We asked two experts to pick their favorite campus treasures.
Brownlee is professor and graduate chairman of Penn's history of art department.
Frank Furness, in solving the problems posed by a modern library, also created a work that physically embraces the viewer with great, almost animal-like power--and captures the imagination in the process.
Its rough surfaces, dark colors, and irregular skyline and plan broke decisively with the norms of modernism. Its spaces (the stacks of small, studio-like labs) to meet the specific needs of a client (workspaces for small, loosely affiliated research teams) rejected the modernist commitment to universal solutions to generic problems. (In this case, alas, the client changed its mind about what it wanted before the building was finished!)
A painting whose heroic ordinariness establishes a hallmark of the cult of the scientific hero, the disheveled man in the white coat--here a pioneer of aseptic surgery. Eakins elevates Dr. Agnew with a palette and compositional strategies borrowed from the Old Masters.
One of the most beautiful evocations of a city ever drawn: a forum of great public buildings that adopt the extraordinary technology of the present. A reproach to the banality of Market East as built, it depicts Kahn's belief that "the city is a place where a small boy, as he walks through it, may see something that will tell him what he wants to do his whole life."
Almost for the first time, a Greek artist depicts emotion. The context is war and death, themes commonly heroized in archaic art, but here Exekias probes beneath the surface to the pathos of human existence.
A most serene emblem of idealized sacrifice, celebrating in smoothed architectural and sculptural forms the service to their country of the many sons of Pennsylvania.
The best building built at Penn in the last two decades, the ICA plays out a series of witty variations on such modernist themes as the horizontal "ribbon window" and the rational grid of supporting "pilotis" (cylindrical columns). Built on time and on budget, too.
A nearly perfect work by the firm that created the University's modern campus in the two decades before World War I. The rich ornament traces its roots to English architect Christopher Wren and his sculptural collaborator, Grinling Gibbons, but the scale and confidence belong to America in our first "imperial" age.
A poem about the nature of wood and the rhythms of human action, the duai's seductive curves reflect both the grained material from which it was carved and the sweeping motions with which it was put to use.
McCoubrey is professor emeritus of art history.
Covenant means God's promise to the human race, and an agreement or contract. In this sculpture, however, nothing seems quite settled, no agreement yet reached. From each viewing angle, one part slides across the other, searching for some rest. In short, it is about process toward order, completeness, even toward understanding, which is part of the process we are engaged in at the University.
Someone has said that "We Lost" is Smith's memorial to abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock. From the title, I would guess that, with the blackness, and the frozen simplicity of this closed shape, resistant to any addition or subtraction, Smith intended to express the finality of loss by death. Curiously, students perched within its not very welcoming embrace seem more quiet and contemplative than those on the rest of the green.
A grotesque shift in size, from a dinky, lost button to our button is a joke that, like many other Oldenberg pieces, loses its edge after first sight. But "Split Button" has become a wonderful piece of playground equipment where little heads emerge from the holes. Oldenburg, a master of oversized, dysfunctional objects, would not tell why he broke the button.
Alexander Calder's elephant--oh yes, it is one!--is an elegant, graceful rendering of the ponderous beast, and that is part of its humor.
McCoubrey, besides commenting on these campus sculptures also praised some paintings:
A small gem.
An important painting by the Hudson River artist Thomas Cole, from one of James Fenimore Cooper's novels that should be on any list.
Originally published on February 18, 1997