A 40-foot, white-painted stainless steel totem by famed artist Ellsworth Kelly will be installed on February 15 within the small grove of trees that stands between Appleby and Phillips Halls and Collins Dining Hall — the former site of the historic Story House. This sculpture, along with another artwork by Chris Burden that was installed in May next to Roberts Pavilion, was made possible through a gift by the George Roberts Family ’66 P’93. Mr. Roberts engaged San Francisco based Art Advising firm Zlot Buell + Associates to propose two artists to be considered for commissions on the Claremont McKenna College campus.
The monumental sculpture is part of CMC’s ongoing initiative to bring more artwork to campus. The power of Kelly’s sculpture, like all other aspects of his work, is founded on its adherence to absolute simplicity and clarity of form. What one sees when confronted with Kelly’s forms are solidly toned, smooth, flat surfaces, isolated from the space that surrounds them. Kelly’s visual vocabulary draws from observations of the world around him - shapes and colors found in plants, architecture, shadows on a wall or a lake - and has been shaped by his interest in the spaces between places and objects and between his work and viewers. He has said, “In my world, I don’t want you to look at the surface; I want you to look at the form, the relationships.”
Claremont McKenna College Public Art Committee Chairman and Trustee Christopher Walker ’69 believes that the Kelly sculpture, in addition to the Burden installation and the Mary Weatherford mural in the Athenaeum, establishes a high bar for aesthetic standards for future gifts and commissions.
“For many of the older alums, the Kelly totem is to be located near CMC ‘hallowed ground,’ in close proximity to site of the original Story House,” Walker says. “For current students and younger alumni, the Kelly totem could be taken as inspiration for setting a high bar for their personal achievements. Its location clearly maximizes the foot traffic and viewing by the student body. This iconic sculpture will be largely visible throughout the campus. For CMC, as an academic institution, the Kelly sculpture specifically, and our overall commitment to a high quality public art program, represents our high aspirational commitment to all aspects of the liberal arts.”
Kris Brackmann ’17, co-president (with Jessie Capper ’17) of the Student Art Council, agrees. She says the artwork stands as a symbol that CMC is actively engaged in giving art more of a presence on campus. “And that’s something that we aim to do more on the student level,” she says. “I hope it inspires the Art Council and other groups on campus to take up an interest in art and attend art classes, galleries, or museums in the Los Angeles area. So far, the Chris Burden piece has been really well received, and these two pieces will enhance the art culture of our campus.”
Brackmann believes in the importance of having art visible to CMC students in their daily lives, especially where they commonly congregate. “I think the Burden, Kelly, and Weatherford piece in the Athenaeum are strategically placed in locations where students will see them on a daily basis. That’s what is really going to make the impact on students and inspire them to be creative.”
According to Jacqueline Tran, senior director at the Matthew Marks Gallery, which has locations in New York and Los Angeles, the totem is “one of the last commissioned pieces” by Kelly, who died in December 2015 at the age of 92. The Matthew Marks Gallery, founded in 1991, represents Kelly, among other artists.