Out of the Box: Yearlong exhibition at art museum brings public sculpture to campus gateway

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Eleven large-scale sculptures now welcome visitors to Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art, Auburn University in the second installment of "Out of the Box: A Juried Outdoor Sculpture Exhibition," on view around the lake and on the grounds through Oct. 2, 2016.

"The university art museum serves as the cultural gateway to Auburn, not just because of our physical location at the entry to campus, but because of our mission to present quality art exhibitions and programs to that audience," said Marilyn Laufer, museum director. "With this exhibition, we add another facet to the visual art experience. Taking the art out of the box, so to speak, hopefully diffuses what some feel are the formalities of museums."

Co-curators Andy Tennant and Jessica Hughes invited contemporary artist and sculptor Willie Cole to jury the exhibition and visit Auburn to meet with faculty, students and the community. Cole is best known for taking ordinary objects – such as irons, ironing boards, high-heeled shoes and bicycle parts – and transforming them into imaginative art.

Cole's work is featured in the collections of the Guggenheim Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art, as well as Jule Collins Smith Museum of Fine Art. An exhibition featuring a survey of his work, titled "Indelible Impressions," runs through Sunday, Jan. 10, 2016 inside the museum.

In his own practice, Cole views similarities between making and viewing art. "Both experiences are processes of submission," he said, "where to really view and to really create, you have to suspend the idea that you already know what you're looking at and let it communicate to you."

Of the 11 sculptures selected as finalists from a nationwide submission and now displayed on the grounds of the museum, Cole named three winners.

"When choosing others' work for an exhibition, and even when thinking about my own, I look for something that is transformative," he said. "Next, I would look at the piece in terms of storytelling. A lot of art is not abstract; it's telling a story."

Mike Wsol of Lilburn, Georgia, received first place recognition for his sculpture, "Lost Horizon #2." Wsol created the work so that viewers may enter through a small portal on the side and look out the exposed top of the piece. The inspiration came from a realization he had while attending college. "I grew up in Chicago, and when I moved to Eastern Illinois University, it was a very rural space," he said. "I experienced the openness of landscape in a way I never really did in the city. I wanted to make sculpture that would provide a point of contemplation."

"Self Portrait as Bunnies (The Bathers)" from Alex Podesta took two awards: second place for the juried exhibition plus a fan favorite award voted on by the community. The sculpture is part of an ongoing series in which the New Orleans artist draws parallels between the role of children's imagination and how that plays a part in the lives of adults.

"Rather than looking eye to eye, they are looking down. The eye line goes to the waterline," Podesta explained. "They are engaging one another, but they're a little ambivalent about it."

The artist who received an honorable mention, Hanna Jubran of Grimesland, North Carolina, created "Triad" from steel and paint and said he focused on outdoor sculpture because of the versatility of the medium. "Outdoor sculpture is important in the community because we rely on art to unify and define our society," he said. "Having a museum in town and promoting art speaks about the richness of the culture."

The museum purchased two sculptures from the inaugural 2013 exhibition: "Angles of Repose" with funds provided by Judith and Thomas Chase in loving memory of Lucille Dickinson Allen; and "Dreams of Flying," with funds provided by Julian Roberts Haynes, in memory of Dr. Lucile McGehee Haynes. Staff reinstalled both pieces in the gardens closer to the museum entrance.

"The visitor's experience begins the moment they arrive," said Laufer. "Our aim is to develop the outdoor sculpture program to demonstrate Auburn's commitment to advancing art in our daily lives."

Photography and social sharing are encouraged using #ThisIsSculpture.

"Out of the Box" is made possible in part with funds provided by Julian Robert Haynes, in memory of Dr. Lucile McGehee Haynes, Grace and David E. Johnson and the Susan Phillips Educational Gift Fund. Grants from the Alabama State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts support a portion of the artist awards. For more information, go to www.jcsm.auburn.edu.

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