A dramatic new work of art appeared on Seattle University’s campus during spring break. Situated in the garden between the second floors of the Student Center and the Library and Learning Commons, the sculpture appears to consist of large ice cubes or blocks of glass.
Upon closer inspection, the cubes are made of a durable, specially cast resin. The sculpture is the work of Seattle-area artist Joe McDonnell and it is a commissioned gift from longtime friend of the university Ann Pigott Wyckoff. The sculpture consists of sixty translucent blocks, each approximately two feet on each side and weighing about five pounds. McDonnell and his assistant painstakingly assembled the sculpture on campus throughout most of a week, carefully positioning the blocks so that they appear to be tumbling over and down a concrete wall. It was not their first run-through—they had previously put the sculpture together in McDonnell’s studio.
The cubes at their highest point are more than twelve feet off the ground. When one look at the blocks nearest to the top, they seem precariously perched, as if they are about to roll off the pile and onto the ground, but this is just an illusion. The blocks are fastened to the wall in the background and to a special anchoring frame beneath them. As striking as the installation is in the day time, the sculpture elicits perhaps even more delight in the evening when illuminated by a series of LED light bars that can change colors.
“The sculpture is simultaneously playful and profound, and I hope it will positively engage and visually refresh people when they walk between the Student Center and the Lemieux Library/McGoldrick Learning Commons,” said Jerry Cobb, S.J., who coordinated the art collection for the library and learning commons.
Jim Hembree, Senior Director of Development in University Advancement, was instrumental in bringing McDonnell’s sculpture to SU. The sculpture, as Hembree sees it, is part of a growing trend at SU. For some time, he points out, most of the university’s artistic treasures have graced the interior spaces of our buildings, but in recent years, “Outdoor sculpture is gaining a more prominent presence on our campus. This is a big growth area for SU’s art collection.”
McDonnell graciously allowed the SU community to have a contest to name the sculpture, and more than 160 entries were submitted. The winning entry was submitted by Lauren Maza, who recounted how as she looked at the sculpture she thought of some of the core SU mission values, and the word “Justice” came to her and she realized it contained the words “Just Ice.” Joe McDonnell selected this name so the sculpture’s formal title is “Justice (Just Ice).”
McDonnell’s work joins a three other recent sculptures added to the campus collection: Joel Shapiro’s untitled abstract bronze figure of a running person on the library’s lawn, which was made possible by Dick and Betty Hedreen in 2010; Preston Singletary’s Northwest Native-inspired “Transformations” metal sculpture, which was installed on the north side of the Admissions & Alumni Building last summer; and Robert Pospisil’s haunting metal sculpture “The Prisoner” which will be installed soon in the Law Annex.
While SU’s latest sculpture may be outdoors, it can just as easily be enjoyed by those having a bite to eat in the Student Center or studying in the Library and Learning Commons. McDonnell worked for more than a year conceiving and constructing the sculpture. Students and other campus community members provided feedback and responses to the work as it evolved.
McDonnell has produced more than 150 major commissions for institutions, corporations and individuals including CBS, IBM, General Electric, Readers Digest, Dulles Airport, the Milwaukee Public Museum and the New Jersey state government. Known primarily for his distinguished work in sculpting metal and bronze, McDonnell in recent years has turned to glass and cast resins as part of what he calls the “ice age” phase of his career.
Jerry Cobb, S.J.
You can learn more about the artist and his works at www.joemcdonnell.com.