned by hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen and wife Alexandra, and it is on loan to the university for five years.

Five years!

One can roll one’s eyes at the Cohens, but Brown’s leadership has a duty to its community, its alumni, its past and its future. The university and its campus are handed down in trust, and that trust has been violated. Another recently installed sculpture, “Idee di pietra” by Italian artist Giuseppe Penone, on the Main Green, is a bronze tree that looks real but for a boulder nestled in the crook of its dead branches. Fine.

Many sculptures, venerable and otherwise, adorn this bastion of the Ivy League, founded in 1764, the nation’s seventh-oldest college. None so alters the character of its setting as the blue bear. It arguably violates all five of the “values of public art” asserted by the university’s Public Art Committee. Four of the five, all but the last regarding donors, are violated inarguably. If this sculpture is indeed Brunonian, then the longtime critics of Brown’s lack of serious academic standards must be right.

“‘Ghostbusters’ meets ‘Toy Story'” suggested a professor of computer science, Anna Lysyanskaya, to Bramson while touring friends through campus.

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“Ideas of Stone” (Journal)

Bramson found few to take the bear’s side. That’s no surprise. When it comes to their own environment, student taste is surprisingly conservative. Students at Columbia are demanding the removal of a far less egregious sculpture by Henry Moore. These are not issues of free speech but of community values. Objecting to the unsought reconceptualization of Lincoln Field is not to be against art but to favor artistic standards.

And what to make of the placidity with which the blue bear reacts to being cleaved through the skull by a giant desk lamp? Does it make light of violence? Or is it merely a reference to the distress students feel at having to study at night instead of partying? Just asking.

If the Public Art Committee, the Campus Planning Committee and the University Curator cannot wrap their heads around the damage done to a wide range of university priorities by this over-the-top sculpture, University President Christina Paxson should step in and remove the thing.

RAMSA partner Gary Brewer just sent this Brown Daily Herald article about a much better bear sculpture then planned, now erected, as part of the excellent Nelson Fitness Center building completed a few years ago.

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Statue of Kodiak bear near Brown’s new Nelson Fitness Center. (from Gary Brewer)

About David Brussat

For a living, I edit the writing of some of the nation's leading architects, urbanists and design theorists. This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. My freelance writing and editing on that topic and others addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts, and a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to invest your prose with even more style and clarity, please email me at my consultancy, dbrussat@gmail.com, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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2 Responses to Big bear barely Brunonian

  1. I’m speechless over this “big bleu bear en lamp”! It does remind me of a fire that started in my college dorm when my pillowcase was too close to the open bulb of my desk lamp, and, as I was being a good student and doing my bedtime reading – whoosh! Very scary and I had completely forgotten about that little incident. One point which did not come across in the ProJo story is that the light lights up! Maybe a night time photo will make more sense – a calming nightlight for lonely college students and a reassuring teddy bear to make them feel at home….I need a night view before judgement – right now I just reserved my nasties….stay tuned!

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  2. Words fail me.
    I looked at the Public Art Committee’s website. The older figurative sculptures, including Marcus Aurelius, Julius Caesar, and Dante, are not included on their map or referred to in any way. Perhaps they intend that that we are not to learn from the past?

    Like

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