What is that object in front of the Singh Center?

Dear Benny:
I noticed a geometric sculpture situated in front of the recently opened Singh Center for Nanotechnology. Can you tell me more about this work of art? Is it a new addition to Penn?
—Art Appreciator

No, in fact—the sculpture you mention is not new to Penn. The work of art, “We Lost,” was created by American minimalist artist Tony Smith and has been at Penn since 1976.

The 10-foot-3-inch cube of painted steel weighs 14,000 lbs., and recently resurfaced after more than 14 years in storage. It was first situated on College Green where the Robert Indiana “LOVE” statue currently sits. It was removed from College Green in 1999 for conservation, and reinstalled in front of the Singh Center for Nanotechnology on Sept. 14 of this year.

University Curator Lynn Marsden-Atlass, who is also the director of the Arthur Ross Gallery, says “We Lost” was chosen for display at the Singh Center for its sleek, minimalistic design. She says Eduardo Glandt, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Science, chose the piece to be housed at the new Singh Center because the work of art’s clean lines and angles call back to math and geometry, making it the perfect counterpoint to the Singh Center’s own roots.

When “We Lost” was first unveiled at the University, many members of the Penn community interpreted the title as a commentary on America’s involvement in the Vietnam War. Contrary to those  reports, “We Lost” was not meant to be a political statement.

Smith, who originally designed “We Lost” on a smaller scale for Penn’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 1966, has gone on record saying that the sculpture was a tribute to previous works of art that had failed when a design problem became unsolvable.

Smith passed away in 1980. His art has been on display at the Museum of Modern Art, the National Gallery of Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and in many other cities throughout the country and the world.

Originally published on November 14, 2013