The sight of two rigged scaffolds, a boom lift and a huge wooden crate kept visitors to the Ray and Maria Stata Center guessing earlier this month. Soon the crowd of contractors and engineers were joined by a score of onlookers, all gathered around the TSMC Lobby and curiously watching as riggers with Fine Arts Enterprises, Inc. carefully hoisted a large, stainless-steel object into place — a new public sculpture by internationally acclaimed artist Anish Kapoor.
This newest addition to MIT’s Public Art collection was commissioned for the TMSC Lobby as part of the landmark Percent-For-Art program, which allots funds to commission or purchase art for each new major campus renovation or building project. Previous works in the program include the Dan Graham pavilion at Simmons Hall, the Sol LeWitt floor at the Green Center (Building 6C) and the sculpture by Cai Guo Qiang outside the new Sloan building. Kapoor’s work was made possible by donations that supplemented the available Percent-For-Art funds, including generous gifts from an anonymous donor; The David W. Bermant Foundation: Color, Light, Motion; Julian Cherubini ’57; Robert Sanders ’64 and the Sanders family.
Mumbai-born Kapoor, who has lived and worked in London since the early 1970s, is perhaps best known for his Cloud Gate, a 110-ton polished stainless-steel sculpture in Chicago's Millennium Park that is affectionately known as “the bean.” Inspired by the shape of liquid mercury, that widely popular sculpture is among the largest in the world.
The untitled stainless-steel sculpture at the Stata Center stands 16 feet tall and a little over 7 feet wide. The piece is an example of the artist’s interest in form and space, purity and perception; Kapoor has worked extensively with highly polished stainless steel, exploiting its visual qualities. The monumental form of the Stata sculpture stands in contrast to the work’s delicate structure and surface. Polished to a mirror finish, the piece provides a striking counterpoint to the building's Frank Gehry architecture, with its undulating waves and reflective surfaces, metal cladding, swooping stairway, and eccentric forms. The highly reflective and curved surface produces rich visual effects when animated by light from the overhead skylight and clerestory windows. The lobby where the work is sited is a busy public space, and visitors encountering the sculpture can engage directly with the work’s playful reflections of the surrounding space.
“We were looking for an artist whose works interact with the environment and with the viewer and we wanted a sculpture that would complement rather than compete with the architecture of the space,” said John Guttag, the Dugald C Jackson Professor of Computer Science and Engineering and a member of the committee that worked with Kapoor on the Percent-For-Art project. “Since the day we moved in, people have been asking me, ‘What’s the deal with the big empty wall in the lobby?’ It was always intended to provide the backdrop for a major piece of art,” Guttag added. “Now it finally does.”
In addition to Guttag, the committee that selected Kapoor as the artist for the project included Chris Terman, senior lecturer in electrical engineering and computer science; the late Bill Mitchell, former dean of the School of Architecture and Planning and the Alexander W. Dreyfoos, Jr. (1954) Professor of Architecture and Professor of Media Arts and Science; Charles Correa, architect; Frank Gehry, architect; Jane Farver, director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center; Adele Santos, dean of architecture; and Mark Kastner, dean of science. MIT Facilities Project Managers John Hawes, Nancy Joyce, Sudy Nally, and Paul Murphy, together with MIT Public Art Curators Patricia Fuller and Alise Upitis oversaw the commissioning and installation of the work.