Start at 12th and Q Streets and take a look at “Torn Notebook,” the giant, script-covered steel representation of a spiral notebook that has been torn in half, letting some of its pages fly in the wind.
Leaving behind Claes Oldenberg and Coosje van Bruggen’s slowly revealing 1992 masterpiece, walk one block north and gaze toward the Sheldon Museum of Art, home to Jacques Lipchitz’s 1923-25 bronze “Bather,” a prime example of his Cubist sculpture in front of the state-of-the-art museum designed by Philip Johnson.
Continue north, taking the diagonal to the left, and you’ll encounter the massive red-painted steel girders of Mark di Suvero’s “Old Glory” as you explore Lincoln’s internationally acclaimed open-air sculptural “museum” owned and owned by Sheldon Located across from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus.
“You’re unlikely to find a collection quite like this on any other college campus,” said Sheldon Director and Chief Curator Wally Mason. “There are a few exceptions, but these are mostly commissioned work. We have no work that was commissioned… Ours is here because a very clever man acted at the right time.
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That wise man is Sheldon director emeritus George Neubert, himself a sculptor who acquired most of the outdoor works and almost all of the monumental sculptures during his 16 years at the museum – from 1983 to 1999.
The latter includes “Old Glory,” which UNL students claim contains all the letters of the alphabet. Walk down the sidewalk and past the Love Library complex and you’ll see Michael Heizer’s flat, 35-foot-wide concrete, steel, and granite Prismatic Flake Geometric (1991). Be sure to look at the back – a rough, uneven surface that contrasts with the smooth surface on the public-facing side.
Then head northwest and search the tree stand for “Breach,” a 40-foot-tall stainless steel “tree” purchased in 2004 by former director Jan Driesbach. One of a handful of such trees created by Roxy Paine, “Breach”. is pretty well hidden between the real trees that surround it at the moment.
“It’s best seen in the winter,” Mason said. “It’s the only time I like the leaves falling from the trees. It suddenly catches your eye and makes you think of the beauty of trees without leaves.”
The next stop, in a plaza in the center of the campus, is “Greenpoint”, Richard Serra’s 1988 CorTen steel sculpture, the most important piece in the collection. Perfectly placed so that the angles of the space between the two curved, rusty steel walls contrast with the vertical Mueller Tower, “Greenpoint” is the first of Serra’s Cor-Ten steel sculptures, leading up to his “torqued ellipses” series, and a Classic example of the work of the leading sculptor of the late 20th century.
“It’s probably the most important thing on a lot of levels,” Mason said. “Despite the fact that I love the Gaston Lachaise, if I could back the truck up and take one thing with me, that would be the one I would go with.”
Continue west toward Richards Hall and you’ll come across Charles Ginnever’s 1985 “Shift,” another Cor-Ten steel object that explores space inside and outside its rectangle. Across the sidewalk stands Fletcher Benton’s 1990 Balanced/Unbalanced Wheels #2, a brightly painted piece of steel with a 35-foot-tall pole that stands upright and supports the wheels beneath, which visitors often say they like a lot made-up Tinkertoys look like.
Turn south and enter the space between Sheldon, the Woods Art Building, Architecture Hall, and the Westbrook Music Building. Stand out here are Juan Hamilton’s oval bronze Fragment XO from 1991, Tony Smith’s welded steel Willy from 1962 and Richard McDermott Miller’s 1967 SANDY: in Defined Space, a bronze of a woman in a box used by students was bought in the sculpture-filled lawn.
Each sculpture on the square immediately behind the museum is conspicuous by its absence. The brightly colored “Wind Sculpture III” by Yinka Shonibare was last there. But this piece of fiberglass broke and started falling apart and had to be ground up into small pieces – its inner steel structure was cut apart because it couldn’t survive out here.
The Shonibare will not be recast and replaced. Rather, the insurance proceeds are used to care for and conserve the other sculptures, for example to wax the bronzes and paint “Old Glory”.
“They’re not doing well here with the Nebraska weather and the sun,” Mason said. “The cost of maintaining these things is high, but you have to do it. Part of the problem for us is building a war chest for future maintenance of the sculpture. It’s expensive, but you have to do it.”
Also long missing from the outdoor collection is Elie Nadelman’s 1915 Man in Open Air. One of only three casts of the modernist masterpiece Man in Open Air was nearly destroyed by vandals in the 1990s.
“They took one of our iconic works, ripped it off its base, and it was found on the other campus a month later,” Mason said. “They have so damaged the bronze that we have nowhere to place this piece indoors except for a short time.”
Concerns about vandalism and sculpture theft on the open campus, which unlike private sculpture exhibitions never closes and has unrestricted access, has led to the unfortunate situation that the sunken sculpture garden on the south side of the Sheldon Building is now empty.
And sculptures must be placed to prevent vandalism and other destructive acts as much as possible.
That will be the case when another iconic work by Sheldon, arguably second only to Serra’s Greenpoint, is placed in the plaza behind the museum in September.
In the 2010s, David Smith’s 1960 “Superstructure on 4,” a geometric abstraction in stainless steel featuring planes, lines, and curves, was sadly removed from its decades-long location behind the museum in favor of a head by Jun Kaneko. Instead, it was taken under trees, where it was damaged by bird droppings and tree sap.
Now preserved and ready to return outdoors to where Smith intended it to be displayed, Superstructure on 4 must be placed on a concrete plinth in the plaza – for a reason.
“When we put the David Smith back up, we need to position the sculpture and concrete base to be suitable for skateboards,” Mason said. “Skaters are our enemies.”
The final highlight is, fittingly, another classic – Lachaise’s “Floating Figure,” a cast of his 1927 depiction of a floating woman floating above the concrete base of the stairwell behind the museum.
This completes the tour of the 28 City Campus sections. Four more are on UNL’s East Campus – a collection and exhibition that could only have taken place from the 1980s through the early 2000s.
“It was an era,” Mason said. “It is very difficult to think that this era continues today. You couldn’t afford that now. And it’s very hard to get anything on a campus today. We have it now and it is a treasure, a rare treasure.”
Reach the author at 402-473-7244 or email@example.com. On Twitter @KentWolgamott