One of the great joys of working in an art museum is discovering works of art that are often overlooked. As part of my interpretive planning duties, I write labels for works of art so visitors can understand and appreciate it better. In early September, Ashley and I were assigned to draft a descriptive label for two sculptures by Lila Katzen: X Notion, Like a Jay and Maxi-Antecedent II.
You may have seen these two impressive steel sculptures as you hurry through the Quad on the way to your next obligation. Installed on our campus in 1978, both sculptures by Katzen have become a part of Ball State’s landscape, part of the peaceful, yet vibrant scenery in the Quad. Unfortunately, this also means that we sometimes fail to appreciate the outdoor sculptures as they were intended.
In reading through the museum’s files on the sculptures, it became apparent that Lila Katzen, an environmentalist and former abstract painter, wanted the public to interact with her work. Both X Notion, Like a Jay and Maxi-Antecedent II are meant to be touched (even sat on!) in order to cultivate a relationship between the natural surroundings and art. With that in mind, many people have often commented that both sculptures appear weathered or rusted. However, this is exactly as Katzen intended. Cor-Ten steel, her chosen material, is made to weather and change after its initial protective coating wears off.
While there are currently two sculptures in the Quad, in the 1970s plans indicated a large sculpture garden of works by other artists. While those plans have not materialized, it is worth considering the importance of having an established artist such as Katzen in our collection.
The next time you pass through the Quad, take a minute to look at both sculptures and interact with them. They are, after all, the only works of art within our collection that YOU can touch.