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Williams Installs Artwork by Jenny Holzer

For immediate release: April 11, 2011

This week, Williams will complete a public art installation by renowned artist Jenny Holzer. The work, which consists of a stone table and benches, is called 715 Molecules and was commissioned by alumni and friends to honor Williams alumnus, professor, and devoted member of the community J. Hodge Markgraf ’52. The piece will be located permanently in the Science Quadrangle on campus.

“This has been a collaborative effort,” says Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA) Director Lisa Corrin. “Jenny Holzer and her studio staff have been extraordinarily generous to Williams, and so have many students, professors, alumni, college staff, and even three former Williams presidents, who have lent their expertise and knowledge of Hodge to help realize Jenny’s vision since the project was initiated. It was Hodge’s dream to see a work by Jenny Holzer located in connection with the sciences.”

Holzer’s work will be placed in the heart of Williams’ interdisciplinary home for the sciences. The piece consists of a 16 ½ -foot long and 4-foot wide stone table and four benches, the surfaces of which have been sandblasted with 715 unique molecules. The sculpture is meant to be used as a place for students, faculty, and the community to sit and interact with each other.

Holzer is best known for using language in her art to engage and provoke the viewer. Holzer’s texts—many her own and others taken from diverse sources including literature and declassified U.S. Army documents from the wars in the Middle East—have run in LED signs, been projected on gallery walls and building facades, silkscreened on canvases, and carved into stone benches. Her work often asks viewers to confront violence, power, death, and oppression. In this work, it is not the English language that is being incorporated into the artwork, but rather, scientific language.

Maggie Adler ’99, an intern at WCMA and a student in the college’s graduate program in the history of art explains: “Holzer had been considering how to employ language in this newest work. Because her piece rests in the scientific epicenter of campus, the artist became interested in building on the tradition of science’s reliance on concrete charts, graphs, and symbols to represent complex, nuanced philosophical concepts. Holzer is creating a piece for Williams that explores the use of molecular structures as a type of language—graphic, symbolic, shorthand placeholders of much larger concepts of war, love, natural phenomena, emotion, pleasure, and pain.”

Jay Thoman ’82, the J. Hodge Markgraf Professor of Chemistry, worked with science majors Karen Chiu ’10, Mindy Lee ’12, Rachel Patel ’12, and Charles Seipp ’11 to draw more than 1,000 molecules for the artist. Of these, 715, including diagrams for water, caffeine, DDT, and more, cover the surfaces of the table and benches.

“Having known Hodge as a teacher, a faculty colleague, and a journal article co-author, I know he would have been delighted by this project,” says Thoman. “Hodge played many roles at Williams, and he would applaud the collaboration of Williams students, faculty, staff, and administrators with the Holzer studio to help bring Jenny’s vision to stone in the science quad.”

Where Science and Art Meet

J. Hodge Markgraf (1930-2007) was a beloved campus figure and longtime chemistry professor at Williams, known for his use of poetic metaphors in class. Hodge, as he is affectionately known, served many roles on campus in the more than 50 years that he dedicated himself to Williams. Graduating from the College in 1952, Hodge was the recipient of the Turner Prize, Williams’ highest honor for student citizenship. He earned his Ph.D. in chemistry at Yale University in 1957 and joined the chemistry department at Williams in 1959. Early in his tenure as a faculty member, he was appointed by President Jack Sawyer as secretary to the committee that recommended Williams phase out its fraternity system. Hodge served Williams for five decades, taking on the role of provost, college marshal, and vice president for alumni relations and development. Retiring in 1998, Hodge continued to be an active part of campus life—working with undergraduates, continuing his research, and teaching Winter Study courses at the College. A passionate and gifted teacher, he was beloved by many.

A few years before his death, Hodge encountered a large-scale installation by Jenny Holzer and became fascinated with her work. Corresponding with the artist, he began to pursue the idea of commissioning a piece for the Williams campus. After his death in 2007, students, alumni, and a myriad of supporters decided to continue the task, contributing funds to see Hodge’s dream become a reality on the College campus.