Queen's University Site Art - Articles - Part 6

Understanding outdoor sculpture on campus:

Part 1:  the big white frame
Part 2:  the donut on the pole
Part 3:  the squiggle on the wall
Part 4:  the big orange triangle
Part 5:  big weird rocks
Part 6:  the biosci box

Understanding outdoor sculpture on campus
Part 6 of a 6 part series: the biosci box

By Catherine Hale, Staff Writer
Queen's University - The Journal
Friday November 7, 2003 - Issue 20, Volume 131

Last, and perhaps least, our Understanding Outdoor Sculpture series comes to a close with the “BioSci box.”

This steel sculpture, which is located on the northeast wall of the Biosciences Complex, is an example of minimalist art.

Minimalism refers to a twentieth-century art movement that favoured the reduction of art to the least number of colours, values, shapes, lines and textures. These works are not intended to represent or symbolize any other object or experience. Untitled was created by Canadian artist André Fauteux in 1973 and was donated to the Agnes Etherington Art Centre by Gesta Abols in 1985. The sculpture first appears to the viewer as a symmetrical rectangle, but upon closer inspection it becomes clear that in fact, it is not symmetrical at all. Along the width of the rectangle there is a subtle curve, and on the right side a short arm protrudes.

Fauteux plays with our expectations of geometric shapes. Because we are so familiar with particular shapes we tend to anticipate the entire form before closely examining it. An illustration of this point would be the way we perceive a sculpture of the human body. When we see it from the front, we already have a specific set of assumptions about what to expect as we make our way around it. If we came to the rear of the sculpture to find a television set where the back of the head ought to be, we would probably be somewhat shocked. Similarly, when looking closely at Untitled, we are surprised to find that the character of the rectangle is not at all what we expected—it isn’t symmetrical. Karen Wilkin, a curator at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in 1982, suggested that Fauteux’s work expresses “a continuing conflict between a Platonic sense of the ideal and a modernist appreciation of the unpredictable.”

How do we determine the aesthetic value of a work that is not intended to represent a particular object or experience? Well, we might take our cue from the artist himself. In a 1977 interview, Fauteux explained that he decides whether or not he likes a piece by “looking at it and measuring the experience that [he] gets from it.” He asks himself whether the experience was ordinary, boring, or exceptional, and compares it to the experience of other sculptures. If his work provides an exceptional experience relative to other sculptures, then he has succeeded.

Is Fauteux’s Untitled a success? With six segments of Understanding Outdoor Sculpture on Campus behind you, hold your head high and march confidently to the Biosciences building where you can make the decision for yourself.

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