From the corridor floors to the restroom walls, all the world’s a gallery in the new Engineering Research Center.
The new building features “The Garden in the Brain,” a site-specific, mixed-media collection created by renowned artist Spencer Finch. The collection is comprised of nine pieces, the largest of which is located on the main entry wall and can be viewed from outside through the glass.
“The Garden in the Brain” is a “series of tessellation patterns,” which refer to “ancient decorative motifs and modern engineering concepts,” according to a wall plaque in the ERC. The tessellations are interspersed throughout the building and are made of “plywood, glass, ceramic, porcelain and wood finishes.”
Finch boasts many artistic accomplishments, including the creation of the sole work of art commissioned for the National September 11 Memorial and Museum. He also holds a graduate degree from the Rhode Island School of Design. “We’re really honored to have (art from) an artist of his caliber,” said Jennifer Casasanto, associate dean for programs and planning in the School of Engineering.
During the early phases of the project, Finch met with various members of the engineering community, Casasanto said, adding that she was impressed by “how caring and how thoughtful (Finch) was about understanding us.”
Finch said that in these initial stages he had several useful conversations with Larry Larson, the dean of engineering, during which the two discussed the “intersections between engineering and art that could be a useful area of exploration for the project,” Finch said.
Larson “talked about (how) engineering students are so interested in seeing patterns and … understanding them and how certain patterns and tessellations are ways of visualizing certain engineering concepts,” Finch said.
It was this idea of patterns that served as Finch’s inspiration. “I had been interested in (patterns) for a long time, especially ancient geometric patterns in tiles and mosaics from the Romans and from the Arabs in Spain and North Africa,” Finch added.
Casasanto said that many members of the engineering community have now become “really big fans” of Finch. “It’s amazing to see people walking through the building looking for his art and having conversations about art,” she said.
Jo-Ann Conklin, director of the David Winton Bell Gallery, described Finch as a “fabulous colorist” and said that his art in the ERC is “totally unique because … it was done specifically for this building and because Spencer has never worked with tessellations before,” she said.
Another aspect of this project was new: Finch said he had “never done a project where the form of the artwork is so connected to the … purpose of the building.”
The art in the ERC was a Percent-for-Art project, an initiative where “1 percent of the construction budget for all new buildings or major renovations” at Brown must be used to commission public art, according to the Public Art at Brown website.
The University’s first Percent-for-Art project was Diane Samuels’ “Lines of Sight,” the pedestrian bridge in the Sidney E. Frank Hall for Life Sciences, which was completed in 2006, according to the website.
The budget for Finch’s project, which is the tenth completed Percent-for-Art project at Brown, was greater than past budgets. “Because (of the) many labs in (the ERC, it) is an expensive building, so we had $700,000 for this,” Conklin said.
Another way Brown obtains public art is through the loan system. Urs Fischer’s “Untitled (Lamp/Bear)” and Giuseppe Penone’s “Idee di Pietra (Ideas of Stone)” are the current pieces on loan. “There are a lot of Brown alums who collect art, and some of them have really extraordinary collections, and so these were folks … (who) offered to lend these pieces to us,” Conklin said.
Pieces of public art loaned to Brown in the past include Paola Pivi’s “Untitled (Donkey),” which covered three floors of the exterior of the Sciences Library and depicted a donkey standing in a boat, and Orly Genger’s ’01 “You,” which was displayed on the Quiet Green and was 230 feet long and made of recycled lobster rope.
“We have compiled, over a short period of time, a really great selection of (public art) works by well-known artists and also others by young, up-and-coming people,” Conklin said.