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September 23, 1987 - Image 41

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Publication:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-09-23

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pus could not have occurred in
the last century, when neither
the art museum nor art itself
was welcome on most Ameri-
can campuses, nor even early in
this century, when the public
rarely visited. The first genu-
ine campus museum was the
ungainly Trumbull Gallery at
Yale, built in 1831-32 for
$5,000. The designer was none
other than the benefactor, Col.
John Trumbull, whose own
paintings formed the core of the
collection. Yale's indulgence
set a pattern. When alumni of-
fered their personal collec-
tions, the university usually ac-
cepted, often without rhyme or
reason, and stashed away the
eclectic mix in unused base-
ments and classrooms. Since
neither art nor art history was
widely taught until the 1890s,
what passed for the art muse-
um remained divorced from the
business of education.
Required taste: The new world
dawned with the appearance of
studio and art-history courses
early in this century. Model-
ing themselves on the Ger-
man system, American univer-
sities began to churn out thou-

After a long and provocative competiton
in 1983, the Eisenman-Robertson team
snatched the prize away from an impres-
sive list of opponents, among them Michael
Graves and Cesar Pelli, who designed the
addition to the Museum of Modern Art in
New York. The winners triumphed by of-
fering Ohio State a startling hypermodern
form that perfectly symbolizes a gallery
determined to avoid traditional art history.
The Wexner is more a spine than a build-
ing. Galleries are strung along a grid-
sheathed corridor of glass that links two
well-traveled campus streets. Simply by
walking from one street to the other, thou-
sands of students will be exposed to the
exhibitions inside-as well as to the studios
of working artists. The Wexner not only
hugs the landscape, refusing the role of a
monolith, it exhumes local history. At the
west end of the glass spine, Eisenman and
Robertson are rearing a 60-foot-high brick-
and-glass tower that will serve both as a
beacon and as a trace of memory, recalling
the beloved OSU Armory, destroyed 20
years ago. Defiantly contemporary, the
Wexner cuts a new path in a field dominat-
ed until now by architectural modes that
revive and glorify the distant, mostly clas-
sical past. The new gallery has easily sum-
moned donors and beneficiaries, to the
tune of $26.5 million-most of all the fam-
ily of Columbus retailer Leslie Wexner
(The Limited stores, Henri Bendel, among
others), for whom the center is named.
Derrick display: Certainly this lesson was
not lost on the Cal State campus at Long
Beach, where a similarly unconventional
Eisenman-Robertson scheme will house a
$13.6 million cultural complex incorporat-
ing museum, theater and arboretum,
spread over 23 acres near the Pacific
Ocean. Once again, the museum fans out,
refusing a central image, its wings and
walkways clinging to the curves of the
earth, with a reconstructed oil derrick in
ART STREIBER

Delicate instincts: Emory's converted interior space

sands, then millions of students
trained to believe that "art" was a required
taste for civilized men and women. Collec-
tions grew quickly, especially after World
War II; almost half of all campus museums
have been built since 1950.
Large buildings, professional staffs,
flashy exhibitions of contemporary art-
and the presence of real artists-are now de
rigueur on any campus that aspires to at-
tract top students and tempt wealthy bene-
factors. Jonathan Green, director of the
still-rising Wexner Center for
the Visual Arts at Ohio State,
wired these words into the new
gallery's formal statement of
purpose: "The Center is dedicat-
edto the belief that the presence
of the active, imaginative artist
or scholar is as important as the
collection of art itself. In its pre-
sentations and in.its support of
the artist . .. the Center is dedi-
cated to vanguard experimen-
tation." At least8percent of the
Wexner willbe devoted to living /
and working space for artists
A central feature of the
American campus: Model for the
new arts complex at Cal
State, Long Beach, stretching
over 23 acres

working in every medium, from painting
and sculpture to video and computers. Ear-
ly this year Green invited composer Philip
Glass, sculptor Richard Serra and sound
artist Kurt Munkacsi to Ohio State to col-
laborate on a single installation in the old
galleryandto speakwith students. "Wewill
do more and more of this in the new build-
ing," says Green.
This open-ended embrace of the present
tense is reflected in the Wexner's design.

I

SEPTEMBER 1987

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