Students at Northern Kentucky University hustle from class to class everyday — talking, laughing, smoking, engrossed in their own world. Few take the time to really examine what is around them on campus, especially the art. But, NKU is full of art. Every turn confronts students with a new mural, picture, or sculpture.
Two works by Frank Stella greet students when they walk into the lobby of Greaves Hall. Those who discover Stella’s work be- come privy to the myriad of images, resembling whales, water and the sky, which seem to jump out from the multi-layered paper and swaths of abstract forms. Some may even see an abstract Yin-Yang symbol in the paintings, serving as a reminder of the conflict and balance between good and evil in their life.
A wire sculpture sits at the entrance to the Corbett Theater — its slightly oxidized frame acting as a three-dimensional Rorschach image for whoever passes, asking them — “What am I feeling?”
Three lifelike eagle paintings set in their natural habitat watch over the lobby of Corbett. Oddly human characteristics shine through, al- lowing the viewer to differentiate aspects of their own personality through each of the birds.
In the science building, art is scattered throughout several of the interior windows. Patterns of cells and molecules being drawn together to form compounds, along with forms of bones and shells frame lounges allowing passers-by to realize that science too can be art when viewed with the proper mind set. Even the massive brass colored ball that is tethered from the ceiling glides delicately through a sand pit to create a scene reminiscent of the ocean floor or an ever changing zen garden.
But not all are cooped up within buildings. Some works of peculiar art also persist on the campus grounds. The “Big Ugly Box” sits austerely over the plaza and University Center. This piece of minimalist art serves aesthetic and practical purposes. Students slide down the incline side facing Steely Library while the other side may be used as a natural megaphone for a drummer. Built by Donald Judd, the box was intended to “have a contrast with the starkness of our early concrete buildings on campus,” according to David Knight, director of exhibitions and collections at NKU. When viewed in this manner, the concrete jungle begins to disappear and the observer begins to notice subtle differences around them.
The large, encompassing sundial on the plaza level sits outside Nunn Hall and creates an obstacle course for students as they weave back and forth between classes. With some of the massive roman numeral inscribed blocks missing, the structure resembles Stone- henge, with its rough hewn stone weathered by many decades of wind and rain. Addison Clipson, one of the architects who helped design parts of NKU, is responsible for the sundial as well as the “Dust Devil” and “Crystal Window Box” sculptures which can be found by the Chase Law College and Founders Hall, according to documentation provided by Knight.
Some pieces of art have even caused controversy among students. One such sculpture is the boy in the cage, designed by a former NKU student, Dan Collett, and is located outside of the Steely Cafe facing Landrum. Some viewers believed that the subject for the sculpture was slavery, however, Professor Fink, who teaches sculpture at NKU, says the inspiration for the piece came when Collett read the philosophical novel Ishmael, written by Daniel Quinn, and is not a reference to slavery.
Art has even been removed from the campus, such as the sculpture “Way Down East,” which depicted film pioneer D.W. Griffith and actress Mary Pickford. The sculpture was commissioned in the late 70’s and sustained a place on the plaza level, just outside the University Center, and later near the bottom level of the fine arts building, until being dismantled and placed in storage away from public view in 2004, due to racial controversy surrounding Griffith and the various movies that he produced, such as “Birth of a Nation”.
This is by no means an exhaustive list. NKU has so much art that even some of the buildings were designed to be artistic. The new Informatics building will be art in and of itself.
Unfortunately, most students just walk past these works without giving them a second thought.
“One of the ultimate purposes of art is to create conversation and dialogue,” Knight said. The art at NKU offers students ample opportunity to engage in conversation and imagine different aspects of life.
Now, all we have to do is open our eyes.
Story by Vern Hockney