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Site-specific commissions by Glenn Ligon, Alfredo Jaar, and Rita McBride in the SOM-designed University Center
The New School
Above: Glenn Ligon, For Comrades and Lovers, 2015. Site-specific commission, The New School University Center, New York.
Above: Glenn Ligon, For Comrades and Lovers, 2015. Site-specific commission, The New School University Center, New York.

The New School University Center
63 Fifth Avenue
New York, New York

newschool.edu

The New School Art Collection is pleased to announce the installation of three site-specific works of art in The New School’s SOM (Skidmore, Owings and Merrill)-designed University Center, located at 63 Fifth Avenue, New York City. These works, by Glenn Ligon, Alfredo Jaar, and Rita McBride, are significant additions to the university’s legacy of commissioning site-specific art from prominent contemporary artists. In 1931, The New School’s first director, Alvin Johnson, commissioned Thomas Hart Benton and José Clemente Orozco to create murals for the 66 West 12th Street landmark building designed by Austrian architect Joseph Urban. Since then, The New School has continued to invite artists to create works for the university, recognizing the power of public art to spur sociopolitical dialogue. Other artists who have been commissioned to create site-specific works include Camilo Egas, Gonzalo Fonseca, Sol LeWitt, Dave Muller, Martin Puryear & Michael Van Valkenburgh, Brian Tolle, and Kara Walker.

Glenn Ligon, a conceptual artist renowned for his text-based multimedia work that often explores the intersection of race, sexuality, and desire, offers a nuanced commentary on American democracy in his first New York City site-specific commission and most ambitious project to date. For Comrades and Lovers is a 400-foot neon frieze encircling the perimeter of the University Center’s Event Café. Based on lines excerpted from Walt Whitman’s canonical Leaves of Grass, Ligon’s installation transforms the architectural site through a convergence of poetry and politics. Comrades and Lovers is a call to consider poetic and political language not as two distinct modes of discourse, but rather as a single linguistic experiment, conveying the notion of progressive politics and poetry as two ways of practicing democracy.

Alfredo Jaar’s large-scale lightbox work Searching for Africa in LIFE was commissioned for the seventh-floor Reading Room in the university’s Arnhold Forum. Conceived in 1996 and reproduced as a unique lightbox for The New School, Searching for Africa in LIFE explores the politics of representation in mainstream media. Launched in 1936, LIFE Magazine had the express mission of providing readers with a window to the world. However, as Jaar noted during an unveiling of the piece, “throughout the magazine’s 60-year circulation, there were only a handful of covers depicting Africa, and those depictions were painful stereotypes which ignored a vast continent’s cultural richness and racial diversity.” In Searching for Africa in LIFE, Jaar indexes all 2,128 LIFE Magazine covers published between 1936 and 1996 as an opportunity to reevaluate historical American assumptions about culture, race, and ethnicity.

Rita McBride’s architectural intervention Bells and Whistles resulted from an early engagement with the design process of the University Center building. McBride’s piece spans six floors and is over 530 feet long, taking its dimensions and pathways largely from the egress stair pressurization duct. The work weaves in and out of classrooms and communal spaces, creating an episodic presence as visitors move through the building. The ducts’ profiles change, twisting and turning to address each obstacle. McBride’s sculptures and installations often engage with the struggle between serving and served space. In this piece, the struggle is represented by open, inhabited, transparent areas that are contrasted with dark, concealed, mechanical spaces. Bells and Whistles employs the same brass material as the University Center’s facade but is shaped by another set of considerations: the essential but hidden mechanical functions of the building.

For further information on these commissions, The New School Art Collection, and The University Center, please contact The New School’s Media Relations Office at T +2122295667, ext. 5151.

December 9, 2015