Art in the Lou: ‘Hotline Bling’ at the Kemper

| Art Editor

Have you ever wondered what the story behind the giant metal seated figure in front of Bauer is? Or what the green geometric monoliths behind Olin Library are doing lining the walkway? Now you can find out with the click of a button. Just yesterday, the Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum completed installing its cell phone tour. It was created specifically to broaden accessibility and spread information about all of the art around campus owned by the Kemper (both paintings located indoors and outdoor sculptures). The tour provides a plaque next to each sculpture with a phone number to dial and an extension that links to a minute-long audio tour for each piece, as well as a QR code to the Kemper’s mobile website.

Written by the works’ curators and recorded by Amy Miller, assistant educator at the Kemper, the audio on the cell phone tour is a short snippet that gives background on the artist and the concept behind each work. Right now, the tour includes all nine of the pieces on the Kemper’s outdoor Florence Steinberg Weil Sculpture Plaza, as well as four pieces that were installed through the Art on Campus program.

It’s hard to miss the stainless steel and limestone sculpture by Jaume Plensa that was commissioned for the Bauer atrium. Entitled Ainsa I, the piece was made in 2013 in conjunction with the opening of Bauer Hall through the Art on Campus initiative.

But there are some other installations in tricky spots on Washington University grounds that you may not know about. Spencer Finch’s East Meets West is one. Nestled beneath each side of the arch inside of Umrath Hall are his two light boxes, Atlantic and Pacific. Finch made this work after he visited the east and west coasts of the United States to create observational watercolor paintings of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. He collected scientific qualities of the water by using a colorimeter to measure the color and temperature of the light on the surface of the oceans. The green rocks mentioned earlier, which lie between Olin and Cupples Hall II are titled Places, an installation completed by Anse Erkmen that lies outside Cupples II and Rudolph Hall. Ann Hamilton’s O N E E V E R Y O N E is the fourth and latest addition to the Art on Campus collection—completed in 2015 with the opening of Hillman Hall in the Brown School, this series of unique, ephemeral photographic portraits lines the curved wall of the new building.

The Art on Campus program is managed by Leslie Markle, curator for public art at the Kemper. It appoints an artist for each new building renovation on campus to develop a conceptual proposal and plan for site-specific work. Committees of the stakeholders of the newly constructed building, or the main faculty, staff and students who will be using the space, select from a short list of artists to develop their project. “It’s really about creating a platform for arts and culture that’s integrated more with the whole campus,” Markle said. The program started in 2010, when the school passed a percent-for-art policy that ensures the funds for these art commissions.

“We have two more artists slated for commissions,” Markle said. “Their conceptual proposals were approved in the fall. Katharina Grosse, an artist from Berlin, is doing one for the Athletic Complex, and Tom Friedman, a Wash. U. alum, is doing a sculpture for the South 40.”

Keep your eyes peeled for these two new site-specific artworks next semester, but in the meantime, you can enjoy the growing collection that the Kemper has already installed on our campus.

“The QR code through your cell phone is currently the only way you can get access to the guide,” Markle said. “We don’t have a website on the Kemper for it yet.” The brand new cell phone tour can quickly become an addictive scavenger hunt once you know it’s available—and especially once you know that it’s only exclusively available to those who seek it out.

Because of the cell phone tour, I recently learned about a sculpture I walk by daily, located in the courtyard of the Sam Fox School. Hidden in the central land between the Kemper, Etta’s, Bixby Hall and Walker Hall are two small distorted sheds, one collapsing on top of the other. It was not until I listened to the audio tour of Via Lewandowsky’s piece, called Von Hinten, or Doggie Style, that I learned what it’s about. It is meant to be the conceptualization of the merging of East and West Germany after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. The audio guide even discloses what the sexual title of the piece suggests: “one of the sheds holds a position of superiority over the other, reinforcing the notion of an inequitable union.”

So next time you step out of Bauer and are confronted by the metal sculpture at the atrium, with Starbucks in one hand and your phone in the other, you can keep yourself entertained on the walk to class by dialing the Kemper hotline: (314) 558-9580, followed by 19#. (This extension is different for each piece of artwork across campus.) The audio tours are short and sweet—an enjoyable excuse to stay glued to your phone and an extremely handy way to feel informed about the art around campus.

Sign up for the email edition

Stay up to date with everything happening at Washington University and beyond.