When students poured into Blaustein last Monday, October 12, a little more than the fresh waft of Pinesol probably took them by surprise. That is because Connecticut College is now the honored recipient of a modern sculpture by Michael Rees, entitled Putto 4 over 4, graciously donated by Don Opatrny and Judith Tindal Opatrny, graduate of class of 1972 and trustee member.
It seems as though Connecticut College is making a name for itself as being “a campus garden of modern art,” said the Director of Donor Relations, Mary-Jane Cassidy, given that even the most miniscule of furlong allotments seem to spawn new sculpture appearances.
Cassidy stated in an interview, “The modern art certainly makes for an interesting juxtaposition amongst the more traditional buildings. It’s nice to see that Conn has been able to pull off the architectural mixture.”
But how have students been reacting to the structure? Many were quite taken aback by the addition, and didn’t understand what it was supposed to be or why it was already rusted when it was supposedly a new addition to campus. The former question requires a slightly more complex response, but as for the rust: it’s because the sculpture has in fact been residing in the Opatrnys home yard for the past five years.
“We decided to donate the sculpture with the hope that it would enliven and inspire, and perhaps spark some commentary and debate on campus,” Opatrny commented. “I’ve also heard some great things about the arts and technology department [at Connecticut College], so hopefully this sculpture will contribute to the program as well.”
At first glance, it may be difficult to figure out exactly what the 12’x7’3”x11’6” sculpture represents. Constructed of “Luminore iron on Fiberglas over Styrofoam with steel tube armature,” Putto wascrafted with the intention of allowing the steel color to rust, and through the use of new technologies, to “manufacture and give meaning to [Rees’] work.”
The sculpture no doubt adds a whimsical sense of humor to the central campus atmosphere, with childlike features, toes and fingers.
In an exhibit held at Connecticut College’s Shain Library this past week, some of the advanced techniques explored for the creation of Putto included software like Cinema 4D, Maya 3D and Studio Max. For those who aren’t familiar with these programs, it enables an artist to carefully construct and analyze movement of 3D objects, which is exactly what sculptor Michael Rees did to choose exactly the shape he wished to replicate in magnified size.
In order to choose the shape Rees would eventually sculpt, he crafted small ‘Marquettes,’ which are also currently on display in Shain Library, from which he selected the best design.
Rees claims that it is through the animation that his work as a sculptor “becomes clear,” when one can see the “smoothly organic movement of an individual being” that is often overlooked. Rees’ job as a sculptor then becomes replicating this movement through a medium as seemingly constricting as steel.
Putto 4 over 4’s shape emulates Rees’ appeal for the human body, and the many ways in which it can be reshaped through art. Careful observation will reveal the stubby legs and fingers attached to a ‘sausage-like body’ sans a head of Putto.
Some students have asked why the location between Shain Library and Blaustein was deemed most appropriate for the piece.
“[Several members of the college] decided on Blaustein with the input of Mrs. Opatrny knowing that it is a frequented location on campus and people would be able to view it from a number of angles,” Cassidy explained. “That is, when walking into Blaustein, it may look as though the sculpture itself is running in with you.”
When viewed from the main walkway running through Central campus, it can conversely be spectated as a balancing being of sorts. “It all depends on your perspective!” beamed Cassidy.
Concerns have been raised as to why more student input was not offered in deciding the piece’s location.
As one student noted, “It would have been nice if the students had been consulted on the location. It is, after all, a pretty big structure, and some of us don’t really like how it looks. It’s a big change, and we didn’t really have any say in its placement.”
However, Andrea Wollensak, Connecticut College Professor of Studio Art, is especially excited by the contribution. “This semester I’m teaching a freshman seminar entitled Basic Concepts in Design, in which students are utilizing programs like Maya 3D in the Ammerman Center in Olin Observatory’s computer lab,” she said. “We will be studying Michael Rees’ work in an upcoming project, specifically, looking at how a three-dimensional form is visualized digitally.”
Additionally, within the school year, Rees will join the Connecticut College team of faculty in the arts, even incorporating the studying of his sculpture into the department’s curriculum.
In the meantime, the exhibit located in the main entry of Shain Library will remain on display for all to view and become better acquainted with the latest campus addition, with a discussion scheduled for early next semester in the Charles Chu Asian Art Reading Room, where Rees and Opatrny will attend for further commentary on the structure.
“The donation of this sculpture,” Cassidy stated, “is more than just the gift of art. It’s also a gift to the classes that will benefit from this work,” which will inevitably carry out through the incorporation of new dimensions of art and technology, all married into a unique style of design.”
A few final touches are still needed, including a plaque that will give the basic title, donor and sculptor identification.
“When alums and other donors reach out to support the Connecticut College community,” Cassidy noted, “our job is to ensure that all the history and documentation of their gifts are recognized appropriately.”
Photo by Kelsey Cohen