Loeb student committee revives Smith sculpture ‘Equinox’

Juliette Pope/The Miscellany News

On July 29, while most students were off campus, the Student Advisory Committee for the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center uncovered a piece that had been hiding in storage for years. “Equinox” is a sculpture created by artist and pioneer in American minimalism Tony Smith in 1968 and later given to the College in the 1980s by Marjorie Frankenthaler Iseman ’43. The work has found its new home right next to the entrance of the Bridge building, on the side closest to Olmsted.

Smith was best known for his monolithic, geometric sculptures. Especially when placed in natural environments, these monochromatic pieces challenge the space around them, morphing into voids and pockets of empty space that interrupt the flow of life and energy of the surrounding scenery. In the most recent biannual newsletter for the Loeb, Anne Hendricks Bass Director of the Loeb T. Barton Thurber highlighted the defining qualities of “Equinox”: “Produced in 1968 in an edition of six, the 450-pound, black-painted, welded-steel construction is comprised of smooth surfaces and symmetrical shapes that highlight the intersection between positive and negative space.”

The title of the piece, “Equinox,” references its connection to the astronomical phenomenon, linking the sculpture to the natural world. “An equinox, the moment when the earth’s equator passes through the center of the sun, is reflected in the perpendicular intersection of the sculpture’s major axes. It can be read as an abstracted, geometric model of a natural occurrence,” wrote Jack Mahoney ’22 in the piece’s label.

The sculpture plays with negative space, especially through the emptiness that weaves through and around the piece. As one circles the sculpture, its shape seems to change, revealing spots of empty space only visible from one vantage point.

“It can seem a little not super engaging at first, but I think it’s really cool when you look at it closer, especially walk around it,” Mahoney commented during a Zoom meeting with the Committee. “It really does change how it looks when you look around it.”

Upon finding the sculpture in the basement of the Loeb, the Student Advisory Committee, a group of student ambassadors for the museum who strive to engage the student body and the wider Poughkeepsie community with the Loeb collection, started working to find a new place to put the sculpture. The project gave the students a valuable opportunity to facilitate and lead the process of reviving a piece of art. “Having that element of student involvement and having a student direct and lead and kind of control the elements of this project was really important, because I don’t think so many opportunities are afforded to students in general of that nature,”  said Temishi Onnekikami ’21 during the meeting.

The students initially debated whether the sculpture should be placed outside, since its effect on the viewer relies on its interaction with the natural world. However, they found that an outdoor sculpture would require more maintenance, like putting a film coating on the piece to protect it from the natural elements. So the Committee’s search shifted to indoor locations.

“We talked about choosing the Bridge because it bridged the gap between the arts and the sciences, and it seemed like a natural place,” commented Loeb Coordinator of Membership, Events and Volunteer Services Francine Brown.

Thus, the Committee settled on the Bridge. The architecture of the new building draws from the surrounding landscape, proving to be a complementary spot for the piece. “It’s such an open, nice space, and so many people walk through it all the time. We had a few different places picked out, but when we finally decided to put it where it is now, it just fit perfectly with the natural landscape behind it,” said Committee member Emma Iadanza ’22.

After years of laying dormant in storage, the sculpture has finally found its new and permanent home, greeting visitors as they enter and leave the building. In its new spot, “Equinox” simultaneously draws energy from both the architecture of the building and the vivid world right outside, transforming the object into a void that continuously challenges the reality of its surrounding space. As one directly approaches it, the view of the vibrant green leaves of the trees and bushes outside contrast with the dark metal, transforming the piece into a near black hole against a landscape brimming with life. 

“Now that it’s finally on display, it does feel more alive; it has a certain vivacity to it that wasn’t there when it was sitting sadly in the basement,” Iadanza commented.

So next time you are strolling through the Bridge, whether for class or to grab a meal from the Bridge Cafe, stop by the building’s newest addition. The Committee will be streaming on Instagram Live (@loeb_committee and @theloeb) on Oct. 25 to inform students of the art the Loeb has to offer.

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