Green Space Art Garden Sprouts on Campus

The first sculptural pieces of a campus art garden are in place on the south side of University Pavilion.  The first work in this sculpture garden is titled “Crystal Garden,” a three-piece set by internationally known conceptual artist Dennis Oppenheim.

Oppenheim, an eclectic artist whose work defies easy categorization, has created earth works, quirky mechanical pieces as well as performance and conceptual art for over a 30-year period.  He explains that “Crystal Garden” recalls America’s roadside attractions of the 1930s and 1940s.  According to Oppenheim, “In that era, there were all these roadside attractions put out in the desert, placed there to interest motorists…Motorists could even drive through redwood trees” in the same way that campus students and visitors can walk through the “Crystal Garden” pieces.

Oppenheim continued that the sculptural elements with their angles and bright, primary colors are supposed to do anything but integrate into the green space where they rest.  “It looks like it might have landed from outer space.  It’s not integrated into the site.  It wants to be artificial, alien,” he explained, adding, “If crystals are rocks, then these are almost cartoon images of geological formations as they’re made of non-organic, synthetic building materials.”

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The artist views the work, with its hard surfaces, as a creative alternative, a contrast to the natural environment surrounding it.  “It dialogues with the environment.  It’s an abrasive element within the harmony of the landscape,” he said, adding that he doesn’t believe that sculpture should necessarily be “site-specific,” integrating itself seamlessly into its surroundings.  “Sculpture should be an abrasive form in the environment, not subservient to it.  It should not be dictated to by the environment…If there’s too much harmony, it’s too mellow,” Oppenheim opined.

“Crystal Garden” is part of the aesthetic transformation of campus that coincides with its architectural evolution, creating a visually stimulating environment.  Other prominent public art pieces installed on campus in recent years include:

  • Art Beat by Tim Prentice is a mobile that hangs in the atrium of the Cardiovascular Research Center. 

  • Belief by Terry Allen is a cast-bronze representation of a leaf and lays outside the Vontz Center on University Commons.

  • Cinci-Mix by Nam June Paik is a video wall inside the 3rd-floor entrance to the College of Design, Art, Architecture and Planning.

  • Figura-Prima by Magdalena Abakanowicz is a 14-foot-tall, bronze, columnar sculpture on the College-Conservatory of Music (CCM) plaza.

  • Five Lines in Parallel Planes by George Rickey is a kinetic work that juts from the landscape on University Commons.

  • Light Mast by James Carpenter is a luminous glass tower atop the entrance to CCM’s electronic media center.

  • The Three Muses by Sam Gilliam is a multi-paneled painting in CCM’s lobby.

  • Untitled by Joel Shapiro is an abstract, bronze sculpture located on University Commons.

  • Forest Devil by Kenneth Snelson is a complex matrix of highly tensioned steel cables and aluminum tubes currently located on Library Square.

These works, including “Crystal Garden,” were funded by the Ohio Percent for Art Programs which calls for one percent of state-funded building construction budgets to go toward incorporating art into new construction. 

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