Search form

University of Virginia UVA Arts & Sciences Default

Bennett Sculptures Find a Prominent, Temporary Home in New Cabell Hall 

Mar 18, 2016 |

Associate Professor of Studio Art Bill Bennett’s well-traveled sculptures have been shown in museums and galleries up and down the East Coast and beyond. Recently, two of his works found a prominent, temporary home in New Cabell Hall.

When the Dean’s Office moved two summers ago to the renovated New Cabell Hall, it began considering its inviting fifth-floor hallways and opportunities to display hung artwork and exhibition material, and sculpture. Taking advantage of the large, open hallways on the fifth floor, two of Bennett’s sculptures, “Eye, Hand, Heart, House” and “Anchor to the Stars,” were installed in the east and west wings earlier this year.

Associate Professor of Art Bill Bennett and his sculpture, "Eye, Hand, Heart, House"

The installation of Bennett’s sculptures serves a larger goal of displaying and promoting art, books and other works developed or curated within Arts & Sciences. 

Keeping that in mind during recent work to improve its academic buildings and spaces, A&S Director of Space Planning & Management Anna Towns said her team has planned for spaces that can host modest exhibitions, in addition to their other functions. Special gallery hanging track hardware was installed in the Brooks Hall Commons, for example, and in the second floor gallery in the South Lawn Commons, and in New Cabell’s first-floor lounge space. 

A&S Space Manager Sarah Stanton is piloting an effort to produce and display varied types of work to be hung in public space, starting on the fifth floor of New Cabell, with images from faculty and students in the sciences. In coming weeks, Stanton will be hanging images on other New Cabell floors from the language and culture departments.

“I came up here and thought this was a spectacular space for works of art,” said Bennett, who has taught within the McIntire Department of Art since 1979.

Bennett’s work combines the natural and the mechanical, incorporating carved stone and other natural materials with castings and constructions of various metals. Many of his pieces, including “Eye, Hand, Heart, House” displayed on the east wing of New Cabell’s fifth floor, feature interactive components that invite contact and viewer participation.

“This piece, in its current form, has never been exhibited before,” Bennett said of “Eye, Hand, Heart, House,” a 76-inch tall sculpture made of steel, wood, bronze, glass, gold leaf and deer antler. “I’m interested in the tactile qualities of art experience, not just the visual quality."

The “hand” referenced in the sculpture’s title is that of the viewer, who is invited to grasp the deer antler and pull it forward to open a cedar log to reveal the “heart” lodged within. The viewer can then grasp the gold ring on the pointed horn to remove the heart from its chest cavity and hold it like an amulet before putting it back in place. The weight of the plumb bob dangling underneath secures it safely back in the chest cavity.

“So this piece is a physical story or poem of a collage of images that add up to a kind of story that each participant needs to put together. It’s not a linear story, and it’s not my story. I tell a story about it, but the hope would be that it would somehow trigger a story in a viewer, with references that are maybe totally different from mine. … The story has to come from the viewer, in a way. And so the hand of the viewer is my way of inviting a viewer/participant to be an important part of that story.”

“Anchor to the Stars,” installed on the west wing of New Cabell’s fifth floor has traveled “all over the place,” according to Bennett and was initially inspired by an old pick axe that he inherited from his grandfather. 

Associate Professor of Art Bill Bennett's sculpture, "Anchor to the Stars" located in the west section on the 5th floor of New Cabell Hall.

“I was struck by this simple yet elegant tool, which could stand on its own with a powerful stillness,” he said. 

The 84-inch sculpture also was inspired by a trip to Italy and the polychrome Cathedral of Siena. Its basic color palette of white and black, with touches of red, serves as a favored triad of colors that appears in many cultures to signify something of importance, Bennett said. Completed in 1986, the work was called “Stigmata” for 28 years, a nod to the multitude of images he saw in Umbria, Italy of Saint Francis with his wounded hands and arms spread wide. 

“But when I had a chance to show it outside more recently in a beautiful garden in Key West, a seaside town, I wanted to pick up on another image, and the image of a pick axe is very quite similar to the image of an anchor,” he said. 

Installing it outdoors led to some structural challenges.

“All the stone in this piece began essentially as small slabs and scraps of stone from architectural projects and then glued together. Stone is a very brittle material, so it’s now stone over a steel frame. When it was installed outside in Key West, under a mango tree, one of the mangoes fell down and knocked the end off. I had to drill a hole to make some repairs and insert a steel core in its tip.”

Like many of Bennett’s works, “Anchor to the Stars” is not an isolated object. Instead, it directs the viewer’s attentions to the world outside itself. Boat imagery is woven through many of his sculptures, and in this work, Bennett says the anchor takes on a boatlike form, with a prow. Just as anchor connects the seabed to a ship at sea, this anchor suggests a connection to the sky.

“So ‘Anchor to the Stars’ as a new title for this sculpture had the right poetic feel to me,” he said.