Steel Yourselves, Here Comes Youbie Obie

Steel Yourselves, Here Comes Youbie Obie

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.

corten stell sculpture, Youbie Obie, by J P Miller
Our Corten steel version, finally installed

The committee put a tremendous amount of reflection and debate into its choice of location—adjacent to Coffrin Hall and Le Chateau—given the sculpture’s desire to be viewed and considered from all angles, and the result will, by way of this striking and visually provocative work, extend Middlebury’s public art collection to a new corner of the campus. Youbie Obie is being sited within view of both King Kong and Tony Smith’s Smog, located in front of McCardell Bicentennial Hall, and the three should easily stimulate reflection on abstract concepts such as form, movement, and scale.

Youbie Obie's location shown on the campus map
Campus map of the area surrounding Coffrin Hall and Le Chateau. The red zig zag designates the approximate footprint of Youbie Obie
Youbie Obie's location shown on the campus map
Campus map showing Youbie Obie’s proximity to Tony Smith’s Smog near BiHall

The installation is currently underway. Updates and links to ancillary content about the process will be posted here regularly.

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More on Youbie Obie’s journey to Middlebury and its context within the campus landscape, provided by Museum Intern Danny Zhang ’15, follows.

This week, with the conclusion of the summer language schools, work began near Coffrin Hall for the installation of a large cor-ten steel sculpture titled Youbie Obie, by Middlebury alumni artist J. Pindyck Miller ’60. This latest addition to the College’s growing public art collection is sure to leave food for thought as the undergraduate student body returns to campus for the new academic year. When finished, the imposing sculpture will stand 15 1/2 feet tall by 15 1/2 feet wide, a work of monumental scale that will command the space around it majestically.

The Committee on Art in Public Places (CAPP) chose this particular site for the work for its relative openness, allowing passersby to interact with the sculpture liberally and from a variety of angles. For instance, students on their way to a lab in BiHall or a French class in the Chateau or just sitting down for lunch on the Atwater patio will all have the chance to see the piece from different perspectives. Viewed from its side, the work’s flatness almost camouflages it against the similarly-colored barn-like roof of Coffrin. Viewed from its front, it dominates the open landscape in front of FIC, whilst leading the viewer’s eye toward Smog, another monumental public artwork located at the east entrance to BiHall. Viewed up close, the sculpture towers over you. And viewed from afar, it is framed and accentuated by the buildings that surround it.

CAPP accepted Youbie Obie on behalf of the College community as a gift from a couple who has owned the piece since the 1970s. They wanted to donate it to the College—alma mater of the artist—and paid for its transportation to campus and installation onsite so that it may be put on display in a location more prominent than their backyard in Connecticut. When finished, Youbie Obie will resemble a half-closed gate.

Youbie Obie will doubtlessly breathe some artistic life into an area of the campus that, despite being a busy intersection between Atwater Commons, Battell Beach, and BiHall, currently hosts not a single work of public art. The installation of such a large-scale public artwork in a central part of campus is a bold and refreshing break from the slew of works that have recently gone up behind the Center for the Arts. Instead of being off the beaten path and more than a stone’s throw away from where most students spend the bulk of their day, Youbie Obie will be something that we can all enjoy and find meaning in. To some, it will perhaps become a new meeting point for friends on their way to meals and classes. To others, it may be a symbol of the hard, gate-like trappings of college life. But to all of us, it should serve as a reminder that in our mechanical daily routine here in the Middlebury bubble, we ought to do ourselves a favor to slow down and treasure the little, hidden gems that help to both make and break the ostensibly idyllic perfection of a place we call home.

UPDATE: 8/29/14
Youbie Obie has now been reassembled on the site, and all that remains is to be completed is the landscaping which will happen early next week. The work was trucked to the site in pieces, craned into place piece by piece, and bolted together. For more detail you can browse photos of the process.

UPDATE: 9/3/14
The landscaping around Youbie Obie is now in place, and the installation is complete. This beautiful video follows the installation process as it unfolded and includes some thoughts on the work from Chief Curator Emmie Donadio. Enjoy!


UPDATE: 9/17/14
The artist visited campus last week and had a chance to share some thoughts on camera. Here’s the result of his interview.

AuthorDouglas Perkins

Douglas Perkins '94 is Associate Director for Operations and Finance at the Middlebury College Museum of Art and steward of the museum's digital presence.

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