Under the Sycamore Tree

29 Jul 2011

Indiana State University Foundation unveils new sculpture

Indiana State University (ISU), located in the central United States, is perhaps best know as a ‘good deal’ for those seeking a quality education at an affordable price. The Princeton Review, an American based standardized test preparation and admissions consulting company, which now operates across the globe in 44 states and 22 countries, has named the school one of the 'Best in the Midwest' seven years running.

But aside from this, ISU flies mostly under the radar with the exception of a few celebrated alumnae that keep it view, namely basketball star, Larry Bird, US Senator Birch Bayh, once a candidate for President of the United States and the actor Burl Ives, who played 'Sam the Snowman', in the popular children’s television show, Rudolph the Reindeer. Much like its geographic location, ISU’s architecture and art is very much centrist, in other words middle of the road. And the new sculpture for ISU’s Foundation, unveiled last week, is no exception.

Designed by Tim Upham, a Colorado based artist who specializes in large-scale site specific works and is the talent behind Skyrail, a beautiful gateway designed for the Botanic Gardens in Cheyenne, Wyoming crafted from tonnes of horseshoes to look like a thorny arbor, ISU’s new sculpture, which has yet to be named, is an under-whelming work that suffers from being too literal - a one liner that doesn’t sufficiently engage the viewer to want to know more about it.

At the press conference held in conjunction with the work’s unveiling, Upham said the work does not reveal itself to be a sycamore leaf until one is directly under it. While in fairness I have not seen the piece in person, I have seen it in photographs taken from multiple angles and in each and every one of them it clearly looks like a leaf bowing ever so slightly in the wind. To make matters worse it is a blue and white leaf at that, in this case bowing to the powers that be to incorporate the school’s colors in the sculpture’s design.

With this work, ISU has staked its future not only in an aged cast of alumnae, many of whom will soon be forgotten, but also in an aesthetic that is predictable; one that will not put it on the cultural map anytime soon. With Indiana counting such noted artists as architect Michael Graves and Pop artist Robert Indiana as hometown products, one would have hoped ISU would have taken a page out of the state’s own annals and set the bar higher for this work.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

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