Imagine you’re a nervous student, a freshman in college, on your way to take your first big exam. As you walk across campus, your heart is racing, you’re trying to remember your notes. As you round the corner and head toward the testing center, you see what looks like a giant stack of french fries - bright yellow and ten feet tall. For a second, your mind is not on the exam. You might laugh or feel a bit lighter for just a moment.
This giant pile of french fries is a real sculpture on Utah State University’s campus, a steel sculpture created by Joseph Kinnebrew and titled SNAFU. The little moments of joy, surprise and fascination that SNAFU creates are exactly why it and many other pieces of public art were created.
According to Katie Lee-Koven, executive director and chief curator at the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, public art can be hidden in plain sight where we least expect it.
“Public art can be embedded into bridges, into overpasses on the interstate, into train stations," she said. "When you start to look around and see how art is integrated into our public spaces, you realize the investment that we make.”
In 1985, Utah passed the Percent-For-Art-Act. Since then, one percent of all state building construction costs is set aside for public art.
“Public art is probably the most accessible art we have available to us as citizens, as members of a community. Whether we realize it or not, we see public art every day,” Lee-Koven said.
According to the Utah Legislature, this is meant to “enhance the quality of life in the state by placing art of the highest quality in public spaces where it is seen by the general public.”
“The state has a collection of art. Some of the pieces on our campus are part of that public art collection that the state owns - we are stewards of it. Other pieces are works that Utah State University has purchased,” Lee-Koven said.
USU’s sculptures represent a wide variety of artistic styles and different moments in the history of the university. Some, like Ann Preston’s Passacaglia, located in a musical performance hall, reflect their location on campus and the studies that take place there.
Passacaglia refers to an instrumental composition with continuous variations over a short, repeating theme. The museum offers a free, digital walking tour of sculptures on USU’s campus. For Passacaglia, the tour explains Ann Preston’s unique process for creating an artwork inspired by this musical composition.
“She generated its unique geometric design of repeating tetrahedral shapes from a mathematical formula, thereby paying homage to the formulations of music composition.”
Concentric Arcs by John Ohran is another site-specific sculpture located between the Engineering Laboratory building and the Science Engineering Research building. Emily Byrd, education coordinator at the museum, will be hosting a guided sculpture walk this month, which was designed with beautiful summer weather in mind. Byrd explains how Concentric Arcs was created, and its significance as part of Utah history.
“This piece showcases the use of technology in artmaking," she said. "It actually uses up to date technology. The artist used a laser cutter to cut some of the pieces out. It’s one of six winners in the 2000 Logan Biennale National Outdoor Sculpture Competition.”
According to Lee-Koven, many of USU’s sculptures have fascinating histories, stories that intertwine with the time and place they were created.
“It’s really part of the campus history and the fabric of how this campus has come into existence and has evolved over the years. The sculptures are a part of that,” she said.
If you would like to join us for a USU Logan sculpture tour, click here to find out all the details.