Public Art at Williams

Public Art at Williams

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    Eyes (nine elements), 2001
    Louise Bourgeois (American, 1911-2010)
    granite, bronze, and electric light
    Commissioned on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the museum with funds from the Museum Fellows, friends, and museum endowments. Wachenheim Family Courtyard given by Edgar Wachenheim III, Class of 1959, and Chris Wachenheim, Class of 1994
    Photo by Megan Cross

    In the Fall of 2001, in celebration of the Williams College Museum of Art’s 75th anniversary, the College unveiled a new permanent outdoor sculpture by world-renowned artist Louise Bourgeois, Eyes (nine elements), 2001 was commissioned by the museum with funds from its supporters.

    Working closely with landscape architects and planners, Bourgeois designed a series of sculptures for the front lawn of Lawrence Hall, the campus’ artistic epicenter. Rather than a work created to respond to the existing terrain, Bourgeois’ sculptures transform their environment, forcing the landscape to interact with them.

    Bourgeois is celebrated internationally for emotionally and psychologically charged works that are often supposed to reflect her own colorful past. Born in Paris in 1911, Louise Bourgeois began her career as a sculptor in the 1940s in the United States. In 1982, the Museum of Modern Art, with an exhibition devoted to her work, made Bourgeois the first woman ever to be represented with a major retrospective at MoMA. Of her passion to create art, Bourgeois wrote, “I need to make things. The physical interaction with the medium has a curative effect….I need to have these objects exist in relationship to my body.” Bourgeois sees eyes as a metaphor for the truth. She maintains that, “Eyes relate to seduction, flirtation, and voyeurism,” and they can even be confrontational. When the eyes look at you, they demand that you look back.

    Williams’ work consists of four pairs of eyes and one monumental eye cluster formed from granite and bronze. Ranging in height from three to seven feet, some of the sculptures double as benches, providing popular, if sometimes discomfiting, spaces for students and visitors to sit, gather, reflect, or even climb.  Sometimes threatening, sometimes charming, the eyes embody dichotomies of male and female, projection and recession, passivity and aggression.

    The dark surfaces of the sculpture transform with changes in light, reflecting their surroundings and becoming an integrated part of the landscape. At night, bluish beams of light emanate from the eyes, reminding all who pass by that the eyes are watching.

    Perhaps most importantly, in their role as sign posts for the museum, they are reminders of the importance of looking and really seeing, not only the art works in our midst, but also the environment that surrounds us.

    By Margaret Adler ’99, MA’11