Steel Yourselves, Here Comes Youbie Obie

Categories: Public Art

It’s been exactly twenty years since the Committee on Art in Public Places (CAPP) accepted Jules Olitski’s King Kong—a beautifully abstract, almost minimalist work in cor-ten steel, gifted to the College by Sophia Healy, daughter of former professor Arthur Healy—and sited it in front of the Johnson Building. This summer, as a serendipitous, unwitting tribute to the acquisition of King Kong, CAPP has accepted another gift in cor-ten steel, a monumental work by Middlebury alumnus J. Pindyck Miller ’60 titled Youbie Obie.

aluminum version of Youbie Obie

An alternate version of Youbie Obie in aluminum. Ours will be in cor-ten steel.


Wonder, Rewarded

Categories: Awards

You wouldn’t think that the museum life would be routine. All the fantastic art that graces these walls? But it certainly can be. Often we get into a hamster wheel of exhibit and event schedules looking up only now and then long enough to spot the next deadline. Mount a new exhibit. Offer a few events to expand on the exhibit theme. Tweet about how cool it all is. Wash, rinse, and retweet. More

Built Invitations

Categories: Public Art


(photo via

I associate the physicality of Vito Acconci’s work to that of a premier danseur.  He is the Nijinsky of built forms, aware of the elasticity of every wall, and how far he can bend a concept—an incredible flexibility—before he must spring forward.  It is an irresistible, magnetic kind of physicality, needing an audience for completion, or even, like touch improvisation in modern dance, changing with and responding to each interaction different audiences bring.  The physical power of his works, architectural and performed, is the most frightening and beguiling to me.  I think about his early performance work, Following Piece, frequently when I’m walking down the sidewalk behind a stranger.  How would the relationship between our bodies change if I kept following them?  How would they feel about me tailing their heels?  Would their shoulders tense?  Would they speed up or change tack?  It’s a strange and discomfiting scenario.  His buildings and installations ask these questions of us as well.  Does your body make this your space, or does this space demand something of your body?  After decades of studying this bodily response to the world, and the world’s affect on the body, Vito Acconci has become a master at inserting questions into our daily dance, asking that we stay aware of the political shakes that can come from grand leaps or supple bows, movements which come unthinkingly, but that have deliberate manifestations in our world.

Physical spaces are easily turned into analogous spaces dependent our bodily response to them.  Way Station I (Study Chamber) was a study space, a joke, a blight, a threat.  What is it about an immobile structure that causes one to react so strongly as to enter it trustingly?  Or to throw gasoline on it and set it alight?  Acconci does not seize us, but goads us, follows at our heels, and seduces us.  And we take the bait!  The decision to join him on stage comes from somewhere within.  We have rebuilt an Acconci piece on our campus landscape—how will we engage with it in 2013?

Another Summer in the Books

Categories: Exhibitions

Summer comes and goes very quickly here in Vermont—blink and you’ve missed it, as some would say—and like the season itself, our summer exhibits vanish with a similar haste, like a Fumé Blanc that you wish would have lingered just a bit longer on your tongue. As I watch the works come off the wall and go back into storage or back to their lending institutions, I often find myself wishing that I had spent more time with them, and inevitably I turn to the exhibit’s comment book to absorb others’ insights about the show as a way of allowing it to hang a little longer in my mind’s eye. More

Fabergé: The Social and Political Implications of Russian Decorative Arts

Categories: Student Projects

Note: The Middlebury College Museum of Art possesses a remarkable collection of Russian artifacts and family keepsakes made by the firm of the famous jeweler, Carl Fabergé. This essay by Adrian Kerester ’15, adapted from her April 2013 lecture and reproduced here with permission, explores Russia’s social history at the turn of the last century through an examination of and conversation surrounding Russian decorative arts and the culture of Russia’s ruling aristocracy. More

Rackstraw Downes, Unfinished

Categories: Prose

“The artist who searches for subject matter is like someone who can’t get out of bed without understanding the meaning of life.” –Fairfield Porter

When I think about pencil drawings my mind inevitably wanders to Robert Frost’s Mending Wall. “Something there is that doesn’t love a pencil drawing,” I tell myself. It’s a perplexing association to be sure, but I think it must have something to do with the fact that drawings, pencil or otherwise, are often intended to be stepping stones along the path to a grander vision, so they tend to feel unfinished, imperfect. They are forever being mended—erased and redrawn atop patches of semi-intended smudging—until they reach a state in which they can conceivably hold an idea long enough to fatten it in some other medium for market. A drawing is usually version 1.0 More

Lovely Filth

Categories: Exhibitions, Public Art

It’s not often that I get to make direct connections between an exhibition in the galleries and the collection of public art that we have on permanent display around the campus. The opportunity is probably there more often than I’m aware, but during my tenure anyway, the times when the similarities have been palpable have been rare. This spring, with Environment and Object • Recent African Art on view in several of our galleries there’s a theme that’s begging to be explored both inside and out. And it’s totally rubbish. More

Life is Like a Bowl of Chocolate

Categories: Exhibitions

This always happens. We put up a fantastic exhibition; the public enjoys it, raves about it even; and then I wake up months later as the show is about to come down and realize that I have yet to spend any appreciable time with it. It was always there, waiting for another day when there were fewer responsibilities, fewer fires burning, the sort of day that never comes. More

Being Richard Dupont

Categories: Prose

As I watched our preparators put the finishing touches on the installation that now occupies the museum’s upper balcony—four heads by New York artist Richard Dupont, generous and timely loans from a private collection—my mind was overrun with clichés about heads. They shouted at me like kids in the backseat: “get your head around this exhibit” “you’ll have to put your heads together to figure this one out” “heads up!” “head in the clouds, feet on the ground” “head strong” “figure head.” They rolled on, relentless.

Indeed, the human head is a juggernaut of subject matter. It’s where we live. It’s who we are. It’s how we process all that we sense about our world, and it’s the origin of all of our responses to those stimuli. It’s the center of our universe. So the mere sight of a head in an unanticipated context can uncork the flow of visual associations, puns, and clichés that jump so readily to the fertile mind. More

Last Sunrise Over So Inclined

Categories: Public Art

Stick Huts, Twig Hats, Giant Cones, Whoville Houses. Regardless of what you like to call them, the nine conical interweavings of red maple saplings and grey dogwood that form Patrick Dougherty’s 2007 temporary installation So Inclined will be removed next week and turned into mulch.

And I’d be hiding the truth if I didn’t admit to being sad about it’s departure. Still, after four years it’s safe to say that it’s had a good run for a structure that, given the harshness of northern New England winters, might only have lasted two, and that will have to be consolation enough. More