Oldenburg Piece Gets Split Reaction

by Mary Ellen Crowley
, December 3, 1982, p.3.

Some thought a flying saucer had landed on Locust Walk.

The Button--a six-and-one-half foot by 13-foot aluminum sculpture has evoked a wide ranges of responses from members of the University community since its placement in front of Van Pelt Library in the spring of 1981. All agree, however, that it has become a major campus landmark.

The Universitys Committee on the Visual Environment commissioned Claes Oldenburg, perhaps the countrys best known living sculptor, to construct a sculpture suitable for display somewhere on the campus. The committee chose Oldenburg after looking at numerous photographs of his work and some of other well-known artists.

The artists most famous work in Philadelphia is the Clothespin which stands in front of City Hall and commemorates the 1976 bicentennial celebration.

Graduate School of Fine Arts Dean Lee Copeland said when Oldenburg himself chose the sculptures College Hall Green location.

Oldenburg proposed the broken button and he recommended that cite, Copeland said. The work was originally to be in one piece and therefore needed a solid concrete base. Only after Oldenburg had begun work on his sculpture did he decided to break it.

Copeland admitted that he had some doubts about the location of the work when it was first unveiled.

Its a dominant piece of art, and its color is strong in the sunlight, he said. I was afraid that it would take away from the more subtle surroundings of College Green.

Its beginning to fit in all right, though, Copeland said. With time it has become part of the lore of the University. Its interesting in itself, and it seems to be a fairly popular spot on campus.

The sculpture cost $100,000 of which $37,500 came from the University. The National Endowment for the Arts provided another $37,500, and the rest of the money came from private donations.

Oldenburg designed The Button in his studio, then had it cast in aluminum at a metal foundry. It was then transported from the foundry and erected on its present cite.

Facilities Development Manager Bob Zimring said the sculpture is in accordance with the rule that the University use some of its land for aesthetic purposes.

The Button meets this last requirement because its in a central location and its accessible to people, Zimring added.

Although Zimring was not a member of the selection committee, he said he is pleased with its choice.

Claes Oldenburg is one of the more prominent contemporary artists, said Zimring. Hes world class.

Student reaction to the sculpture is mixed. Wharton sophomore Bob Beechey said after two years at the University The Button is still an enigma to him.

The Button is useless. It serves no purpose, he said.

Wharton senior Robin Heisey disagreed. I think The Button is unique in that it represents something different to everyone in the University community, she said. Some people play on it, some eat lunch on it, and others sleep on it. Each person can get something different out of it.

Another student said The Button is good because it makes the campus very preppy.

Were the only in the Ivy League with a Button down campus, he said.

Most people agree that The Button is a striking piece of art. College junior Debbie Smead said that she first saw the work on a sunny August day.

It was incredibly blinding, she said. It really stands out on Locust Walk.

Another student said he liked The Button but could not pin-point the reason.

Its just different, he said.