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SciLi donkey sails away

Calder sculpture will be next public art work to come to campus

Monday, September 13, 2004

“Untitled (Donkey),” better known as “Donkey in Boat,” is looking for friendship. His political views are moderate. He enjoys boating and posing for pictures. His favorite film is “Seabiscuit,” and he has over 750 friends at Brown, according to a posting attributed to the animal on

But getting a date with the donkey might be a bit problematic – he sailed away from his mooring on the side of the Sciences Library this summer.

During its three-month stay on the side of the SciLi, Paola Pivi’s work quickly became a part of the Brown culture. The art piece, brought to campus by the Public Art Committee, found appreciation and recognition at Brown, and it is now well missed.

“I definitely miss it,” said Matt Redovan ’06, inside the SciLi Sunday. “That was actually the first thing I noticed when I got back.”

Redovan was disappointed that he could not show the three-story-high mural hanging on the Thayer Street side of the SciLi to his visiting father. “I was under the impression it would be there for around a year,” he said.

“Untitled (Donkey)” was displayed on loan for three months as part of the Public Art Committee’s mission to make art more accessible to the Brown community. The piece was taken down on Aug. 15 and returned to its maker in Italy.

The Public Art Committee attempted to extend the loan because of the mural’s immense success, said Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery and a member of the Public Art Committee. However, the piece was installed in a way that would not significantly damage the library’s exterior and so could not withstand the effects of a hurricane season, Conklin explained.

“It was really an amazing response,” Conklin said of the community’s reaction to the gigantic photograph. “The students really seemed to embrace it. It got picked up on posters, people wrote essays on it – I saw one guy with it on his T-shirt,” she said.

Conklin stayed in contact with the young Italian artist via e-mail, sending her images of the artwork on the building. “She was very happy,” Conklin said of Pivi’s reaction. “She says the donkey went on this wonderful trip to America that she couldn’t go on.”

Jeannette Gomes, a door guard at the SciLi for 20 years, said that in all her time at Brown, she has never seen anything quite like the donkey.

“People actually came in from outside. It did bring on interest and curiosity,” said Gomes from her station at the library on Sunday evening. While the donkey was up, she distributed informational fliers on the art piece to many inquiring visitors. “People missed it when it was gone. There was sentimental value to that picture,” she said.

The Public Art Committee is always looking for artwork to bring on campus. “Tripes,” a 14-foot black steel sculpture created in 1974 by Alexander Calder, will be the next piece to come to Brown. The stabile sculpture will be installed on the Front Green near Manning Chapel this month and will remain there for a number of years.

“It’s a fanciful piece,” Conklin said in describing the sculpture, which features rounded branching shapes and cutouts.

The committee is also involved in purchasing a permanent piece for the Life Sciences Building. The piece will be ready with the completion of the building in the spring of 2006. This is the first time a budget was set aside specifically for the purchase of artwork to accompany a building project.

Diane Samuels, who was selected from five artists that presented projects to the committee this summer, will design the piece for the Life Sciences Building. Samuels, a New York artist, will create a glass piece incorporated into the glass hallway stretching between the two parts of the building. The piece will be visible from both the interior and exterior of the building, Conklin explained.

The design will be figurative on the outside, with a large handprint or some other image visible from afar, and will include etched pieces of glass with poetry about the life cycles that will be visible from the inside of the building, she said.

In addition to these works, the art committee has begun looking for more lighthearted and humorous pieces after the huge success of the Pivi mural. “Art doesn’t always have to be deadly serious,” Conklin said.

The committee tried to secure the loan of seven brightly colored statues by Franz West that were recently on display in New York City’s Lincoln Center. “They looked very goofy, like something out of Dr. Seuss,” Conklin said.

Although the pieces were not available, the committee is hoping to secure another of West’s works in the future.

“I think the pieces will be quiet for a while, and hopefully we’ll have another real big smash,” said Conklin. “We talked about putting something else on the Sciences Library but realized that anything else to follow would be a disappointment.”

Herald staff writer Jane Porter ’06 can be reached at

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