Please Touch

A mind-bending sculpture makes a cool case for accessible art on campus

By Sue Wuetcher

“I hope this becomes something that people interact with.”
Michael Beitz

They stop. They touch. They pull out their phones. Some eat lunch or take a snooze on “Whippy,” the eye-catching new public artwork along Founders Plaza on the North Campus.

The piece by Michael Beitz (MFA ’09)—and another work by the artist recently installed on the South Campus—is part of the Small Facility and Grounds Spaces (Small Spaces) initiative, an effort to develop cozy, comfortable lounging spots across the university.

Made from thin layers of marine wood, the bright turquoise sculpture resembles a picnic table with the end coiled on top. To create it, Beitz first constructed an internal form, then bent the wood over the form.

Small Spaces is intended to display “interesting art pieces that also have a practical purpose,” says Kelly Hayes McAlonie, director of the Capital Planning Group at UB. “We didn’t realize Beitz was an 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.” Former UB architectural planner Linsey Graff (MArch ’10) also worked on the project.

An assistant professor of art at the University of Colorado Boulder, Beitz says he chose a picnic table because he had worked with that form in the past and thought it was interesting “as a kind of communal, shared place to spend time.” He made his first art pieces while at UB and later trained as a furniture maker with Wendell Castle—considered by many to be the father of the art furniture movement—in Scottsville, N.Y.

“I hope this becomes something that people interact with,” says Beitz. Even, he adds, as a comfy place to nap.