By Connor Dahlin —
Four stone constructions stand affront the Memorial Student Center’s entrances on the University of Wisconsin–Stout’s campus. Few people take more than a passing notice as they enter and exit the MSC. Upon asking contemporary students, few register that they even exist and if they do, they know little of their meaning and purpose. Although the pieces have different names, they were installed together and all by the orientation of the artist, Robert Curtis.
The four sculptures, Gateway, Sentinel, Borderline and, the largest, Portal were installed on November 9 and 10, 1987. The MSC itself finished its renovation in 1985. With the remaining budget funds (1/5 of a percent of its total), Stout received these four pieces from The WI Arts Board’s Percent for Art Program. This meant that the school itself did not choose these pieces, but they were instead selected by the Board’s winning artist and installed with the budget funds, which ended up being $24,500.
The initial impression on campus was twofold. On one hand students marveled at these sculptures and felt they were a unique addition to their already new and improved MSC. On the other hand, Robin Melland, the research assistant in the Stout Archive reminisced, “The school at the time was suffering from budget cuts and to see such bland art take priority over the student and faculty’s economic well-being left a sour impression.” Whatever mixed feelings there were, the structures still stand, and students now scarcely take genuine notice.
These pieces won over all the other applicants because it carried strong symbolic meaning. The structures are forged from materials that were intended to pay homage to the far reaches of Wisconsin. Red granite from Wausau, grey from Green Bay and, strangely and inconsistently, white shipped from Maine. With this ideological meaning behind it, the structures were placed outside of three of the MSC entrances. This was to embody an entering of the higher education of Wisconsin. To quote Robert Curtis, he claimed, “Each piece includes that element which connects the pieces with the entrances and one another.”
Many students claimed the structures lack aesthetic beauty. Certain sides of the different slabs have parallel grooves but only partially across the surface. Many of these same slabs are almost rectangular but never with completely flat sides. Two of the pieces, Borderline and Portal, feature a smooth grey granite cylinder that props up one of the formerly mentioned slabs. One can wonder how the slabs were shaped and manipulated.
There have been a vast number of different art displays that have come and gone from the campus throughout its 124-year history. Yet these stone structures stand with or without the appreciation of casual passersby. The purpose of the art was to input a sense of permanence for the new MSC and the work itself. Although these costly sculptures don’t meet fair glances any longer, they do embody this permanence.