Guest Column by The Institute of Contemporary Art Student Board | Cementing the Artwork at Fisher's Footsteps

· October 31, 2013, 8:46 pm   ·  Updated October 31, 2013, 11:37 pm

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A large metallic sculpture surrounded by a wooden barrier currently stands between Meyerson Hall and Fisher Fine Arts Library. Perhaps you have learned about it in class or walked through it out of curiosity. This public sculpture, titled DS (3), is the work of Knut Äsdam, a noted Norwegian artist. Its presence on campus is due to the effort of Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award winner professor Kaja Silverman in conjunction with the Slought Foundation and Penn Design. That presence may be short-lived. The work is currently a temporary installation due to be dismantled or sold in the coming months — that is, unless the University decides to find the sculpture a permanent home on campus. As the Institute of Contemporary Art’s Student Board, we strongly hope the University will do so.

Public art is not solely for artists. Public art is, by its very definition, for everyone. In this way, Äsdam’s work engages a broad cross-section of the student body. From those who cannot tell a Pollock from a potato, to those who toil away in the stacks of Fisher Fine Arts, Äsdam’s sculpture elicits glances, discussions and, most importantly, thoughts. It is rare for a work to be so thought-provoking without relying on confusion masked in erudite art theory. One does not need to “get” the work to experience and enjoy it.

The watchword of contemporary academics at Penn is synergy of ideas and disciplines. DS (3) is a feat of engineering and design, of construction and conception. Intangible concepts are often made tangible through a piece of art. As a physical manifestation of what students here are asked and challenged to do each day, Äsdam’s work fits squarely within the mission of the liberal arts education Penn professes to provide.

While DS (3) is the subject of dialogue on campus, it is also a space for dialogue. Parties have been thrown there. Classes are taught beneath the metal grates. Äsdam’s work is about the body of the viewer and fulfills this function in a way that can be appreciated by all. A work that provides such an all-encompassing, universalizing academic and social experience should remain a part of Penn for posterity. It will be nicknamed, canonized, experienced until students will tell each other to meet under the Äsdam for lunch. We strongly urge the University to find Knut Äsdam’s work a permanent home so that we, as a diverse and manifold group of individuals, might weave this extraordinary sculpture into our collective fabric.

As an expensive undertaking, there is a financial argument to be made for keeping the work. There is a prestige argument to be made as well. While it may be true that the quality of a school’s art oft proclaims the status of the University, we are neither qualified to nor interested in taking such a position. Instead, we see the work as occupying a tangible, real and unique place in our lives as undergraduates. While the ICA Student Board is affiliated with The Institute of Contemporary Art, we are not speaking for it. We are speaking as ourselves, as students in the College and in Wharton, majoring in art history, in business, in other disciplines. Collectively, we recognize the special opportunity afforded to the Penn community in keeping this piece on campus. We hope the University will as well.

Isaac Kaplan is a junior in the College studying art history, writing on behalf of the Institute of Contemporary Art Student Board. The chair of the board, Hillary Halter, can be reached at halterh@sas.upenn.edu.

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