Density has been greatly reduced on campus this fall due to the coronavirus pandemic, but anyone who’s gone near the promenade in front of the Student Union on the North Campus has likely taken notice of a curious collection of what, at first glance, just look like some rocks.
It’s actually a monumental “scatter” sculpture by Philip Pavia, a leading sculptor in the post-war American art movement who worked alongside Jackson Pollock, among others. The piece was donated to UB by Pavia’s widow, Natalie Edgar. No public funds or student fees were used, and installation costs were covered through The President’s Circle.
“East Pediment, Sun-up” is a scattering of 42 massive blocks of marble in the acts of lifting, tilting and leaning, and riskily defying gravity. The stones were selected for their hues so that they would create an enchanted prismatic light coursing over their hard geometry. Deployed with a suggestion of the Greek Parthenon Pediment, this sculpture was Pavia’s abstract expression of optimism.
The donation was fostered by Robert Scalise, director of the UB Art Galleries. “We are thankful to Natalie Edgar for entrusting us with this generous gift, and I’m excited to have this monumental work grace our campus for years to come,” Scalise says.
Following a 1966 museum exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Washington, D.C., which travelled to the San Francisco Museum of Art, “East Pediment, Sun-up” was prominently displayed for one year at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York.
The large-scale, outdoor sculpture—composed of seravezza and other marbles—was installed on campus in late September by the artist’s son, sculptor Paul Pavia. But it was a year-long planning effort to bring the artwork to UB.
More of Philip Pavia’s work will soon be on display as part of an exhibition in the UB Art Gallery in the Center for the Arts, scheduled to run Oct. 29 through March 13, 2021. The exhibition will document Pavia’s process through drawings and small marble sculptures created in the 1950s-80s. Pavia described these drawings as thought-forms or “butterfly thoughts” that passed through his mind.
On Pavia’s work of this period, curator Thomas B. Hess said, “There is a will to shambles. The act of lifting and tilting, countered by the evident heavy pull of gravity, by the weighty mass of stone units, establishes the drama. It is a strong, willful kick at the limits of art.”
The installation is part of a larger project to increase public art on campus, an initiative being overseen by the Public Art Committee chaired by Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of campus planning.
“We hope to place other pieces in the near future. We have a number of other projects in development,” Hayes McAlonie says.