Sol LeWitt’s “Circle with Towers” Acquired by The University of Texas at Austin

March 4, 2011

AUSTIN, Texas — The concrete block structure "Circle with Towers" by Sol LeWitt (1928-2007) has been purchased by Landmarks, the public art program of The University of Texas at Austin, from the Madison Square Park Conservancy in New York.

"Circle with Towers," introduced in 2005, will be at the entrance to the new Dell Computer Science Hall and the Bill & Melinda Gates Computer Science Complex under construction on the east side of Speedway between 21st and 24th streets. The unveiling of the work will coincide with the opening of the computer science complex in September 2012. The work will join Landmarks' permanent collection of public art on the main campus.

"LeWitt's structure will serve not only as an object in its own right but also as a new place that will allow students to interact with the Computer Science environment in a way that is informal and was nonexistent before," said Andrew Houston, a member of the Faculty Building Advisory Committee and architecture and urban studies undergraduate. "It will be a focal point of intellectual debate and exploration — both of its embodied ideas and its physical presence."

The structure is made of concrete blocks that form a 25-foot-diameter ring, which is intersected by 14-foot-high towers at equal intervals. It represents the modular structures and simple, geometric forms for which LeWitt is acclaimed. He pioneered the development of Minimalism and Conceptual art in the 1960s and 1970s. His ideas value concept over expression, and the execution of his work invites artistic collaboration.

"There are few opportunities to acquire works of this caliber," says Andrée Bober, Landmarks director. "This powerful example of LeWitt's renowned serial structures complements the university's purpose and its public art collection perfectly. He redefined traditional concepts about the ways in which art is produced, and I expect his ingenuity will inspire many generations of students to think in new ways."

"'Circle with Towers' is one of Sol LeWitt's last works," said John Clarke, professor of art history and member of the Landmarks Advisory Committee. "It represents the culmination of his desire to communicate the rigor of his conceptual art in a 'user friendly' way.  A viewer can enjoy the work at many levels, from its abstract form to its reality as a social gathering place. It draws viewers into its subtle but complex geometry by engaging their spatial responses."

The artist donated "Circle with Towers" in 2005 to the Madison Square Park Conservancy for the purpose of establishing a permanent endowment to support the exhibition of artists' work in Madison Square Park.

Debbie Landau, president of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, said, "We are proud that 'Circle with Towers' will join the Landmarks collection. It is so gratifying to know that Sol LeWitt's beautiful structure will be understood and enjoyed by the public."

LeWitt's work has been exhibited at hundreds of solo exhibitions in museums and galleries worldwide. Retrospective exhibitions have been held at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York and the Tate Gallery in London.

For more information about Landmarks, visit: www.landmarks.utexas.edu.

For more information, contact: Leslie Lyon, College of Fine Arts, 512 475 7033.

21 Comments to "Sol LeWitt’s “Circle with Towers” Acquired by The University of Texas at Austin"

1.  Andy said on March 5, 2011

What a waste of money. All the "landmarks" on campus are really ridiculous looking.

The balls next to the Tower. The big red random pillars in front of the CPE. The mesh of metal in the MEZ courtyard. All these are really bad pieces of “art.” I just hope they weren’t purchased as well.

2.  David Larousse said on March 5, 2011

Sol LeWitt's popularity is 100 percent due to the ferocious marketing efforts of his wife, and has nothing to do with the actual works. He is one of the great charlatans of modern art. Any housepainter can paint a bunch of parallel stripes or other geometric forms with masking tape and a roller. What a joke... and a scam. While the great classical artists of the world go unnoticed, phonies like LeWitt, Hurst, Koons ad nauseum are lauded as great innovators. And when a great University that is Austin, falls in line with all the other scams, it just adds to the faux-adulation. Shame on you.

3.  C said on March 7, 2011

Talk about speaking out of both sides of your mouth. On the one hand we don't have enough money to keep people on staff, much less give decent salaries and raises. However, we do have enough to buy useless pieces of art.

4.  Jake said on March 7, 2011

love all three above comments

5.  Fumika said on March 8, 2011

I think we should feel fortunate to have Sol LeWitt's last work in Austin. He is one of the major conceptual American artists that I studied when I took the Modern Art History last semester. Learning about conceptual art was exciting during the class. Watching it as a slide in a dark class room and experiencing it in person are very different experiences. I support the Landmarks and I believe "Circle with Towers" will educate and inspire many students, staffs and people from outside of UT.

6.  Ryan Haecker said on March 8, 2011

Why did the University purchase this piece? It doesn't seem especially remarkable. Is it meant to represent a computer mainframe?

7.  Ryan Haecker said on March 8, 2011

Rather than spending millions on an incomprehensible piece of art, the university could have easily solicited the Art students on campus to build a sculpture. This would have highlighted the unique concerns and aesthetic sensibilities of Austin and UT students rather then the international art market.

8.  Sean Kelley said on March 8, 2011

It's 100% unanimous, the art these people got suckered into is garbage. Maybe that's why MOMA dumped it on us.

If you think this is a waste of money, look up the salaries of these guys on Texas Tribune.

That's your money being wasted by people who get paid to "provide visual anchors at gateways, to accentuate main axis corridors, and to consolidate architectural edges" ;who think that pile of construction debris outside CPE is "heroic sculpture" that "records our history, builds community, and creates a sense of place, now and for future generations. "

Good Gawd, I thought the Athletics Department was a waste.

9.  Rachel said on March 8, 2011

I understand expressing your opinion, but I don't feel that complaining will do anything as the piece has already been bought. Just because you personally do not understand the work does not mean that others around campus do not. It is a great piece of art for landmarks and specifically the preservation guild to get an opportunity to work with. This gives students an opportunity they cannot get anywhere else, to work in preservation in preparation for grad school. Just because it is not a classic (which would have further complaints due to the price of it and the lack of security of the piece) does not make it bad art nor does its presence make classical art less important. I do agree that it is upsetting for there to be cuts in staff, but this is a different budget, that (I am completely not for sure on this) probably was set aside and would never have been used for any other purpose. It also did not cost 'millions'. I do think that having studio art majors build a piece for campus would be an interesting endeavor. I just wish more people would enjoy the pieces or complain about them in the presence of others who share their opinion,not for the entire internet to read, because believe it or not some people actually read this and did not feel negatively about it.

10.  Beth said on March 8, 2011

I appreciate that UT is interested in being both a leading educational and cultural institution. Even if a particular individual is not interested in art, there is an entire department of fine arts students and professors who study it for a living. And of course there are countless others who enjoy the campus art, regardless of the fact that it is unrelated to their career.

The majority of the works in the Landmarks program are on loan from the Met. Even if I don’t care for or understand a certain piece, I feel certain the curators at one of the most well respected museums in the world did their research and the piece is important in the art historical world.

I would encourage anyone to go on one of the Landmarks tours and become better informed on the art around campus. You may come away hating the work all the same. But hopefully you will see the student docent who researched the work, designed a tour (suitable for a variety of races, ages and levels of art historical knowledge), and presented it to an audience. The previously mentioned research and presentation skills are valuable in any job, whether or not the student continues in art.

The question of “What is art?” or “What constitutes good art?” will never go away. But I would like to think that, especially at The University of Texas, the question can be debated in an open-minded and respectful environment.

11.  Sara Tess Neumann said on March 9, 2011

As a Landmarks’ Docent and a UT graduate student in Art Education, I am very excited about this acquisition. Sol LeWitt was an important artist in the Minimalism and Conceptual art movements and has been exhibited at numerous museums worldwide including the Museum of Modern Art, New York. UT will be lucky to have this piece on campus; it will be an educational opportunity for art students and other members of the UT community, as Fumika stated above, and it will also provide a wonderful and unique gathering space for students in the new Computer Science Complex.

12.  Gus said on March 9, 2011

Ryan: According to Austin360, the price was high, but under a million.

"The university paid $700,000 for the art work which was purchased from the Madison Square Park Conservancy. The purchase was made under the auspices of Landmarks, UT’s public art program."

13.  jnp said on March 9, 2011

I think it's shameful that this article fails to mention that $700,000 was spent on this piece of "art." Seriously $700,000.

Last semester I was in a class with over 70 students that didn't have a single TA because the department was underfunded... but somehow someone can justify spending $700,000 on some cement?

Ridiculous.

14.  Andrée Bober said on March 10, 2011

The university’s responsibility is to provide a well-rounded education to all who attend and, more broadly, to contribute to societal wellbeing. That includes making as many as possible familiar with the greatest achievements in every discipline, including all forms of artistic production.

To do this, the university must challenge assumptions, stimulate fresh thinking, promote dialogue, and thereby allow students to form their own opinions. I think excellent works of art—especially unfamiliar and demanding ones—are ideal pretexts and guides for learning, discussion, and enriching lives.

LeWitt’s work doesn’t need to be defended. But I would suggest that before you criticize it, please become informed about Lewitt’s work and the reasons it is thought to be original, compelling, and seminal by art theorists, critics and historians.

Bringing works of art out of the classroom, even out of the museum, and into the public realm turns the entire campus into a learning environment and creates opportunities for the whole university community to become engaged and discriminating about aesthetic experience. That’s a tremendous benefit to all and a great privilege too.

All of the materials of the university, from scientific lab equipment to journals and even works of art are essential to scholarship and learning. These all contribute to the university’s charge, which is to stimulate intellectual activity, to elevate society, and to and transform individual lives.

For clarification on policies for funding, selection, review and approvals, please visit the Landmarks FAQ.

15.  Bill said on March 10, 2011

For a good laugh, go view the "big balls" from Inner Campus Drive. The "big balls" are perfectly situated for a great pic of the phallic Tower.

16.  C said on March 11, 2011

Well I personally think most of modern art is the emperor's new clothing. Nevertheless jnp has it right. UT's priorities are misplaced. We keep hearing about our budget crisis, and I know I work in a department which struggles to have decent computer support. In fact, the computational resources provided to people are sadly lacking. Wasn't it resource issues like this that lead us to request tuition regulation? What have we done with it? Blow $700K on a single item because it makes the campus get nice. Get real people. Our students, and the taxpayers shouldn't have to foot the bill for this stupidity.

17.  Andrew said on March 11, 2011

With the construction of any new building on campus, it is stipulated that 1-2% of its budget be spent on art. The $700K spent on this piece is part of the Computer Science building's budget and in fact does not exhaust the full funds available. Furthermore, the money that is set aside for building construction comes from a pool of money that is separate from what is used to pay professors, staff and TAs. It was also felt that with this piece the entire campus would be able to benefit from it and would make the area a much more inviting place.

Concerning the Landmarks program in general, I find it interesting that so many people complain about Donald Lipski's piece (known as the "big balls" on campus) and yet if it wasn't so controversial we wouldn't have so much discussion on the piece or of art on campus in general. I think that this occurring is exactly why the Landmarks program is important, to press us as students to step outside of our established norms and really think about things we wouldn't otherwise think of.

18.  C.C. said on March 11, 2011

I appreciate the healthy skepticism voiced by members of the UT community in regards to the recent acquisition of "Circle with Towers." As an art history student and Teaching Assistant at UT, I am thrilled by Landmark's tremendous addition to the public sculpture program on campus. Like many contributors to this forum, I value Lewitt's work as an educational opportunity for the larger UT community.

In my mind, Lewitt's building blocks echo the sequence of elements in a string. Exploring variables in a systematic way, Lewitt engages primary structures in his sculptures (and drawings), to describe the idea that such basic forms have the potential to become something much more complex. Reifying abstract concepts in this way, Lewitt's sculpture can be understood (by CS laymen like me) as elucidating the role of zeroes and ones in programming.

In this way we may understand how this sculpture can be viewed as a monument to the fundamentals of computer science. "Circle with Towers" will no doubt enrich the community at UT in terms of art education. However, I hope that the members of the Computer Science Department at UT will think of this sculpture as a symbol of the fundamental building blocks of their craft and a reminder of their ongoing contributions to larger field of humanity, made up of artists and scientists alike.

19.  Mark Rosen said on March 17, 2011

Well isn’t this familiar? I will launch into a rebuttal but before I get ahead of myself, let me give you some context. When Landmarks premiered in 2008 I was an undergraduate art history major that caught wind of an article written for The Daily Texan entitled “Art for our sake?” It presented some rather brazen resistance to the program, retorting, “People are afraid to call it what it is. Crap.” Aggravated I took it upon myself to contact the Director of Landmarks and presented the idea of creating a docent program so that students have the opportunity to air their frustrations with colleagues who are in constant contact with the program administrators. I was met with great enthusiasm and the program (as Beth and Sara mentioned) still exists today. Modern art being met with resistance isn’t new news by any means, and it certainly isn’t for everyone but I encourage you to at least put down your dukes for a second and give it somewhat of a chance.

Now, let me say that you certainly don’t have to like the work and as a museum professional I in fact hope you dislike the work but please, for the sake of productivity take advantage of the enthusiasm Landmarks staff and docents share and seek opportunities to have these discussions with them. The role of a professional in this field is never to assuage discomfort (as I’m certain they won’t) and having your facts wrong while ranting and raving online gets you nowhere. UT is beyond fortunate to have a program like this in place, sparking students to snap out of it and develop an opinion. I’m sure many students want shallow works that pander to laziness but these works are intended to stop you in your tracks. So hate it all you want but at least have enough civility to be constructive with your oppositions. To close, let me affirm that the Donald Lipski piece IS a huge set of balls, no doubt about it, but consider the rather telling fact that for most students their train of thought stops there.

20.  Corey said on March 17, 2011

I am part of that "College of Fine Arts"... I would like to clarify that we all do not "study this for a living" as Beth assumes. My problem with art on campus has more to do with a lack of context. I believe art has its place in public, but without a context or knowing anything about artistic movements that are RESPONDING to culture, politics, and history, students are not given the opportunity to think about what these pieces might be representing. How about instead of throwing some odd-looking abstract piece of art onto a plaza, include some useful information with it so that students CAN learn something, and not just be expected to, from what appears to be randomly assorted shapes and figures. I can't just look at the outside of my computer and know where the materials came from, why it's built that way, how data travels through the hardeware, etc etc. No one would expect me to, without having accompanying information to help me understand. Then why is everyone else expected to ponder an art piece when handed a blank page?

Seriously... if the purpose of these pieces is to educate, that's great. But DO NOT expect a student who is unknowing of the arts to magically know how to think like an artist or understand the cultural connections presented in a piece. We all understand information in different ways, and that needs to be accepted.

21.  Leah Griffin said on March 17, 2011

Corey, your comment is appreciated and completely valid. To help students and the public understand the works on campus, Landmarks has developed a range of educational materials that you might want to check out. These include essays on each artist and works in the collection, bibliographic resources, audio tours and transcripts, which can be streamed or downloaded onto mp3 players. While touring the works on campus, you may access the Landmarks mobile website and UT's iPhone app which enables viewers to read the essays and hear the audio tour on any web-enabled mobile device. In addition, maps and specialized tours can be picked up at ten locations across campus or downloaded. Docent-led tours, bike tours, and even activity guides for younger children, older children, and adolescents are all available to students and the general public. Landmarks Docents tailor thematic tours to classes or individuals on a regular basis ~ and we welcome you to join a tour in the near future. Landmarks also provides periodic lectures and other related events so that people have the opportunity to learn about the collection. All of these resources are free and made available to the public in order to enhance their understanding and provide context for these significant works of art. For further details, please check out the “Learn” and “Artists” section on the Landmarks Web site.