Massive new sculpture takes shape outside University of Michigan art museum

A 25 foot tall head landed at the door of the University of Michigan Art Museum.

The sculpture by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, titled “Behind the Walls”, was donated to the university by longtime donors J. Ira and Nicki Harris. It represents the head of a teenage girl with disembodied hands placed over her eyes. According to the museum’s website, the work prompts the viewer to reflect on the nature of “exclusion and concealment”.

The sculpture was installed at the State Street entrance to the building between Tuesday, November 10 and Wednesday, November 11 by Chicago-based contractor Methods and Materials. The giant head, which is elongated to give passers-by an ever-changing perspective, was originally commissioned for the first Frieze Sculpture Festival in Manhattan, where it was unveiled at Rockefeller Plaza in May 2019. At that time, the artist was researching to challenge viewers to reflect on individual responsibility and conscience.

25-foot sculpture being installed at the University of Michigan Art Museum

“Sometimes our hands are the biggest walls,” Plensa said. “They can cover our eyes and we can blind ourselves to a lot of what is going on around us.”

That message is even more relevant now, according to museum director Christina Olsen.

“This new work comes at a critical time in our country and around the world, sparking deep reflection on willful ignorance and collective inaction,” said Olsen.

The artist is perhaps best known for “Crown Fountain”, a pair of LED walls installed in Chicago’s Millennium Park in 2004 that display larger-than-life images of local residents “spitting” in combination with jets of water. emitted by each wall. “Awilda,” a larger 40-foot tall elongated head sculpture similar to “Behind the Walls” stood in the park from 2014 to 2016.

The Harris family also helped the museum integrate a neighboring sculpture, the 53-foot-tall steel “Orion” by Mark di Suvero, into the museum’s permanent collection. Another sculpture by di Suvero, ‘Shang’, was on display at the site where ‘Behind the Walls’ stands before it was purchased by a private collector earlier this year.

The installation is just the latest change at UMMA for 2020 – in October, the museum was also draped in a quilt-like artwork made from burlap bags by the artist in residence Ibrahim Mahama. The museum’s glass-walled gallery was also redeveloped to accommodate a satellite office where students could register and vote in the 2020 general election.


Quilt-shaped panels cover the new outdoor facility at the University of Michigan Art Museum

53-foot-tall ‘Orion’ sculpture returns to University of Michigan Museum of Art

Over 2,600 students have registered to vote at the University of Michigan satellite clerk’s office

About James Almanza

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