Campus News

New artwork provides more cozy space on campus

By SUE WUETCHER

Published May 13, 2016

“I hope this becomes something that people interact with.”
Michael Beitz, artist and UB MFA alum

They stop. They touch. They pull out their phones. They snap pictures.

And it’s OK, too, UB planners say, to take a seat, eat your lunch or maybe even grab a nap.

That’s the idea behind “Whippy,” the new piece of public artwork that was installed recently on Founders Plaza near Baldy Hall and the Student Union on the North Campus as part of the Small Facility and Grounds Spaces initiative.

The piece by UB alum Michael Beitz — and another by the artist to be installed on Diefendorf Quad on the South Campus later in the summer — are part of an effort to improve the UB experience for students by developing small, comfortable spaces throughout the campuses.

The bright turquoise sculpture resembles a picnic table — with the end coiled on top of the table. It’s representative of the current work of Beitz, who received an MFA from UB in 2009.

Beitz’s name came up for the project, according to Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of the Capital Planning Group, which is designing and implementing the Small Spaces initiative, when planners began to look for artists who could create “interesting art pieces that also had a practical purpose.”

“We didn't realize he was a UB alumnus until we spoke with him. It was a wonderful coincidence and he was excited by the prospect of doing two pieces for his alma mater,” said Hayes McAlonie, who is working on the project with CPG planner Daryl Ryan. Former UB architectural planner Linsey Graff also worked on the initial implementation of Small Spaces.

Other than specific guidelines for the site, planners were open to Beitz’s ideas and color choices for the artwork, she said.

For his part, Beitz said he chose the picnic table form because he had worked with it in the past and thought it was interesting “as a kind of communal, shared place to spend time.”

Whippy is made of thin layers of marine wood. Beitz said he first constructs an internal form, then bends the wood over the form to create the sculpture.

The color was a bit out of his wheelhouse, he admitted — he favors shades more typical of the subject, like forest green for a picnic table. A hint of purple peeks from between the slats — matched, Beitz said, to the color of the flowers of a lilac bush. The planned South Campus piece — in the shape of a question mark — will be even more colorful, he said.

“Personally, I love the piece,” Hayes McAlonie said of the Founders Plaza sculpture. “I hope we can add to this collection over time. I really appreciate the whimsy and playfulness of it.”

The artwork certainly is drawing a lot of attention. Many students walking by during a recent photo shoot stopped, asked questions and took photos. “There’s been a really nice response,” said Beitz’s wife, Masha.

“It’s fun,” said Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services, who is coordinating the Small Spaces initiative. “People are going to be putting it to good use.”

The North Campus, Black noted, is made up of roads and buildings — all in the same color —running in straight lines. With the new artwork, “we might be able to twist and turn and have some fun every once in a while,” he said.

“My guess is that people will stop and stare and take photos and talk and think and have lunch. There’s more to come.”

And the coiled section provides “a good place for a nap,” Beitz added. “I hope this becomes something that people interact with.”

Beitz said he made his first art pieces while at UB — he mentioned upholstering a sofa and tying it in a knot — and later trained as a furniture maker with Wendell Castle, considered by many to be the father of the art furniture movement, in his studio in Scottsville, N.Y.

Currently an assistant professor in the art department at the University of Colorado Boulder, his work has been exhibited in numerous galleries and museums, among them the Bemis Center for Contemporary Art in Omaha, Banksy’s Dismaland in the UK and the Madison (Wisconsin) Museum of Contemporary Art.

He also has a piece — a tree-shaped picnic table sculpture — at Artfarms’ Michigan-Riley Farm at Michigan Avenue and Laurel Street on Buffalo’s East Side.