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MIT really turned to the Visual
Arts after World War II when
they started a curricular Visual
Arts Program but also an interest
in bringing public art to the
MIT campus. And this is really
in many ways to address a press-
ing institutional concern that
would escalate as the Cold War
developed, which was how to
humanize scientists and engineers.
The first major public art
commission at MIT was 'The Great
Sail' by Alexander Calder from
1965. At the time, Caldor was a
leading American artist and is
today one of the best known
American sculptors of the 20th
Century.
Caldor came to MIT in 1963 for
a site visit and was very taken
by the sailboats on the Charles
River and really wanted to bring
that sense of lightness and play
into the campus. So you'll notice
that even though this sculpture,
The Great Sail, is forty feet
high and has 3500 pounds of
nuts and bolts alone, it really
has very few contact points with
the ground. And it really does
have this sense of lightness,
allowing people to pass under-
neath. It also has the important
function of creating this trans-
ition from the human scale to
the massive, gridded scale of
I.M. Pei's Green Building, behind
it, which is actually the tallest
building in Cambridge.
When you think of great public
art collections you think of
cities like Seattle, New York and
Paris. What's amazing about the
public art here on campus is
just that; it's on our campus.
Its open to the public and its
free for everyone to come and to
get inspired.
When I was in high school I
actually worked at a sculpture
park in the area and when I first
visited MIT I did notice there
was art everywhere. And I
actually thought for a long time
that all colleges had art every-
where, and it wasn't until later
that I realized how lucky I was
at MIT to have so much public
art on campus.
I think I didn't fully appreciate
it. You kind of just assume
that all top tier universities
are going to have arts programs
like the one that you went to,
but MIT is really, really special
I think. Especially the public
art is really, I think, one of
the best in the country if not
the world.
Public art at MIT loosely
operates in two modes. One, are
the more free-standing sculptures
that you'll see as you walk
around campus outside.
These are many of our older
pieces such as the Caldor or our
bronzes by Henry Moore.
The other mode of public art in
our collection can be thought of
as art as public space.
And these are really works that
are meant to be completed by the
visitor. In the sense that they
are to be experienced through
space and over time. And its
really the presence of the
visitor that completes the work
of art.
Now many of these works are
cited prominently in public but
we also have some wonderful
pieces that are more, somewhat
hidden gems. Such as our floor
by Sol LeWitt which is hidden
just off of the Infinite Corridor.
You know, you're walking through
these corridors of MIT and then
you turn the corner and you open
the door and you see this amazing
floor. There are catwalks every-
where and you can go upstairs.
You can see the floor from above
as well so there's all these
different vantage points to
enjoy the artwork.
When I was getting married our
photographers asked us, "Where
in Boston is special to you?"
Because my husband was actually
a postdoc at MIT as well, we
immediately thought of MIT and I
immediately though of some my
favorite public artworks. So we
ended up taking a bunch of
family photos at the Sol LeWitt
floor as well as at The Great Sail.
People are surprised that MIT
has such extensive public art
here on campus, but it makes
perfect sense in that to be an
engineer, physicist, chemist,
it takes creativity. And to have
such significant art around you
at all times, it promotes
creativity. So it makes perfect
sense that we have these major
pieces of art here on campus.