Thought-provoking and curious, fanciful and odd, sometimes subtle, always profound. The Stuart Collection is a hallmark of UC San Diego—20 delightfully fascinating public artworks, with two more pieces on the horizon. This is a glimpse of the wonders to come, and while the process may be long, the product is gloriously bold.
20. What Hath God Wrought
Its presence is highly conspicuous, yet its message is revealed only to the most observant passerby. Perched atop a 195-foot pole, a lamp silently blinks through short and fast pulses, continually transmitting the first-ever message sent by electric telegraph: “What hath God wrought?” The historic 1844 transmission from Samuel Morse to Alfred Vail marked an important turning point in how the world communicates.
The work’s artist, Mark Bradford, challenges the viewer to look back and forward with a renewed perspective. The luminaire that sits atop the steel column harkens to a time long past, but one that is inextricably tied to our dependence and desire for instant communication through texts, emails and tweets. The ironic question is, how many will tear their gaze away from their phones long enough to notice the message?
A prominent painter, Bradford chose to have his first permanent public sculpture installed in Revelle Plaza only after discovering a historic plaque marking the spot where university founders broke ground in 1961. “When Mark saw that plaque, he knew instantly that was where the piece should go,” says Stuart Collection Director Mary Beebe. “It was the start of the university, and the start of communication as we know it. It just seemed meant to be.”
21. Same Old Paradise
The scene came to her in a vivid dream. A quaint village surrounded by neat rows of citrus trees sheltered by rolling hills. Suddenly, an ominous snake metamorphoses from the road that leads there, shattering the illusion of paradise. “The inspiration imprinted itself so strongly in my mind that it couldn’t be ignored,” artist Alexis Smith explains.
While Smith produced the mural Same Old Paradise in 1986 for temporary display at the Brooklyn Museum, the serpent motif would continue to appear in her art—and on UC San Diego’s campus—in her first Stuart Collection work, “Snake Path” in 1992.
In the meantime, the magnificent 65-foot-long canvas had been curled up in a crate, waiting for a large enough space to make a permanent home for the massive mural. “Alexis promised that if we could find the space, we could have the painting,” explains Beebe. When the perfect wall was secured in the lobby of the new auditorium at the North Torrey Pines Living and Learning Neighborhood now in construction, the mural was shipped to La Jolla and opened for the first time in decades.
As the canvas was slowly unrolled on a warehouse floor off campus, the tears began to fall. “It was like uncovering a lost treasure,” says Beebe, “a work unseen for 30 years, yet still in perfect, pristine condition.” The painting had held up remarkably, yet it alone is not the entirety of the work.
Smith is known for her work in collage, and the mural incorporates eight panels that represent an American road trip, including a license plate, Levi’s jacket and car ashtray. Each collage features a quote from Jack Kerouac’s novel On the Road, which served as inspiration for the painting—the title “Same Old Paradise” is a reference to the main character, Salvadore Paradise.
Smith describes the work as a “distilled vision of the promise of the open road and a fruitful land most commonly referred to as the American dream,” and sees its presence on the UC San Diego campus an ideal case of providence: “It is particularly important to me that Same Old Paradise has found a beautiful permanent home at UC San Diego, because I had that life-changing dream while visiting San Diego.”
22. [Untitled Concept]
Every piece in the Stuart Collection begins as an idea, a unique artistic ambition. It’s only fitting that plans for the 22nd work coincide with the ambition and expansion of the university itself.
By 2022, the UC San Diego campus will be connected like never before, with new bridges and pathways as well as the Blue Line Trolley that will bring in people from all over the city. Artist Ann Hamilton has long been interested in the movement of people, and she saw this project as an opportunity to create an immersive sensory space, weaving literature, movement and the intersection of the two into a brand-new, incredibly profound entrance into the university.
Hamilton’s proposal involves a series of swings that hang from the trestles of the Pepper Canyon transit station, and a new embossed pathway that leads into the heart of UC San Diego. The installation highlights the contrast of the tick-tock motion of the swings, which go nowhere, and the linear movement of the trolley above, rushing off to its next destination.
“Pepper Canyon has always wanted to be a park,” says Beebe. “Students have gone there to recharge and plant gardens, so it is a natural addition.”
Leading visitors into campus, Hamilton envisions a concordance carved into the path, featuring hundreds of quotations from faculty members who have taught throughout UC San Diego’s history. Running down the middle are alphabetized words—the many intersections that all the passages would share.
While this project is still in the visioning process, whatever will come of the idea will surely continue the collection’s role of sparking curiosity and reflection, in our community and beyond.
See the first 19 Stuart Collection pieces online.
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