Whatever happened to the ‘We Lost’ sculpture?

Dear Benny:
I heard that a sculpture that looks like a giant set of metal bookends is going to be placed in front of the new Singh Center for Nanotechnology when construction of the building is complete. Can you tell me more about the art?
—Art Aficionado   

Dear Art:
The sculpture you heard about is a piece by American artist Tony Smith, titled “We Lost.” It is not, in fact, a representation of giant bookends. It is an open 10-foot-3-inch cube made of painted steel that was originally designed for a show at Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 1967. It was disassembled after the show and then reassembled years later so it could be installed on College Green in 1976 (where the Robert Indiana “LOVE” statue now stands). It stood there until 1999. At that time, it was removed because it was getting corroded and needed conservation.  

Its title encouraged students to believe the piece was a commentary on the American experience in the Vietnam War, but Smith explained in articles that he called it “We Lost” in tribute to a previous work that failed when he and his fabricator could not solve a design problem.

Newspaper stories from years past indicate that students used to have fun crawling inside the open-air cube. The sculpture, which has been in storage and out of sight for over a decade, was in the news recently, highlighted in a NewsWorks piece broadcast last month on WHYY radio. That is where you may have learned that “We Lost” will be getting a new home in front of the Krishna P. Singh Center for Nanotechnology, currently under construction on the 3200 block of Walnut Street.

In the report, Eduardo Glandt, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, says the big steel cube fits perfectly with the spirit of the new center because it is rooted in math and geometry. Now completely restored, “We Lost” is waiting in the wings for its comeback. Construction of the Singh Center is scheduled to be complete by 2013.

Originally published on October 13, 2011