Interdisciplinary publication Room 404 is releasing its third issue this Thursday (facebook event here). In anticipation of the release, 404 and Middbeat teamed up to publish this article by Sally Caruso ’15.5. It comes on the heels of a recent post about the use of public space on campus. Here’s to what you didn’t know, but definitely should know, about the art that defines our public space at Middlebury.
In 1983, Vito Acconci, a world-renowned architect, sculptor and performance artist, taught at Middlebury as a Cameron Visiting Artist during J-term. While here, he designed his first permanent structure, Way Station, which was installed alongside a path near Ross Dining Hall. The piece (right) was created as a private study chamber, and was intended as a place for introspection and contemplation.
[Selfies at the reconstruction of Way Station]
Way Station, Middlebury’s second piece of public art, caused an immediate uproar— students thought it was an ugly interruption to the landscape. People spat and shat and fucked on it until, ultimately, the piece was firebombed during the 1985 Commencement ceremony, resulting in its permanent destruction and removal.
In the thirty years since the Acconci incident, Middlebury has developed one of the largest and most prestigious public art collections of any small college in the country. The administration likes to brag about this, and rightfully so. What goes unsaid, however, is that public art at Middlebury was, in a sense, born out of the destruction of Way Station. Way Station’s defacement became the impetus for the administration to create a serious public art collection at Middlebury. At the same time, the lasting memory of the controversy over and vandalizing of Acconci’s piece has led the administration to ensure that the art on our campus is particularly conservative and nothing that might incite another embarrassing, Accocni-like fiasco. Our public art, which is to say our public space, is defined largely by an event that took place thirty years ago, and which the student body had almost no knowledge of until this past fall when Way Station reemerged behind the Center for the Arts.